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Power relations, regionality and constitutional reform
From April 25 to 27 instant, the Faculty of Social Sciences at UWI together with the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) will be co-hosting a conference entitled “Trinidad and Tobago at 50: A Model Nation?” This three-day conference will cover several aspects of national and regional life. Naturally, issues of politics, identity, regionality and constitutional reform will arise.
There is the need for serious reconsideration of the systems of government in the Commonwealth Caribbean alongside the issue of regional unity. The winner-take-all approach may be fine on the local front, but it provides too many contradictions on the regional front. The Commonwealth Caribbean does not have political systems that encourage reaching across the aisles for consensus because that approach is not ingrained in our political culture to our detriment.
Can political leaders on all sides reach out to one another on the basis that regional unity is a laudable goal and that the differences of opinion on the policy issues can be worked out by debate and dialogue between them? Can this be done without it appearing to be a sign of weakness?
Perhaps the source of the problem lies in our attitudes to power and authority. The philosophy of servant leadership is challenged by the concept of the German sociologist Max Weber who spoke of “the prestige feeling that power brings.” The societal psyche on power and authority and its exercise is based in a post-plantation mentality whereby the colonial state functioned with inequality, injustice and exploitation. The ability to sustain the colonial state required an abusive manner in exercising power and authority.
Our societies grew accustomed to power and authority being exercised in an abusive manner and not a developmental one. The transfer of state power from the expatriates to the locals brought with it emotions of jealousy and envy among those local political elites who were not favoured to hold political power and desperation at all costs among those who were favoured with power to hold on to it.
That jealousy and envy can be exacerbated by the Westminster-Whitehall tradition of the winner takes all. Whether the electoral result is a complete victory in all of the electoral seats being contested as has happened in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada or a dead heat as happened in Trinidad and Tobago, there is a common denominator, the winner takes all.
The philosophy of power sharing is not a reality in our political systems with regard to attitudes to power. That is new in Trinidad and Tobago. The former Jamaican prime minister, Michael Manley, writing in his book The Politics of Change in 1974 had this to say about how the society perceived power and authority: “To the Jamaican’s historical distrust of authority must be added the fact that all the institutions through which the newly freed slave, and indeed the entire society, began to attain social coherence, were designed in the shadow of the Westminster model of democracy.” (Michael Manley, The Politics of Change, Andre Deutsch, London, 1974, p.29)
Without the ability to handle power in a constructive manner as servant leaders rather than as Weberian prestige seekers, the Caribbean finds itself saddled with a crisis of arrested regionality where there is more talk than there is action.
Surely Governments and Oppositions can come together, for example, to take the issue of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to the public in a bi-partisan manner in order to attain special parliamentary majorities and to campaign jointly on the same platform for the ideal of the CCJ.
If that cannot happen, then we have a crisis of constitutionality whereby the routine tasks of the Opposition to oppose the Government cannot be overcome in respect of institutions that we can regard as transcending the political divide.
Governments must be able to state clearly their vision for the CCJ. They must reach out to the Opposition in their countries to join them on this single issue and the Opposition, in turn, must demonstrate that they too want the court and will set aside their differences in order to deliver all that is required in the Parliament and in the public domain.
However, before we get there, those who are proposing the CCJ must agree on certain fundamentals. Last week, I spoke about the contradictions contained on the CCJ Web site about personal knighthoods and membership of Her Majesty’s Privy Council in respect of the past and current presidents of the CCJ.
Perhaps, we are not yet ready to move forward on this score if we are going to promote the CCJ as a termination of British colonialism while we simultaneously glorify all of its bastions (the knighthoods and the title of “The Right Honourable”) in the pursuit of such advancement.
What is different if members of Her Majesty’s Privy Council sit as justices of the CCJ? Where is the reform? The CCJ has to do more to convince the Caribbean public that it is truly Caribbean.
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