Tue | Jun 2, 2020

Letter of the Day | Maybe Parliament needs an EPOC-style overseer

Published:Monday | May 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM


MP Ronald Thwaites has been complaining for months about the treatment of Parliament by our two political parties. His vivid descriptions of parliamentary episodes, even when at times admittedly coming from one side of the aisle, have been enlightening for us outside. He has found the parties behaviour repugnant and shameful. Thwaites ended his piece of May 14, 2018 ('Parliament and politics') with the plea: "... since it is very hard for institutions and vested persons to transform themselves, the pressure will most likely have to come from interests outside the parties. Any takers?"

Yes, here's one who agrees that the pressure from "interests outside" is in fact very much needed. I add, however, that this need points directly to an issue broader and deeper than interparty relations and their play-out in Parliament. It is the relationship between the political parties, civil society and private sector. This wider set of relations frames the interparty conflict and will shape how it works out. It is the structural basis of 21st-century governance.

As Thwaites points out, the party system "was intended as a foil against the autocracy of the king, the Church and other unyielding tyranny". Now the problem is that the parties are the new tyranny. While change agents turned one time to a progressive party to bring in some urgent transformation, now half the population will not vote for any party. Parties are voted OUT, and only the 'system' allows another IN. Then after a one-night honeymoon, the new boss turns out to be as much a deaf 'top-downer' as the last, if not worse.


Consultations key


Before deciding on a policy or its content, the State employs consultations and town-hall meetings, listens to polls and surveys as well as to media questioning and social media commentary. With all that, civil society still finds treatment by the Jamaican party-managed State of public input into many policy decisions very unyielding. The governance model of tripartite cooperation (government, private sector and civil society) is yet to be taken seriously.

Civil society has two complementary channels to influence political power. One is the appeal to numbers to exercise its social power, since numbers translate in the heads of politicians into votes. Numbers are gathered either through persuasion of the public by reasoned argument in the media or on line, or through protests in the streets. The other channel for civil society input is to get legislation such as provides control over procurement practices; or over political parties in their campaigns for election, i.e., in their competition for political power.

More to the point, the channel for civil influence, where social power tries to find common ground with political power, is institutions like EPOC or ECJ that incorporate by agreed practice or by law the voice of civil society. Perhaps that kind of independent body is needed to monitor parliament's performance, the parties' competition in governing, and offer in-depth critique.