As good governance become buzzwords in a world weary of corruption in political and other circles, at least one political scientist is of the view that the Commonwealth Caribbean ought to change its traditional political system to combat corruption more effectively.
Senior Lecturer in Political Science at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Cynthia Barrow-Giles, made the case for a replacement of the Westminster parliamentary system as she addressed a discussion on good governance put on by the St. Michael Centre for Faith and Action at the St. Michael’s Cathedral.
After giving an outline on what governance entailed, she focused on the challenges of the British model of political administration in the unique cases of Barbados and Grenada where one political party controls the entire House of Parliament.
“We have a legislative branch of Government, Parliament, which is expected to hold executive members to account. Today, Barbados’ Parliament is comprised of people who belong to one political party, who are for the most part on the front bench. So how can you oppose the decisions you approved through Cabinet? The Westminster model makes a nonsense of good governance because it offers no opportunity to put government under proper scrutiny,” said Barrow-Giles.
She urged civil society to “get invigorated to do its job, which is holding our rulers to account. We do not want decisions made in private, but in public. We want our leaders to explain to us their thought processes when they make decisions, exactly who will benefit from them, and whether they will personally benefit from them, which is where corruption comes in”.
The St Lucia-born UWI lecturer proposed that the Caribbean should consider other forms of Government to resolve some of the dilemmas which she believed the winner-take-all Westminster system created.
“When I was involved in discussions on this matter in St. Lucia a while back, I suggested we use an element from the French political system. Since 1958, they have done a power-sharing arrangement, in which Parliament is separated from the executive. When you are elected into office, you come in with a ‘substitute’. Therefore, if the Prime Minister decides he wants you to be in Cabinet, and you agree, you have to cease being a Member of Parliament and your alternate will fill the legislative position.”
She stated this was particularly effective in France where there were multiple political parties, but might be more challenging in the Caribbean context where for the most part there are two dominant parties.
The political scientist warned against the emergence of “group think”, where people in political parties create the illusion of consensus yet do not allow people with differences of opinion to express themselves.
“Group think leads to a situation which says, ‘avoid conflict and impoliteness,’ so people do not ask the relevant hard questions, because it means you are engaging in conflict. And in small societies like ours in the Caribbean, we often have to deal with victimization when we ask hard questions.”
Accountability, transparency, and the opportunity for ordinary people to participate in the decision-making process were three basic elements of good governance, she said.