Not 'ole politricks' -- good governance Analysis by Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
April 2, 2002

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`Not just the current administration (in Trinidad and Tobago) but governments across...CARICOM can also expect to be under more critical scrutiny in the conduct of the nation's business.'

AFTER what President ANR Robinson has done in ignoring the incumbency argument to effect a change in government after the 18-18 seats deadlock, as well as last week's dramatic development with anti-corruption charges against six prominent citizens, it seems reasonable to expect significant, if not exactly fundamental shifts in governance in Trinidad and Tobago.

Whatever the outcome of the next general election -- the date for which may best be assessed depending on what happens when Parliament meets on Friday -- governance can hardly be along the usual trodden path, given the mood of a people seemingly fed up with the 'ole politricks'.

Not just the current administration of Prime Minister Patrick Manning, but governments across the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) can also expect to be under more critical scrutiny in the conduct of the nation's business.

The whole gamut of democratic governance, with proper accountability and morality in public affairs may very well come under structured monitoring by social interest groups of the wider civil society of the Caribbean.

This month's two-day high-level government and civil society encounter in Barbados, being organised by the CARICOM Secretariat for April 29-30, may provide the opportunity to inspire a new initiative for more involvement in decision-making by civil society and to ensure more democratic and clean government as the Community moves towards a single market and economy.

Right now, in Trinidad and Tobago, with all the real and imagined shortcomings, the nepotism and alleged corruption of the previous United National Congress administrations, look at the blunders, nepotism, lavish expenditures, discrimination in appointments and "pay back time" politics of the People's National Movement in just three short months.

The new demands for transparency coming from various social interest groups in the region, may help in guarding against nepotism, jobs for ill-suited 'boys and girls' of a ruling party, the misuse of public funds for narrow political objectives, and incompetent management of human and financial resources that often diminish instead of increasing living standards of the poor and disadvantaged.

Additionally, the public can be expected to be even more vigilant against any erosion of the independence of the judiciary and the disciplined forces from the corroding influence of partisan politics of both governing and opposition parties.

At the same time, while talk of "good governance" has become the new mantra of parties in and out of government, there needs to be serious rethinking also of the appointment processes and functioning of key state institutions with a view to protecting the national interest from political and/or racial prejudices, corruption, incompetence and lack of accountability.

There are good reasons, based on various experiences in a number of jurisdictions, to support the concept that justice is not a cloistered virtue and judges themselves should, therefore, not be treated as being without the weaknesses that afflict others in public office.

Hence, as some senior members of the legal profession also feel, the work of judges, magistrates and DPPs should be subjected to an appropriate method of independent periodic evaluation. After all, political, financial or other forms of corruption are not peculiar to any one profession, class or segment of society.

The same school of thought also thinks that the media, both public and privately owned, should equally be subjected to independent monitoring to determine how they are honouring the social responsibility theory in serving the national/regional interest and confirming to their own mission statements that also belong in the public domain.

In the quest, therefore, for 'good governance', there should be new approaches in the selection, functioning and empowerment of the Judicial and Police Service Commissions; Electoral and Boundary Commission, as well as in the appointments of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Auditor General and the institution of Ombudsman.

The creation of independent monitoring panels to review decisions of these bodies with reports being tabled in Parliament may become necessary. Some of this may require constitutional changes that could be considered within the context of constitutional reform.

There are, however, certain changes that can perhaps take place within existing structures without waiting for constitutional reform. Such as, the requirement for prior background checks, at all relevant levels, on those to be confirmed for appointments to an Anti-Corruption Bureau, or some such similar mechanism; and for the offices of DPP, Auditor General and members of the Judicial and Police Service Commissions.

The intention is to encourage and maintain public confidence in their independence from political affiliation, assurances of their competence and integrity and not having to fear the proverbial 'skeletons' in the closet, while they take decisions that affect others.

At this period, when governments and political parties across the region may have good reasons to learn from the agonising political and other developments in Trinidad and Tobago, it is perhaps appropriate for them to revisit the ideas and proposals for enhancing democratic governance in small states of the global society as emerged in a report adopted back in 1985 at the Commonwealth Summit in The Bahamas.

Given the growing concerns over the independence of key institutions in small states of sub-regions such as the Caribbean Community, it was agreed by the participating heads of government that, where appropriate, the advantages of creating regional mechanisms at the administrative and judicial levels should be seriously considered.

It was recommended that these could include the linking of some core elements of the administrative system on a regional basis to protect them from possible abuse at the domestic level. Specifically proposed for action were regional elections commissions and regional service commissions for key judicial, administrative and/or security posts.

Those who are emotionally talking about "good governance", honesty and integrity in the judicial and police services, in the conduct of elections and the need for transparency, should give some thought to the value of creating regional mechanisms/systems that could avoid the abuse and corruption that have been experienced at the domestic level in some member states of our Community.

The establishment of the proposed Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) must be seen as one such vital regional institution.