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Sunday 15 September 2019
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Commentary

Rowley, Suruj, politics

Politics is described as “the art and science of government.”

In practice it is more artfulness than science, and inevitably so in a government-opposition party system.

I refer briefly to Tabaquite UNC MP Dr Suruj Rambachan’s making way for “new, capable faces” in his party and the Prime Minister’s town hall-meeting reference to “hypocrisy in politics” – both revealing the limitations of party politics.

The party system, including cabinet collective responsibility, puts limits on individual integrity and good conscience.

In the government-opposition system, the “hypocrisy” begins from the day ministers and parliamentary secretaries take the oath “to uphold the constitution and the law,” and to “conscientiously and impartially” to the best of their ability “discharge their duties and do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”

Dr Rowley described the system as being “filled with hypocrisy.” (Hypocrisy is defined as the assumption or postulation of moral standards to which one’s own behaviour does not conform.)

The Westminster party system was designed with an opposition to apply checks and balances on government and other public officials. The basis was distrust in the men and women who get into government.

But this political strategy was and is yet to serve the common good as intended: a problem that bothered many Third World leaders, for example, Africa’s Julius Nyerere and Kwame Nkrumah and India’s Jawaharlal Nehru.

Party officials and supporters rarely, if at all, admit wrongdoing on their part. This is called “loyalty.”

However, if and when they do admit it, the opposition quickly and unforgiving seizes political mileage. Denials, distractions and deflections become options for political survival. The same thing happens when the said opposition gets into government. How do you call this?

The peculiar thing about this scenario is, given people as they are, mistakes of varying kinds will be made along the way. But given the oath, forgiveness should be no substitute for public accountability and justice. To help sanitise this self-serving political culture, independent, objective thinkers and commentaries become necessary.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has repeatedly admitted “mistakes,” but pledging “to do better next time.” The public will judge.

The disenchantment of the entrenched adversarial system is now echoed around the world. Even the “mother of parliaments” in the UK now suffers public resentment. Congressman Justin Amash recently resigned from his Republican party, claiming that “party politics is trapped in a partisan death trap and I am frightened from what I see.”

Sparing no party, Cedros resident Michelle Dymally Davis declared in a letter to this newspaper: "If you are content with the deplorable roads, failing health care, archaic education, poor government services, high food costs, then you should review the decades of neglect and mismanagement. We simply cannot continue to vote on party loyalty.”

Political patronage is the lifeblood of party politics. It brings in many from the cold.

But it also banishes many into the cold. Such reciprocal revenge leads the country to run far below its potential, often sacrificing merit.

This is where the oath breaks down, breeding corruption and inefficiency. And the partisan obligation to defend it. Looks like we have to live with this system – limitations and all.

Part of the practical solution to the weaknesses of party politics is for strong leadership to choose candidates with established good character, strong civic purpose and resistant to mercenary temptations. This should be supported by political reform with an elected parliament, separate and capable of holding the executive legally accountable.

Dr Rambachan’s declaration is a breath of fresh air, calling for “the old faces” to give way so as to save Ms Persad-Bissessar “the hurt of having to move them.” She admitted unwillingness to go with the “same old faces.” UWI analyst Dr Bishnu Ragoonath cited, among the “old faces” for removal Ganga Singh, Tim Gopeesingh, Rodney Charles and some others like Bhoe Tewarie. Tough challenge.

The fact is, party-popular Ms Persad-Bissessar will find difficulty in coming even near winning the next election with the same line-up, many of whom, as social media frequently indicate, remain vulnerable to charges of incompetence and corruption. Rowley applied his “new faces” decision in 2015.

While his current observations on hypocrisy and non-productive workers are duly noted, Dr Rambachan’s political formula is good for the UNC, other parties and democracy itself.

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