Economist Anthony Reynolds has raised concern over regional parliamentarians’ qualifications to conduct strong debates as he concluded that many lack the academic background or experience.
“The people that may be best qualified to govern, they may not be very electable or appealing to the populace so then a lot of people that are ushered to be representatives are not qualified by education or experience,” Reynolds said during a discussion as a panellist on yesterday’s Big Issues.
The St Lucian was agreeing with another regional colleague, Vynnette Frederick, a former opposition senator in St Vincent and the Grenadines who suggested that many representatives are elected without understanding their role as a legislator.
“A lot of the times the people who are elected as representatives have no capacity to debate legislation in any useful way so it’s a situation that needs to be addressed,” she said.
Frederick said the electorate often ignores the qualifications of the men and women elected to read and debate bills and that leads to debates which are filled with what she called useless rhetoric.
“They want useful debate but they also want the cut and thrust elements to the politics, people remember the back and forth, the side talk, they remember the insults and this somehow gives it a flavour,” Frederick said.
She added that this sort of rhetoric appeals to constituents in the election campaign and consequently follows the MPs into the Lower House.
In returning to the discussion, Reynolds said allowances for “personal expression and even some idiosyncrasies” must be made, as it keeps listeners engaged during long parliamentary debates.
The economist said he was also aware of parliamentary debates that shy away from the important issues and are “more about making a mockery or grandstanding and making a charade of the political process.”
Meanwhile, political commentator and professor Dr David Hinds, highlighted an inadequacy in the bicameral system whereby separation of powers is non-existent.
The political doctrine referred to as a separation of powers – that separates government into three branches – is practised in the United States where Hinds is a professor.
“I think it’s really disastrous to have the same people who are running the executive also being the legislators, because the legislator is supposed to be an oversight branch of the executive,” Dr Hinds said.
He explained that the system used in Antigua & Barbuda, which has parliamentarians who also serve in ministerial portfolios, results in them “overseeing themselves and so, therefore, we need to have stricter separation of powers.”
Dr Hinds added that this recommendation will have to be done incrementally and the separation of powers is one way to transform Parliament into a more meaningful institution.
“I do believe that we need to move in the Caribbean to more full time parliamentarians because if you have full time parliamentarians then you will have officers and staff who do research for them and also make them more informed about bills, and who make sure the bills are being read and understood,” he concluded.