No more maximum leader
Posted: Tuesday, November 10, 2009
By Derren Joseph
November 08, 2009
This is my fifth week considering issues around constitutional reform. I am glad to see so many groups discussing ways of improving the quality of life for us all. A point made recently, both in a Facebook forum and in the Point Fortin consultation, however, was that "average" people can be intimidated by the somewhat dense legal structure of our various documents. I support that view. They often do make difficult reading.
Unfortunately, this only serves to contribute to what I call a culture of "bacchanal and gossip." In this culture, some prefer discussing personalities rather than ideas. This culture also means that some are content to accept and repeat what they (over?) hear, rather than investigate independently and analyse for themselves. I had a discussion, recently, with an attorney about the "accessibility" of the debate on constitutional reform to us "average" people.
It was pointed out to me that two of our greatest minds, Dr Ghany and Dr Ryan, have been doing much to bring the debate to us. This should be acknowledged. Dr Ghany has made a new book available to us called Changing Our Constitution. The OPM's Web site has both the Working Document on Constitutional Reform for Public Consultation and Dr Ghany's publication available for free download: www.opm.gov.tt. Hard copies of both are also available to those attending the consultation meetings. One interesting point made in Changing Our Constitution was that merging the office of the President with that of the Prime Minister will remove an "impartial arbiter from the system." That should come as no surprise. Dr Ghany then goes on to say that "the actual presidency that is now being proposed will be weaker than the office of the Prime Minister, under the existing constitutional arrangements, for the following reasons..." He then goes on to give five quite compelling reasons for this statement.
After reading this, I immediately referred to the Working Document, and to some extent, I would agree. It is quite possible that the office of the so-called "Executive President" being proposed could actually be weaker—not stronger—than our present office of the Prime Minister. The rationale for this view is clearly and expertly articulated in detail in Part 2 of his book. In summary, however, the five reasons are: The proposed power of the House of Representatives to both elect and remove the President strengthens the position of the legislature in relation to the executive. Removal of the President from the House of Representatives means that whoever controls the majority in the House becomes a real power broker under the proposed constitution. More power will be accorded to the proposed (maximum of) four ministers from each House invited to sit in the Cabinet. These members will be the only ones sitting in both the executive and legislature.
The Majority Leader in the House of Representatives may become the most powerful of them. The proposed Majority Leader—and not the President—will have the power to inform the Speaker of members who have either resigned or expelled from their political party. This could lead to the member vacating his seat. As such, the Majority Leader becomes a "virtual Prime Minister" in managing the affairs of the House of Representatives. The proposed retention of the doctrine of collective responsibility of the Cabinet to Parliament means that the Majority Leader, sitting in both government branches, will be held accountable for ensuring that collective responsibility. As such, it would appear that based on how the Working Document has proposed to establish the separate roles of the President and Majority Leader, there is unlikely to be a "maximum leader."
Rather, the division of power between these two positions would make for an interesting dynamic, not just in Cabinet, but within the political party as well. This working document is by no means perfect, but there are many suggestions that do make sense and could benefit us all. At the same time, those who argue for: proportional representation, reconsideration of the proposed Ministry of Justice, a review of the Senate, and the proposed employment terms for Permanent Secretaries, have valid concerns that should be heard. Dr Ghany's next meeting is at Sangre Grande Civic Centre, on Foster Road, on Saturday, November 14. It starts at 1.30 pm and finishes at 5 pm. See you there! Remember the Working Document on Constitutional Reform for Public Consultation is available on the Web at www.ttparliament.org/publications.php?mid=32
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