Political analyst Dr Winford James is of the view that the structures of governance to make the voices of the people in civil societies and associated groups heard on critical issues needs to be reinvigorated.
James was the keynote speaker during Thursday’s town hall meeting hosted by the TT Transparency Institute in partnership with other civil society organisations at the Works Conference Room in Shaw Park, as he addressed the issue of "Curbing corruption in Small Island States."
In his presentation, James said of the idea that an executive council can be a law unto itself, and Cabinet can use its discretion though it is sometimes uninformed and arbitrary in many ways and unconstrained by vigorous interrogation, that those days will be over.
He said the citizenry were excluded too much from the government processes.
“We function as votes in a vote bank. Those votes place a party into power and government and then the Executive – in the case of the country, the Cabinet, and in the case of Tobago, the Executive Council. The Executive takes over and all of a sudden they have all the snags and smiles, they know because they have the power, and so ideas to transform the governance process are ignored and dismissed because nothing is happening to the Constitution, and those matters need to be enshrined if they are to make any sense at all,” he said.
With that, he referred to the issue of internal self-governance for Tobago.
“We don’t know where it is right now, although it was mentioned on the platform in 2015 and previous governments did very little, because there is no political will to get the people involved in the process,” he said.
He deemed the issue of a "People’s House" relevant. The idea, he said, was first brought forward by economist Vanus James during the many consultations held across the island.
“It is an elected house, of course, because of the power it is being given. There are specific responsibilities, but in essence, the People’s House is elected to constrain the power of the Executive in every big matter – the matter of the budget, the matter of investment loans, seeking investment loans – it is even going to override the power of the President. We want the People’s House to review what the Executive is doing or not doing. We want an oversight legislative like the People’s House,” he said.
James said Tobago is an island which receives transfers from the national economy for the running of its affairs, as he reminded that the island produces nothing of its own for export.
“Our economy, because of its dependency on Trinidad, because of the nature of that dependence, there is no economy at all in terms of development. This island has been accepting that since I was a little boy, and even before that, and they speak of themselves as being astute – they have given us 'astute government.'
"There is nothing astute about it. Tobago’s talents are not being used to diagnose the problem of this small space,to determine a plan of action as to what are the problems we face here, how might we fix these problems, and I bet you, I guarantee you, if we were to do that sort of thing – take control – then we would have zero literacy in this place in just a few years. But there is this...passivity and this stasis that we are locked in,” he said.