‘Top heavy’ power distribution paves the way for corruption

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Too much power is given to the prime minister and Cabinet, making the country’s current system of governance “top heavy”.

That’s according to panellists who spoke about the distribution of power in Antigua and Barbuda during Sunday’s Big Issues show on Observer radio.

The discussion was sparked by the controversy surrounding the 2016 PV Energy deal between the government and British businessman, Peter Virdee.

The government’s dealings with the company raised concern among sections of the citizenry in May 2018 when a UK High Court judgement, revealed that two men – billionaire Virdee and an employee of PV Energy – had been recorded discussing an attempted shake-down by Member of Parliament Asot Michael, who reportedly tried to solicit gifts from one of them.

The matter was once again brought to the fore last week, when Information Minister Melford Nicholas revealed that the government would be fully supporting a legal challenge that the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) plans to file against the principals of PV Energy Limited for failure to provide batteries for the storage of electricity, as contracted.

On Sunday, environmentalist and former Attorney General for Dominica, Bernard Wiltshire, said he believes that unless the distribution of power is addressed, issues of corruption will continue to subsist.

“We need to look again at the distribution of power in our jurisdiction, in our system … it gives far too much power to the executive, far too much power to the prime minister, and it’s too weak in terms of the ability of the legislature to hold the executive into account.

“Parliament cannot do its work; it can legislate but it cannot do the other thing that Parliament is required to do, which is to hold the executive to proper account,” he said on Sunday, and suggested that the ‘first past the post’ system encourages a monopolisation of power by single parties.

A similar concern was raised by former ambassador and current management consultant, Joan Underwood, who said that “we exist in small societies and we work with leaders who are known to be vindictive, and people operate under threat from them”.

 “Is it possible for us to have a public procurement system that has safeguards against corruption, self-dealing, conflicts of interest etc?” she queried.

“It’s when we start establishing those partnerships and start looking at what’s best for the country as the ultimate determinant of our actions going forward, that we can begin to break the back of this particular malady,” she continued.

Underwood also suggested that the personality of those holding power also affects democracy.

“If you have people who are well-intentioned holding the reigns of power, then the system as presently configured will work for us,” she remarked.

She therefore suggested that civil servants, non-governmental organisations, churches, and other institutions ought to “stand up and draw attention to things that are not going right”.

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