She did more than misspeak

Three incidents happened recently to catch my attention.  Firstly there was Basdeo Panday’s remarks at Kelvin Ramnath’s funeral, which took place a few weeks ago at the Arunodai Presbyterian Church, in Balmain, Couva.  His remarks were described as distasteful, overly critical and inappropriate by some.  Others thought he was being honest and pointing out the hypocrisy of others.  Secondly there was the much circulated address by Her Excellency Ambassador Therese Baptiste-Cornelis on Cultural Diversity at the Fourth Area of Sustainable Development; which some considered unprofessional and somewhat ludicrous.  Others thought she was just being herself – a straightforward, down to earth person.  Thirdly, U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently visited London and delivered a major foreign policy speech where he expressed skepticism of Britain’s preparation for the Summer Olympics which some considered inappropriate and ill informed.  Others thought it was an honest assessment by a strong candidate unafraid to speak up when necessary.

In each of these situations, there were at least two ways of looking at it.  The Ambassador however, went a bit further.  At the time of writing, there were rumors circulating on about her being pressured to resign but in a way that saves face for those concerned.  Rather than dealing with what I see as a symptom, I would prefer to focus on what I see as the underlying issue.

As I have argued before, the problem lies in our political culture as well as deficiencies in our present constitution.  These two issues are of course inextricably linked.  In terms of deficiencies in our present constitution, I refer specifically to the power given to the Prime Minister to make appointments to positions of national importance without any transparent process involving checks and balances.  Like the coalition government here in the UK, the PP coalition came to power with the promise of constitutional reform.  Unlike the UK coalition government however (whose effort at reform admittedly did not make it past the Lower House), this initiative does not appear to have been given the priority it deserves.

The result has been that we have a person appointed to a key position who can openly admit on camera for the world to see, that their appointment was more a function of their social connections than their technical competence or professional achievements. What a powerful message this is.   It is therefore logical to consider other recent high profile appointments in this light. No need to name names.  To be fair, it should be noted that this is not the first government of Trinidad and Tobago to make such poor appointments but the point is that this government attained power on the basis of their promise of ‘change’ which included constitutional reform.    

On a related note, the Cabinet voted to allocate $10 million to each Member of Parliament to spend within their constituencies.  How is this related to the previous issue?  It is just another example of the government avoiding the deeper deficiencies within our present institutional and to some extent constitutional arrangements.  What about local government reform and the opportunity to strengthen if not reform other existing institutions?  Surely those of us who advocate transparency and accountability are very concerned.USA Tax Singapore

This was the moment when members of the PP coalition government could have assured themselves a place in our nation’s history by addressing the known constitutional deficiencies.  We all know that because of the political culture, any changes would not lead to a utopia.  At the same time, by amending the constitution in a way that all positions of national importance (including Service Commissions, the Integrity Commission, the Boards of Special Purpose State Enterprises, Central Bank Governor etc.) are brought to Parliament and subject to a negative resolution, even with a Parliamentary majority, at least these people would be subject to scrutiny by our elected representatives (and on national television).  It may not eliminate all the questionable candidates, but it could catch a few of the extremely unsuitable ones.

An argument can be made that this is the single biggest obstacle to national progress.  Idea merchants in the form of foreign consultants can peddle the most brilliant plans but once loyalty trumps competence, we the citizens will remain condemned to watching a nation that never realizes its fullest potential.  So come on PP government.  Take a risk.  It would mean that you are assured a place in our history as the government that took the nation to the next level.  Heroes.  The alternative is easy to see.  In a few years, you will have the worst possible position in a small island state…you will be just another former politician.     

My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country.  Despite its challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will enjoy a brighter tomorrow. Read more on   


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