The coming to office of a new political administration on an overwhelming mandate given by the electorate is an outcome of the democratic process which is tantamount to a vote of absolute confidence. On the flip side, it is a signal of frustration with the previous administration to meet expectations. Within the labour movement, the change of leadership is not so dramatic, but the common denominator which drives the change of the leader is the failure of the trade union administration to deliver on the mandate of the membership. Basically, the membership of the trade union and the electorate of the nation are both inclined to concern themselves with what they expect of the administration.
There is the old adage which says that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In the life of any administration, this is one thing that should not be taken lightly. In as much that the democratic system provides for checks and balances, there should be the consciousness on the part of any administration that this mechanism will serve as a watchdog which is expected to police its policies and actions. Given that the system of checks and balances is an important aspect of the democratic system opposition, this underlines why it is necessary to have an opposition. In the absence of an official Opposition in a House of Assembly, there is the cementing of the question of who shall the guard the guard. Where and when this occurs, it places an inordinate responsibility on the electorate to maintain its vigilance over the actions of the government.
Where there is the absence of an official Opposition in the Parliament, there is the awesome responsibility entrusted on the labour movement and the private sector as members of the social partnership, to ensure that the ideals of good governance are not compromised and that there is accountability and transparency by the government of the day. Though it may be a tough ask, these stakeholders are also expected to establish a monitoring system that is directed at the mounting of safeguards against acts of corruption. On sober reflection, it is for these reasons that the glory and elation associated with a political party winning all the seats in a Parliament may be tempered. Where the absolute control of the Parliament resides in the hands of a political party, this makes for a virtual nuisance of what parliamentary democracy is intended to be.
Could it be that in the interest of the country a tinkering of the current composition of the membership of the Senate is entertained? What harm would be inflicted if labour and the private sector, as members of the social partners, were accorded the constitutional right to be represented in the Chamber? To improve on the construct of the Senate and for the purpose of giving a fair opportunity for input by civil society to the governance system, a case could be made for the inclusion of the church/clergy.
In the labour movement, trade union elections do not provide for an elected opposition. It is a given that once there is an election for individuals to serve, there will always be opposing voices. The difference within the trade union movement is that the membership maintains control over the decision-making process and the policing of the leadership. This is not surrendered to a group known as an opposition to perform. By way of the summoning of a general meeting, which when convened is quorate and with two-thirds of the membership present and voting, any decision of the administration can be reversed. On top of this, the membership by way of a resolution or motion can direct the administration on what to do. There is no such luxury in Parliament to easily reverse the actions of a Government. The situation is made worse where there is no Opposition to point out perceived shortcomings of a policy or action. To some, this may not be a big thing but it is well established that a strong Opposition places pressure on the Government of the day to act with prudence and reason.
It is well founded that at the end of the day, whether there is a Parliamentary Opposition or not, the people as the electorate have the final say. External to the House of Assembly, the People’s Parliament will always play the role as an Opposition. The print, electronic and social media will be medium for the expression of views, whether supportive or to the contrary. It is quite unlikely that any sensible Government will not pay attention to the voice of the people. Trade union leaders should also be conscious of this. Taking on board the fact that trade union leaders do not have a formal opposition, it should be obvious that the messages received from the membership which convey the lack of participation, involvement, non-committal support, disinterest and/or a voice of discord, represent a clear signal of losing the support base.
DENNIS DE PEIZA
Labour Management Consultant
Regional Management Services Inc.
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