Four weeks ago, Prime Minister Rowley introduced new legislation to overhaul how a special type of organisation is regulated – political parties. Though not constitutionally required, these are in practice the organisations that prepare to and then form our governments.
Energy wealth and the “any-crapaud-in-a-balisier-tie” tribalism and “rum-and-roti,” blue-in-a-red/yellow jersey” opportunism of our political culture have got married to a global neoliberalism and moved political governance out of the house of visionary ideas or pressure for social change we lived in at least into 1970, and into the practice of eking out victories at the margins to remain in/regain power, to largely keep things working for the international systems and local elites for whom they’ve been working.
Since April 26’s start of this series on the recovery roadmap process and my proposals for it, publicly available here (bit.ly/RecoveryRoadmapResources_CAISO), I’ve repeatedly cited Rowley’s April 20 peptalk vision about the function of civil society organisations – as conduits to execute what Government proposes, with a readiness, capability and effectiveness Government lacks.
On the one hand, it’s flattering; on the other, it’s dangerously magical thinking about what it costs to implement effectively. But over the last two weeks, I’ve tried to lay out some smart policy and financial investments Government can make that would specifically enhance non-governmental organisations' (NGOs) execution capability, and leverage the magic we do in fact possess, that’s given short shrift in the PM’s narrow focus on social-programme delivery.
NGOs are in fact critical development stakeholders and national leaders. We provide community infrastructure; and we innovate and solve problems. We, too, attract international and private-sector investment. What we bring uniquely to design – and implementation – of development programmes and of policy are: agility; a reach into the corners of national diversity Government cannot; trust among these populations; and what anthropologists call “local knowledge.”
We know and understand things Government does not yet.
So shouldn’t NGOs receive even more thoughtful attention to our role in government than parties?
Over time local thinkers have grappled with structural, procedural and cultural ways to ensure how local knowledge becomes part of local and national-level planning, decision-making, and governing. Doing so also serves to hold government accountable, and to bring the voices and vision of the nation’s least powerful groups to the table. Our consultation, commission and report cultures have been widely debunked as ineffective. Some argue we already have plenty solutions – like the procurement regulator – it’s just a matter of compelling their implementation.
Measures I find most attractive to deepen participatory governance pivot on the function of the Senate. Visit the shared drive and you’ll find the 1976 Tapia House manifesto’s concept of a jumble of interests forming a “Macco Senate.” Our 1976 Republican Constitution created a somewhat different creature; but still one where a third of Senate seats are non-partisan, and Government requires the vote of either the presiding officer or a senator on another bench to pass anything.
A forward-thinking reading of the Constitution’s “nine…outstanding persons from economic or social or community organisations and other major fields” allows the President to make the “Independent” bench a powerhouse of the best, smartest community organisers and policy advocates, rather than the establishment approach of picking safe, important people who make speeches show-offing how bright they are, then vote with Government for the unamended bill they just critiqued in detail.
Our current President has been willing to make temporary appointments like Josh Drayton and Folade Mutota, advanced by civil society groups. But where she and I disagree is that we need disruptive or out-of-the-box thinkers on the bench.
Another weakness in the Constitution’s design makes Independent senators independent of both the President and each other – and accountable to no one. Hence the speechery.
A diverse, grounded team of civil society advocates with cutting-edge ideas in our upper house can provide a critical bulwark for every law enacted. Strengthening the quality of their staff and logistical support, and ensuring they have the same kind of access to the public the partisan benches are expected to, will increase their productivity and accountability. Further, no constitutional requirement exists that legislation be introduced solely by Government – a macco-like bench could also draft and introduce visionary laws.
My generation was blessed with non-renewable natural resources that have enriched us incredibly. But our far more precious resource as Trinbs is cultural – the power of our incredible human imagination. Let us commit to future generations that we take the best care of that. The enormous challenge of recovery from covid presents us with an enormous opportunity – “to reimagine different futures than the ones we had assumed before now that we had been dealt,” which set us on a different course through history, throw us off our old treadmill...Things we could not imagine changing now can.” I still believe what I wrote on March 22.
Let us commit to leaving no good idea behind, no value on the table. Next week I’ll talk more about that.