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Appreciating the value of political health versus the price of political disease

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” – Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization, 1948.

Over the past month, so much has changed for me and this beloved Federation. I have become immersed on Facebook, SKNList and on this blog in bringing to light issues of national importance like the high prevalence of cancer, hemodialysis, healthy lifestyles, putting principles above party, detribalisation, and most important of all, the idea of a new people-centered bottom-up approach to governance as introduced to us by Dr. Sharon-ann GoPaul-McNichol. What I have not addressed thus far is the pressing issue of the vote or lack thereof of the Motion of No Confidence (MONC), and the effect it is having on the mental, social and physical wellbeing of our nation. We are at a crossroads right now, and I acutely sense that what happens next will have consequences for our nation for decades and generations to come. It is with this recent awareness, that I sense an immense responsibility to enter the debate now, and see if there is something I can contribute that may help both sides of the conflict navigate their deliberations so that we can bring about the least amount of harm, be it mental, social and physical, to the least number of people.

We have to ask ourselves several questions. What is the Motion of No Confidence, and why is it important? Why is it even in the Constitution? Was it put there for the benefit of the people in power, or was it put there to give power to the people, when they sense, via their representative parliamentarians, that the people in power are abusing or misusing that power? A most compelling answer is provided by http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN02873.pdf p.4

“Rodney Brazier has effectively highlighted the fundamental constitutional importance of confidence motions:

The real significance of the general requirement that a government retain the confidence of the House of Commons is not in the rare loss of a vote of confidence or in the somewhat more frequent legislative defeat, but rather that it obliges every government to defend itself, explain its policies, and justify its actions, to its own back-benchers, to the opposition parties, and through them to the country as a whole.

In this light, the MONC is one of those checks and balances that ensures that when legislation is being passed that have major consequences for the people, and they perceive a miscarriage of justice in their midst, they have it within their powers to demand that the government “defend itself, explain its policies and justify its actions”. This is the ultimate transparency and accountability clause that serves as the bedrock to good parliamentary governance, and to make excuses to avoid the right of the people to understand the consequences of the decisions that are made on their behalf, is the ultimate miscarriage of justice any nation can suffer.

The MONC is not an attack on a person or a party, but an attempt to give the government a chance to explain for the record its policies and actions in the most civilised manner in an environment in which the whole nation’s eyes and ears can be focussed. It is here where both sides present the best arguments for and against those policies and actions, and at the end of the day, they let the cards fall where they may. No matter what the outcome, the country would be better off as the government would have succeeded or failed in making their case, and the reasons why would be transparent for all to see. That is a true democracy at work which all of us can be proud of, but what is happening now is putting all of us to shame.

In my profession, we learn about cancers that outgrow the checks and balances and consume the resources of the organs from which they arise. They then metastasize to other organs, impoverish the body, and eventually lead to death. Likewise, in our body politics, a cancer is in our midst. It is growing more powerful, has consumed and is consuming vast resources in the highest organ of that body, metastasizing to the other organs such as the civil services, our families and our communities, and we are all becoming impoverished for it. Although many in the diaspora and at home look around and see physical health and proclaim it as proof of accountability of policy, let us not forget the mental and social diseases we have accumulated in its stead.

It is not too late, and I do not think we have passed the point of no return. Let it be said by the next generation, that when the occasion arose, the leaderships of the country, be they the incumbents, the oppositions and the guardians of these leaderships, ALL arose to the occasion, to nurse us back to political health, as we recuperated from this political disease that has threatened and is threatening to tear us apart. We have paid a high price for this political disease. It is now time to appreciate the value of political health.

May God speed be with the Federation of St. Kitts-Nevis!!

13 Comments »

  1. Dr. Sahely, you do your country a great service with this blog and the fodder that you provide our hungry minds. You have nicely captured the essence and spirit of a motion of no confidence and its values to a parliamentary democracy. Thanks. Wonderful stuff. I just tweeted it out.

    • Dr Sahely, its refreshing and most encouraging when intellects like you will openly discuss the issues of the day, What better way to liken to what is happening in our society like a cancer. Gosh, cancer is so prevalent in our society. Who doesn’t know of its havoc on the human body.

  2. Doc, Nice article but there is a flaw in your argument. By its very name a motion of “No confidence” is an attack on performance or character of a person or organisation!. Let’s not be naive to the forces at play. Power never concedes without a fight! There is a political chess game in process between the two dominant political parties in St Kitts. The incumbents have successfully managed to retain their position of power for 4 general elections,. Those who aspire to power having repeatedly failed at the polls and in the courts to topple the incumbents now turn to the parliament by enticing defection in the ruling camp… From what has been disclosed by both sides we can conclude that this defection was suspected long before it happened and the ruling camp used clearly defined constitutional measures to retain a simple majority in parliament by (1) inviting the NRP representative to join their team and (2) increasing the number of senators. That provision was clearly defined in the constitution unlike that for the MONC. Here in lies the root of the cancer of which you speak.

    References to what happens in Britain and other countries on how a MONC should be handled have no real importance on sovereign St Kitts and Nevis if our Constitution does not specifically provide for it by mandating a set time for it to be heard.. Our constitution is fundamentally flawed and must be addressed as a matter of urgency. Other than a National Convention to reform the constitution, the courts would have to rule on these loopholes, that have always been exploited by the incumbents from both sides, on a cases by case basis.

    In my humble opinion the opposition botched their chances in their timing of the “Attack” to remove the incumbent. The defectors having failed to do so at the Party conferences in 2011 and 2012 missed the golden opportunity in the parliamentary debate over the “Land for Debt” swap.

    Therefore, having survive the MONC attack for over one year, we can safely conclude that the next plebiscite constitutionally due in 2015 is when the MONC will be debated and decided upon by the body politic in the true “Peoples Parliament” Till then the “Political Chess Game” continues…

  3. You are looking at the MONC through the eyes of the politicians. I am looking at it through the eyes of the electorate. The crux of my entire argument (which I do not think is flawed) is “it obliges every government to defend itself, explain its policies, and justify its actions, to its own back-benchers, to the opposition parties, and through them to the country as a whole.”

    If the MONC will only be tabled, if and when the incumbents know it is going to survive it, then why put it in the constitution in the first place? It would make a mockery of the constitution and I dear say, our system of democratic governance.

    The parliamentarians are ultimately accountable to the electorate. If in their best judgement, they feel at a particular juncture that they need to hold the executive to account, then they have the MONC at their disposal (irrespective of what you and I think is their ulterior motive). Let us assume they are raising it for frivolous or clandestine reasons, then the debate that would ensue would expose this to all and sundry, and of course, would affect them negatively and affect their favourability by their constituents as they would now appear like “wolves in sheep clothing.”

    Let us, for arguments sake, say they succeeded in colluding with other members to get the MONC tabled, and let us for arguments sake, say the incumbents succeeded in making their case to the other parliamentarians, then the MONC would be defeated in the first instance, and the incumbents would have remained in power, would be even more stronger and the opposition even more weaker.

    If however, for arguments sake, the MONC succeeded, but for the reason that the opposition is only power hungry and doing this for selfish reasons, then the debate would have shown their true colors, and in the second instance, the electorate would in the general elections no doubt reelect the incumbents as they would have identified the MONC as a rouse or palace coup.

    You see, the power of the MONC lies in the electorate having an opportunity to get a better understanding of the issues at play, the issues of grave national importance, being debated by both sides for all and sundry to see, hear and feel. It is not a given that the government will fall if it is tabled and debated. The government will fall, if and only if, it fails to convince both the parliamentary representatives AND the electorate of its case. That is the beauty, elegance and wisdom of the MONC, in that it has two checks and balances, a minor one of first instance by the parliamentary representatives, and the major one of second instance, by the electorate.

    The inability or unwillingness of the Speaker to table the MONC and have it debated speaks volumes, as it testifies to the absolute lack of confidence by the Speaker in the incumbents making a successful case to BOTH the parliamentarians AND the electorate.

    All of this delaying, and changing the number of senators in midstream and passing laws, without the electorate hearing, through tabling of the MONC, the arguments of both sides being ventilated and debated in parliament, can be accurately described as a parliamentary coup by the incumbents in the first instance, and more damagingly, an attack on the rights of the electorate to be well informed of the critical issues they will be called upon later to vote on. In short, this is no less than a “quiet coup” by the incumbents on the electorate, and moreover on our democratic system of governance.

    It is the government who have botched up and not the opposition. We will just have to wait and see and leave it to the wisdom of the electorate to decide.

  4. Doc, I am just a spectator and therefore looking at “the Political chess game” only in that light! This is my reading of the game.

    In the politics of this world the end game is what really matters. Therefore all the debate and nice words that have gone on is just “fluff” – playing to the gallery creating light entertainment.. In our system of government it is first past the post 50% plus 0.1 that wins. The framers of the constitution inserted/created a toothless tiger by not specifying exactly how and when a MONC should be tabled.. By leaving it to the discretion, whims and fancies of the speaker who invariable will be more influenced by an incumbent Prime Minister than the opposition by virtue of the fact that the holder of that parliamentary office is nominated(and appointed) by the Prime Minister indicates that the deck of cards is always stacked in favour of the incumbents.

    The incumbents are just doing what any right thinking person will do “standing their ground” and defending against an onslaught by the opposing forces.

    The timing of the defection of the two members was not sufficient to disrupt the functioning of the government, as that move was pre-empted by the increase in the number of senators. When the MONC was first presented the Speaker’s illness gave the incumbents some breathing space and more time to strategise!

    Calls for the Governor General to act are also begs the question in the circumstances, as the constitution does not give him that authority to act without the advice of the Prime Minister or unless there is a breakdown in law and order when he can act inhis own deliberate judgement, When the MONC was first submitted December 2012 and since the defection of the two former government members there was a Prime Minister already appointed from since 25 January 2010. Therefore calls for the Governor General to disappoint the Prime Minister simply on the defection of two of his former colleagues are out of order. That defection will only become effective if their voting in parliament impedes the functioning of government. As parliament is presently constituted their only effective vote will be on a MONC where the senators cannot vote thus giving the opposition forces a simple majority of 6 against 5 resulting in the fall of the government – “the end game”

    In Grenada under Tillman Thomas the same mathematical considerations applied when some of his colleagues defected. There the incumbent went the route of proroguing parliament until the time came where they had no more options but to return to the polls.. Prorogation in St Kitts is still an option that is open to the incumbents but may not be necessary since the government can still pass legislation and govern according to the original mandate given by the popular vote on 25 January 2010. In fact 2 budgets have been passed since the defection, and there may very well be a third. All calls that the Prime Minister is illegitimate and heads a minority government are of no real moment as when the Prime Minister was appointed the defectors were still on his side and he had the command of majority of elected parliamentarians. The defection has not in any way impaired his appointment as much as some would wish that to be the case.

    Therefore all who wish to see the incumbents leave office mid term through a MONC can only blame the framers of the constitution. That constitutional defect could be considered a blessing in disguise as the MONC is in fact being debated publicly since it was submitted to the Clerk with all the manoeuverings by both parties ever since. For me it has been quite an education!!

    In recent years I have been learning more of the world Disablilty community, Perhaps what we really need is Community Based Rehab (CBR) (http://www.who.int/disabilities/cbr/en/) to cope with this CONGENITAL DEFECT that has permeated the body politiic while we contemplate the Holy grail of Medicine – Gene replacement therapy as a Panacea for the maladies afflicting us,

  5. I agree with you that the debate you and I and the public is having may be inconsequential in getting the incumbents to table the MONC in parliament. And I also agree that this is a blessing in disguise in that it is helping to throw lots of light on the loopholes and backdoors of the constitution, that can be used by less than honourable men to stay in power or to get into power. Another blessing is that the electorate is more informed and enlightened so that next time when it comes to casting their vote, they would take this into their deliberations to ensure that we have more honourable representatives in power who put the interest of the electorate over and above their political survival, given the weaknesses in the constitution. And furthermore they would have to decide which team, be it the incumbents or the UNITY team, is in a better position to garner the most votes to change the constitution for the better, so that we do not repeat the same stalemate again and again.

    I like very much your analogy of the “political chess game”, and I can use it draw many parallels to the MONC. What is happening in our parliament is like the king being put into checkmate, and instead of conceding defeat, he draws several imaginary blocks off the board, and moves himself out of harms way. All of a sudden the opponent cries foul, and says that he cannot do that, and the king rebuts saying that although it is implied that all the moves take place on the board, no where in the rules does it explicitly state this, and because it is not explicit, he can use this omission to his advantage. Furthermore, instead of pausing to sort out this anomaly of action, the king’s men continue to play as if no infraction has been committed, having thrown convention out of the window, while the opponents stop play, trying to get some clarity of the situation from a third independent party.

    Then the king, while continuing to play the game, cries foul, saying there is nothing in the rules that calls for third independent party to have any say on how the rules are played, but since they are taking it there, he will acquiesce and wait to see what they say about the validity of his move. However, the opponents see this as a stalling tactic that is being used to the king’s advantage, and also acquiesces and say, “OK, there is nothing in the rules that allows a third party to compel us to play a certain way, so we will forego that route” which brings them back to the situation of checkmate. No sooner had this been done, the king decides to lets wait and see what the independent third party thinks of the validity of his move, knowing fully well the independent party cannot compel anyone to play a certain way, (irrespective of what the independent party’s ruling on the validity of the move will be) . By that time, castling would have occurred and several pawns would have been promoted, so that when the king goes back to his original position (even if the move was ruled invalid), he is not longer in check mate.

    Most of us who are spectators of this game, would not see the move by the king in a positive light. The rules of any game act as guides, and as we have learnt from mathematics and computer science, any complex rules of any game can never be completely defined, given Godel’s incompleteness theorem, so situations will always arise that are not explicitly anticipated, and you will never be able to close all of the loopholes and backdoors, but only make them tighter and more difficult to find. That is why the law has become more and more complex, and why in effect, we do not have the rule of law, but the rule of lawyers, which is the underlying machinations of the day in our Federation.

    Since we cannot create the most perfect constitution, it behooves us to choose better and better representatives, so that at the end of the day, our parliamentarians and the guardians of that parliament, where laws are passed and enforced, can once again live up to their calling, of being honourable men and women.

    Your analogy of our constitution having a congenital defect and gene replacement being a panacea is a good one, but this would not be enough in and of itself for several reasons. First, there are many congenital defects that the constitution may have been born with, so fixing one does not fix the others, and secondly many of these defects and hence their gene replacement may not have been discovered as yet. And moreover, I do not see the MONC as a congenital defect in the first place, but an acquired one, as if it was congenital, we would have seen its effect in all the other territories that have similar constitutions, but when we look far and wide, we do not see it arising in theirs. (The MONCs are tabled and debated within a reasonable time in other jurisdictions, so our not tabling it is not congenital but acquired, not systemic, but situational, which tells us who the real protagonist is in all of this.)

    So in conclusion, the problem is not in the constitution, but in the stewards and the stewardship of the constitution. The solution is not to make the constitution more complex, but to make it simpler. So it is going to be left up to the electorate to decide who they want as stewards of our constitution, of our people and our land: on one hand, a team that values brinkmanship and capitalises on the complexity of the system, or on the other hand, a team that values stewardship and promotes simplicity as a rule of thumb in their deliberations, so that the rules of engagement and the consequences can be easily understood and appreciated, not only by the politicians, but also by us the electorate too.

    As is the premise of this article, we have ALL paid a high price for this political disease which we have in our midst. It is now time to appreciate the value of political health, and help create a better nation guided by prevention, stewardship of our constitution and our people, and simplicity of lifestyle.

  6. Well said Doc, it can also be concluded that the independent third party (civil society) has given up their right of recall of parliamentarians mid term if their stewardship is defective. By having a toothless tiger in not specifying a time frame in which a MONC must be debated and voted upon the “political disease” of which you speak has arisen – – through a defective immune system., If goals and objectives are not specific and measurable then we would get an outcome that was not intended!!!

  7. I agree with you that the MONC is a toothless tiger in not specifying a time frame, but by dissociating ourselves from the other jurisdictions by not following convention, we have now become a rogue state, which is not something to be proud of. When the constitution is used for vested personal and political interests over and above that of the electorate to have the issues of national importance heard and debated, then this is a misuse and abuse of executive power, and pays lip-service to our motto of putting country above self.

    I love your analogy of civil society now being a “defective immune system”, that should function to protect the integrity and smooth functioning of the body politics. When it does not function in its role of tumour surveillance by getting rid of the cancer when they arise, then the cancer would continue to grow and metastasise and eventually kill the body politics. Also, by not realising that we all are one people, a united and interconnected self, we end up attacking and dividing ourselves at all levels, from the individual, to the family, to the community, to the government up to the level of the Federation. So this is a form of social autoimmunity, when our protective civil society starts to attack its own self and results in the dysfunction of the organs and institutions of our society. This occurs because we fail to realise that “that which we do unto others, we do unto ourselves!!!”

    This analogy between civil society and our immune system readily provides a solution where we can get parliamentarians, and by extension a government, that we truly deserve. We need to vaccinate and immunise our citizens with the virtues of simplicity and stewardship, with a deep understanding of our rights and also our responsibilities to each other, so that we can think critically and not be dazzled with glitter and bamboozled with half-truths. By doing so, we will be able to hold our parliamentarians to account, and have them removed if the need arises, so that the integrity of our body politics is sustained, and the resilience of our democracy is maintained, and its full potential is fully actualised.

    Since an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure, there would be less time, energy, money and resources wasted, as these can now be best used and managed for the betterment of our people as we foster the healthy growth and development of all our people in our beloved Federation.

  8. One of the issues we face is the assumption that all parliamentarians are less than honourable therefore we have to prescribe and make allowances for every eventuality in the constitution. When we do this only lawyers win.

    I was recently told that one of the most simple constitutions have only ten laws, The Ten Commandments.

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