|Caribbean need for greater political maturity|
|Thursday, 12 July 2012 13:37|
The prolonged controversy between Jamaican Youth and Culture Minister, Lisa Hanna, and her predecessor and current Opposition shadow minister, Olivia "Babsy" Grange, forges ahead, with interviews and open letters abound. It's just one of several party conflicts steaming in the Caribbean, from votes of no confidence in Trinidad and Tobago to a scheduling showdown between political rallies in Grenada.
The bickering however, while producing much comedic fodder, exposes a destructive and inborn flaw in the two-party political system.
A vibrant bi-party or multiple party system is vital to a democracy. Democracies thrive when any party has a real chance to govern, ensuring against a biased political system. The fatal flaw however, as experienced in several democracies, is the legislative destruction that follows when an opposition party irrationally erases programs, both good and bad, set by the previous administration.
The U.S. currently labors under this same flaw, as bi-partisan conflict may deny millions of Americans affordable healthcare. If the Republican Party wins, the party's presidential candidate and congressional representatives have vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, passed by the incumbent Democratic administration.
But the U.S. government has controls protecting it from its own destruction. Legal guards like the Supreme Court are written into the American Constitution to protect the laws of past administrations. The two-party systems throughout the Caribbean however lack a similar safety net.
The situation is compounded when governments in the region are changed in rapid succession, as the Caribbean experienced recently in the elections in Jamaica and St. Lucia. Arguably, when one party controls a government for multiple terms, an extended tenure offers a better chance for public policies to endure. Policies have a chance to live and breathe, and are not as easily disposable.
National growth, especially in education, social reforms, and health, can become unstable if laws are vulnerable to the petty whim of a new government. Some policies serve the general interest of the society, and should be beyond political differences or special interests of either political party.
Because the political divide in the Caribbean is so strong, the potential legislative destruction is even more profound when government changes.
The region however is getting older, and by convention, should be getting wiser. Both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are celebrating 50 years of independence this year. A mature government must allow for the preservation of key public policies when an administration changes. Otherwise, serious national and regional growth will become victim to the political process.
For the Caribbean, some have proposed bi-partisan ministerial committees that include both former and incumbent ministers, permanent secretaries, financial controllers, and other relevant public officers. Where, for any reason, a former minister cannot be a member of this committee, he or she would be replaced by the relevant shadow minister.
Such bi-partisan ministerial committees would give meaningful function to the role of shadow ministers, reducing the risk of raw politics usurping meaningful work. This system may also allow for rational and effective communication where changes are required, and enhance the permanent secretary's role as the link to continuity in respective ministries.
Such collaboration is more than possible. Caribbean political parties today lack the fundamental ideological divides during the height of the region's socialist experiments. The relative absence of such differences should make a bipartisan approach more feasible.
Despite the frequently strong rhetoric in U.S. politics, the American system allows for a two month bi-partisan transition period between outgoing and incoming presidents. Although this does not correct the mentioned flaw in the two-party system, it offers potential for some continuity when an administration changes – something bi-partisan ministerial committees could achieve in the Caribbean.
Whatever the solution, the Caribbean people deserve something more than playground politics.