It must be something of comic irony, or ironic comedy that the matter of proportional representation has now surfaced not so much in the context of better citizen representation, but to give political parties more opportunity to potentially twart, stymie, and hijack the delivery of goods and services to citizens.
If the already acknowledged clearly deficient two-party West Minster system on which our governance is based, and the hung US Parliament to which our reform efforts are looking are not enough of a lesson on the potential ills of existing representative models, I’m not sure what is.
The picture of a red and yellow map, with a touch of green, depicting the election results totally skews the micro picture of how the voting went and does not reflect the political convulsions that are taking place within our communities which are struggling to articulate their discomfort and disenchantment with what exists.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar today announced that her government does not propose to postpone local government elections but intend to lay in Parliament, a Bill to amend the Municipal Corporations Act, 1990.
Persad-Bissessar made the announcement at a Post-Cabinet News Conference at the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair.
Following is the full content of the Persad-Bissessar’s statement:
PP Government does not propose to postpone local government elections and also proposes to lay in Parliament, a Bill to amend the Municipal Corporations Act, 1990
Local Government Elections will be held on time
The life of local government bodies in Trinidad and Tobago came to an end on July 26th2013. By law, Local Government elections are due by within three (3) months after the life of the municipal corporations came to an end. Since the expiration of the life of the Local Government, there has been widespread public speculation that this Government would seek to postpone local government elections. Today I confirm to you that although it remains open to the Government to pass legislation to postpone any elections, the local government elections shall not be postponed.
It was following a meeting of the National Executive Council of the UNC, that I merely communicated to the national community that some former UNC Councillors had expressed the view that the local government elections should be postponed in order to facilitate the implementation of this Government’s proposal for local government reform as expressed in the White Paper on Local Government Reform which was published in July 2012.
Postponement of the Local Government Elections by the PNM
I am on record as having condemned the former PNM regime for suppressing the voice of the people by postponing local government elections for over four (4) years during the period 2006-2010. This was not the first time it had taken such action: The PNM had also postponed local government elections on three (3) occasions during the period 1962 to 1968 and 1974 to 1977. The population neither forgets nor forgives such disenfranchisement as there are many who remember the bitter struggle over the years for a democratic system of governance that puts the power in the hands of the people.
The Value of the Right to Vote
Ours is a young but vibrant democracy. It was only recently, in 1946 that the British Parliament granted universal adult suffrage to Trinidad and Tobago. At first, the right to vote was limited to persons 21 years and over. The 1976 Republican Constitution lowered this to 18 years. We must never take the right to vote for granted. The postponement of any election which is constitutionally due must only be countenanced in the most exceptional and extreme circumstances. War and famine come to mind as examples of appropriate circumstances.
In this context the postponement of local government elections by the PNM remains a blot on our otherwise proud and unblemished record as a democratic nation.
My entire political career has been based on respect for the voice of the people. I am not about to change that now. It is essential that governance is informed and guided by the voice of the people.
In the 2010 manifesto to the People’s Partnership we declared our commitment to a genuine participatory democracy. We promised that we would never deprive you of what we view as your fundamental human right to vote and elect representatives of your choice.
Patron of the Local Government Forum of the Commonwealth
The postponement of local government elections is alien to the concept of people-centred development. At present, I am a patron of the Local Government Forum of the Commonwealth. My fellow patrons are the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the RT Honourable Helen Clarke and the President of Uganda, His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. I am therefore at the forefront of the international movement for the reform and strengthening of local government to give greater power to the people.
I will not follow the precedent set by some of our predecessors and use the burning issue of local government reform as an excuse to avoid facing the electorate. I am not a coward. I am not afraid of the voice of the people- on the contrary, I draw my political strength and inspiration from it.
The Admitted Need for Local Government Reform
That is not to say however, that local government reform can be put on the back burner. Indeed, there is a pressing and urgent need for it. Since Independence in 1962, there have been several attempts at local government reform. These include:
· 1965- Report commissioned by Dr Eric Williams from a committee chaired by Mitra Sinanan
· 1974- The Sir Hugh Wooding Constitution Commission
· 1983- The Chambers Administration Draft Policy Paper on Community Development and Local Government Reform, 1983
· 1989- The ANR Robinson Administration draft Policy Paper on “The Decentralization Process, Regional Administration and Regional Development.”
· 2006- The Manning administration’s White Paper on Local Government Reform which followed the Green Paper of 2004
Municipal Corporations Act over 20 years old
The present Municipal Corporations Act was passed in 1990. It is over twenty (20) years old. It must be revisited to address the rapidly evolving and changing social, economic and cultural environment of the 21st century.
Proportional Representation – Principles of Fairness Group
The concept of proportional representation has been advocated as a fairer and stronger system for many years now. It has had the blessing of the Wooding Commission in 1974. More recently, the 2006 draft constitution of the Principles of Fairness Group proposed a system of proportional representation for the election of Senators.
The idea was that parties should have a slate of Senators that is known beforehand to the public at a general election. Seats in the Senate would be allocated in accordance with the number of votes cast for a party. (See Section 69 of the draft constitution of the Principle of Fairness Group)
This is a unique and attractive idea that I wish to introduce in our local government elections. It will represent a historic foray into the virgin territory of proportionate representation which many feel, is an idea whose time has come.
Members of the Principles of Fairness Group
I am grateful to the members of the Principles of Fairness Group that introduced this idea. I think it is wise to incorporate it into the political and democratic process for the election of Aldermen which, by analogy, is the equivalent of party appointed Senators. The Directors of the Principles of Fairness Group were:-
- Marjorie Thorpe, PhD (Chairman)
- Archbishop Edward Gilbert
- Ken Gordon
- Bhoendradatt Tewarie, PhD
- Tajmool Hosein, TC, QC
- Arthur Lok Jack
- Hamid Ghany, PhD
- Patricia Mohammed, PhD
- Satnarine Maharaj and
- Noble Khan
The Constitution was prepared by a Sub-Committee comprising:
- Tajmool Hosein, TC, QC and
- Hamid Ghany, PhD
Strengthening and Deepening our democracy
The fundamental issue for me is the implementation of a policy to further democratize and strengthen the local government bodies in such a way as to allow the electorate greater control over the election of all persons who would hold office in all of the Councils.
The time has come to have the Aldermen elected by the population and not selected by the Councillors after an election. Our examples over the years have shown us that this process can be manipulated and controlled by political deal-making and political indiscipline to the detriment of the population who have no say in what the Councillors may want to do after they have been elected.
Proposed change in the law
In the circumstances I wish to state the following:-
- Local Government Elections will be held when they are due.
- My Government will table Legislation immediately to introduce a system of proportional representation for the election of Aldermen.
- Councillors will continue to be elected in the same way that they are now elected under the first past-the-post system.
- All Councils will have their complement of Aldermen increased to 4 to ensure that there is no inequality between Councils where Aldermen are concerned.
- The recommendations of the Elections and Boundaries Commission for the seat distribution and boundaries in existing Councils will be implemented.
- The current method for choosing Aldermen will be abolished.
Every vote will now count
By introducing a mixed system of election using the first past-the-post system for the existing electoral districts and a system of proportional representation for the election of Aldermen, my Government is seeking to expand the electoral process in local government.
The expansion will ensure that every vote will count in every district because those votes will be used to calculate the allocation of the seats of Aldermen. Even if a single party were to win all of the seats on the first past-the-post system, there will more than likely be an allocation of at least one Alderman to another party which will ensure that another political voice would sit on such a Council.
Proposed Aldermen to be known by electorate upfront
All political parties will be required to provide a list of names of potential Aldermen whose number will be equal to the number of the electoral districts and who themselves will not be candidates in those districts. This will be necessary to ensure that the electorate know in advance who the potential Aldermen are likely to be by seeing in advance the pool of names from which the Aldermen will be drawn.
Four (4) Aldermen to be chosen from list
Up to four (4) Aldermen in total will be chosen for each Council by extracting the names of those persons whom each party would like to see as their Aldermen from the lists provided by the said political parties. Such an extraction of names will be done in proportion of the total votes cast for each party for their Councillors in the various electoral districts within a Council.
Vacancies to be filled from unused names
In the event that any vacancies arise among the Aldermen during the term of office of a Council, such vacancies can be filled by drawing names from the unused portion of the list of names provided by political parties on nomination day. As a consequence of using this method the vacancies would be filled from lists of names that the political parties advertised to the public before the election was held. There will be no surprises.
As regards the status of persons who wish to contest electoral districts as independent candidates there will be no impediment to the existing system that will continue to permit persons to stand for election as independent candidates in any electoral district. Naturally, the rule that disqualifies a Councillor from being an Alderman will apply, but Independent candidates are more than welcome to stand for election as Councillors.
It is important that this reform to the method by which Aldermen are to be chosen in all of the local government Councils is implemented before the next local government election. Permit me to quote from former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who stated in 2006 that “…participatory governance, based on the will of the people, is the best path to freedom, growth and development.”
Urge all parties to support this historical change
I look forward to the support of all parties in this House for the measure which will strengthen our democracy and allow the electorate greater control over those who are put forward to serve as both Councillors and Aldermen by ensuring that every vote will now count and no vote will ever be wasted again in any local government election in this country because people may feel that their party does not have a chance to win in their district.
This measure is designed to empower our voters and enhance citizen participation in all elections.
Let me end by saying that Local Government Elections will be held on Monday, October 21, 2013.