Strengthen governance with a different Double-R
We’ve been exhausted by four elections last year, but a Prime Minister who’s lost every one seems to want to give you more. I would have hoped the journey of the past months would take the wind out of the ill-conceived sails of the “right of recall” movement after the sobering sea-sickness of being consistently in election cycles, the toll it takes on the treasury, on the quality of public discourse and comity, on the long-term of vision nation-building, and on the capacity of the government of the day to govern. But our current government—which, with the biggest mandate since the NAR, has already squandered it entirely, and spent far more time campaigning two-thirds into its term than delivering anything clear other than patronage and box drains—seems to want to institutionalise the perpetual campaign.
The gesture toward direct democracy that the right to recall represents is a recipe for disaster in a society as superficially “all ah we in one” as ours, with our grossly underdeveloped culture of minority rights. We still criminalise sexual minorities. We still think beating the dignity out of children is character-building. We believe the morals of some faiths should be imposed on others as public policy. We are fine with a built environment and patterns of consumption that have little regard for future generations and people of different abilities. And we don’t realize that an education system that makes losers out of so many is a key driver of criminality and endemic violence. Why would we have the maturity to handle policy disagreements and patronage disappointments without running to the polls, when we haven’t even developed maturity as a nation to talk about race?
Enacting right of recall, unless there is a high threshold required (e.g. ⅗ or ⅔), means we will not only have endured 50 years in which power goes to whoever can get the narrowest plurality of votes, but moving forward any minority must now fear the tyranny of the barest of majorities. No politician will dare to be bold; every decision will pander to the lowest common denominator; none will have a position without holding a wet finger to the wind. It will do nothing to build a strong and plural nation. Nation-building is a tough, long-term project, which sometimes requires taking not immediately popular decisions in a culture of instant gratification and selfishness.
Jumping up in elections more often than Carnival will ensure that work never gets done. Imagine the never-ending election economy right of recall would produce! One in which no goat or police file or sexual history would be safe, no street free of big trucks, no media free from goats and police files and big trucks and innuendo and tribalism. It might produce substantial economic productivity that might delight Finance Minister Howai, at a debilitating emotional cost.
On the other side of the local government elections and the panic of waking up that Monday morning not knowing whether to vote and for what, I myself have new clarity about the role of local government. I get the vision of a Tobago House of Assembly and of municipal corporations—our urban centres and twin island should have some capacity for determination of their own affairs and operations, and resources and leadership with which to do so. How this idea is operationalized is problematic and inefficient and far too political. But I am still at a loss regarding the logic of regional corporation government in Trinidad. Other than better serving as patronage mills, I’m not clear why in a tiny island something the size of the Tunapuna-Piarco Regional Corporation can do anything more effectively than central government. Village- and community-level governance councils could have real impact on people-friendly priority setting and planning, on building healthy communities tolerant of political, ethnic and social diversity, with a real say in infrastructure and development projects like whether house-guzzling highways stretch across the Oropouche lagoon.
That brings me to my pet idea for central government and its local accountability that I think ought to be the focus of a movement even noisier than right of recall. Our Westminster-heritage Parliament doesn’t separate constituent representation from executive government, and unless you have lagaho genes and deep pockets like Jack Warner, constituency service suffers miserably. Until we change that constitutionally, and also enact meaningful, well-debated proportional representation, one simple idea excites me. Residency requirements for MPs—not right of recall—is my double R campaign. More meat to chew on there in another column.
Forging the liberty to love: one nation…many bodies…boundless faith