After such an expensive show of consultation over so many months last year, it’s a shame proposals coming out of the Constitutional Reform Commission process are showing up not on its website or in public documents, but as political trial balloons in news stories with no sources. As a result, they aren’t commanding much public discussion; perhaps because the nation is also eying the entire process with a healthy dose of cynicism. One major proposal floated last week suggests Commissioners have been listening to national yearnings about our quality of parliamentary representation. A new House of Representatives, we are hearing, could consist of persons elected by each constituency to do just that, represent—separate from another chamber, selected through proportional voting, from which ministers would come. I like the idea, and want to propose an improvement to it for national debate, something I raised in both the consultation process and my last column.
Why don’t our representatives live in their constituencies?
Reviewing Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) public records, I’ve discovered that fewer than 30% of our currently elected Parliamentarians—just 12 of the 41—do.
Newly elected St. Joseph MP Terrence Deyalsingh and five of the twelve PNM MPs who won election in 2010, Alicia Hospedales, Colm Imbert, Fitzgerald Jeffrey, Patricia McIntosh and Keith Rowley—half of that party’s bench—live where they represent. But, besides former St. Joseph MP Herbert Volney, only three of 21 Members elected on UNC tickets in 2010—Nizam Baksh, Winston Peters, Chandresh Sharma—live in their constituencies! Both TOP MPs do; but only one of six COP representatives. And that might be none (and the actual numbers for all parties lower), since some MPs like Carolyn Seepersad Bachan, while registered in their constituencies, are reported in the media and by neighbours to live elsewhere.
More fascinating, 60% of all House members live in just ten of all 41 constituencies, most unsurprisingly in the East-West corridor. Including himself, five live and vote in Mr. Imbert’s Diego Martin North/East constituency. Fifteen constituencies with an absent MP have someone representing another district living there.
But in 12 constituencies no member of our elected Parliament lives.
This is the case in both major parties’ heartlands—neither Caroni constituency, Couva South, Oropouche East, Tabaquite; neither Laventille constituency, Pt. Fortin—as well as in more marginal places like Barataria/San Juan, Chaguanas East, Cumuto/Manzanilla, D’Abadie/O’Meara, Pointe-a-Pierre and Toco/Sangre Grande.
Of around 180 countries in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Parline database, at least 30—a dozen in the Americas, and a dozen-and-a-half elsewhere—have some sort of residency requirement for Parliamentarians. This may be contemporary residence in the constituency they represent; being a ‘native’ of it; past long-term residence; or, with the United States House, residency in the state, but not necessarily district, they represent.
Do you care where the MP who represents your constituency lives? I do—deeply. Even if I’m voting for a party crapaud, I want it to be one known to local schoolboys. This idea of residency requirements hasn’t ignited much public imagination in our tribal politics. I wish it would. It takes care of a lot of the issues that drive the ill-conceived idea of recall elections I talked about last time. And it’s much, much simpler, especially in a House of purely legislators.
We can require MPs live among the people they represent, drive on the same roads, fear the same floods, smell the same air, participate in daily life, have children who need emergency care. In other words, appreciate firsthand, on a daily basis, the public goods a constituency needs.
A culture—and a mandate—of living and having close ties to a community make it more likely that constituencies will elect people who understand and can champion their needs. And perhaps it also means that more women, “minorities” and independents get elected by those constituencies, people whose networks and relationships can overcome tribal voting.
Residency requirements for MPs—not right of recall—is my double R campaign for political accountability. Join me in starting a national conversation about that!
|WHERE THEY REPRESENT||WHERE THEY LIVE|
|Barataria/San Juan||Port of Spain South|
|Caroni Central||La Brea|
|Caroni East||Diego Martin North/East|
|Chagaunas East||Diego Martin North/East|
|Chagaunas West||Lopinot/BonAir West|
|Couva North||Chagaunas West|
|Couva South||Chagaunas West|
|D’Abadie/O’Meara||Diego Martin North/East|
|Diego Martin Central||Diego Martin North/East|
|Diego Martin North/East||Diego Martin North/East|
|Diego Martin West||Diego Martin West|
|La Brea||La Brea|
|Laventille East/Morvant||Diego Martin Central|
|Oropouche East||San Fernando East|
|Point Fortin||Diego Martin West|
|Port of Spain NorthEast/St. Ann’s West||Port of Spain NorthEast/St. Ann’s West|
|Port of Spain South||St. Ann’s East|
|San Fernando East||San Fernando West|
|San Fernando West||San Fernando West|
|St. Ann’s East||Port of Spain NorthEast/St. Ann’s West|
|St. Augustine||St. Joseph|
|St. Joseph||St. Joseph|
|Tobago East||Tobago East|
|Tobago West||Tobago West|
|It’s not just Ian Alleyne! Four MPs could not be found registered at the address they gave the EBC as candidates in the 2010 election. For three I found a different registration address, reflected in the table. For the fourth I show the constituency the 2010 address is in.|
Forging the liberty to love: one nation…many bodies…boundless faith