Strip parliamentarians of executive power

Published: Monday | November 19, 2012 Comments 0
P.J. Patterson (left) exchanges words with Edward Seaga during a special parliamentary session to honour Patterson for his legacy as prime minister. To Seaga's left is Patterson's son, Richard. - JIS
P.J. Patterson (left) exchanges words with Edward Seaga during a special parliamentary session to honour Patterson for his legacy as prime minister. To Seaga's left is Patterson's son, Richard. - JIS

Parliament last Tuesday held its second joint sitting in two months to hail a leader considered to be a key architect in the creation of modern Jamaica.

As it was with former Prime Minister Edward Seaga two months ago, Parliament had nothing but good words for the country's longest-serving head of government, P.J. Patterson.

Not surprisingly, the blatant shortcomings of Patterson were ignored by those who gave tributes. There was no mention of the anaemic growth Jamaica experienced under his 14-year watch as prime minister, and certainly nothing about the fact that the dispensing of political patronage appeared to have blossomed under his watch.

But perhaps Parliament is not the place for the cold, hard truth; and certainly the occasion did not call for it. The Jamaica 50 tributes, it seems, are merely an attempt to whitewash sepulchres. One wonders what the tributes would have been like if former Prime Minister Bruce Golding was being celebrated as part of the tribute. We bet our last dollar that we wouldn't have heard anything about Manatt, Dudus, dual citizenship or deception.

Thank heavens, the tributes are over. It's time to look forward and stop looking back at the Seaga/Patterson years. Sure, both made positive contributions, but we need not salute them for a spotty legacy. If the totality of their contribution to national life is to be truly considered, they both would be found wanting.

It is no use, however, whining about what Patterson or Seaga did not do. It's time to build on what they did and to undertake ventures they failed at. One such failure is in the area of constitutional reform. But unlike Patterson, et al, The Gavel is not viewing constitutional reform in narrow ways such as unravelling the ties with the monarch.

Instead, our focus is having such radical reform which will have a significant bearing on government and governance. One of those reforms would mean changing the way in which members of the executive are appointed.

At present, members of the executive must be parliamentarians - drawn either from the House of Representatives or the Senate. The minister of finance, for example, must be from the House. We are struggling to see the very foundation on which this concept was based. The people don't even vote for prime minister; we vote and hope that the leader of the party that we support will command the support of the majority of persons in the House will be appointed prime minister.

Similarly, we hope that the prime minister will recommend to the governor general that the person who has been speaking on finance for the party becomes the finance minister, and the security spokesman becomes the national security minister.

That practice, however, has outlived its usefulness. Gone are the days when we were attracting the best and brightest minds to politics. As Patterson himself so aptly described last Tuesday, politicians, by their actions and utterances, have poisoned the water. To our minds, the best cure is to change the governance framework.

We believe that the days of having non-technical persons, and in some cases, nitwits, leading ministries should be behind us. The Gavel is proposing that in this our 51st year of Independence, our Parliament find the will to remove from the prime minister the power to recommend to the governor general who should be ministers of government. We believe that Cabinet posts should only be filled after Parliament has duly investigated the suitability of a nominee to hold such office.

At the very least, the Establishment flies in the face of the separation-of-power doctrine. It is unreasonable to ask the legislature to overlook that what has been done by the executive.

First, for too long, the legislature has rubber-stamped executive decisions.

Second, government backbenchers have cowered in fear, refusing to use the parliamentary floor to question the decisions of the executive for fear of backlash from portfolio ministers. As a result, the people's business is subject to horse trading and back-door deals as MPs quietly beg ministers for projects or seek answers in fora other than the Parliament out of fear of being victimised.

In the current Parliament, for example, most government backbenchers, with the exception of Fitz Jackson and, to a lesser extent, Dr Dayton Campbell and Raymond Pryce, have been comatose. Aside from committee meetings, most backbenchers open their mouth only to say prayers or to answer the roll call. Certainly, that's not why there were sent to Parliament by their constituents.

It is our view that changing the governance structure to have members of the executive non-parliamentarians would go a far way in securing effective representation at the legislative level.

There is also a cost-benefit to be had from this radical change. Instead of paying in excess of $250 million yearly to consultants and advisers, many of whom are barely competent, the State would be paying qualified persons to be ministers at, perhaps, less cost. We believe employing managers as ministers, rather than politicians, would put a significant dent on the wage bill, since it would reduce inefficiency in Government.

We acknowledge, however, that the model cannot simply work like that. We would need strict anti-corruption laws to deal with issues such as illicit enrichment, and we would also need to give both our legislators and executive the tools to work with.

The Gavel is not confident that many of our seasoned politicians will be receptive to the idea, as most live for the idea of being called 'the honourable minister'. Nonetheless, we commend it for the consideration of everyone. Although the love of power is real, we do believe that deep down, our politicians love Jamaica more and will do the right thing.

Send feedback to thegavel@gleanerjm.com.


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