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Citizenship Rights

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 15, 2007

I was not going to get into the debate about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the opening of Parliament then I read Colm Imbert's tendentious letter to Guardian (December 7). It is a well-known cliché that the devil (I do not mean to equate Mr. Imbert with the devil) can quote scriptures to support any point he wishes to prove. Mr. Imbert cited Canada's example to prove his point. However, he must be aware that Parliament convened in India 9 days after the results of the elections were announced in 2004; in England 12 days after elections in 2005; and in Jamaica, 24 days after the elections in 2007. In Sri Lanka, the date of the convening of Parliament is announced simultaneously with the date of the up-coming elections.

In 1971, the refusal of President Yahya Khan of Pakistan to specify a date for the convening of the Pakistan National Assembly (the Pakistani Parliament) was a catalyst for the separation of Bangladesh (East Pakistan) from Pakistan and resulted in the creation of two separate countries. Many Bangladeshi believe that if President Khan had announced a date for the opening of the National Assembly then the country would not have broken up. The examples of Jamaica, England, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan suggest the legitimacy of our people's legitimate expectations is more important than the spurious example of Canada.

I am pleased that Parliament will open on December 17. However, it is important to emphasize that calls to convene Parliament sooner rather than later were neither hysterical nor emotional. What is at state here is the fairness of a political system; the arbitrariness of a ruling party; a shared understanding of the legitimacy of our democracy; and the necessity that our political practices earn the respect of the widest cross-section of our citizens.

The convening of Parliament cannot depend on an agenda that is set by Cabinet for the simple reason that Parliament is the supreme body of our country and so supersedes Cabinet's agenda. When citizens go to the polls and select their representatives they expect them to be seated quickly so that they can begin to attend to the people's business; that is, receive a salary, set up their offices, select their staff, and begin to serve their constituents.

The Preamble of the United States Declaration of Independence insists that people's inalienable Rights are granted neither by a sovereign nor a Prime Minister but inhere in the constitutive act of their coming together as members of a political union. The rationale for convening Parliament quickly is not a right that the ruling party or the government confers on anyone. It inheres in our citizenship and cannot be abrogated by the whim of a ruling party. I want to call this citizenship rights that no one gives or takes away.

Mr. Imbert must be careful. A representative of the people (a servant) has an obligation to reach out to his constituents (his masters) and carefully weigh and respond to their concerns rather than treat them condescendingly. Such condescension led to the defeat of the PNM in 1986 and 1995. Mr. Imbert's comments replicate a PNM tendency of those years to be disdainful of the peoples' wishes secure in the knowledge that they were sahibs because they possessed a majority in parliament.

Mr. Imbert defined Canada as a developed country. PNM wishes to take T&T to developed country status by 2020. To do so PNM must first rid itself of the attitude that is displayed in Mr. Imbert's letter.

In The Leaders and the Led (2007) Michael Maccoby argues that in this era of knowledge-base work leaders have to change how they interact with their followers. Leaders must deal with the workforce (or in this case its citizens) in a more interactive manner. Followers are no longer looking for father figures as leaders. Instead, they are looking for role modes "who engage them as colleagues in meaningful corporate projects, ideally creating a collaborative community."

Time and people are changing. The imperatives of leadership in the next two decades are not the same as they were in the last decades of the twentieth century. Interactive leadership and a shared feeling of fairness are indispensable for leadership at this time. Political leadership must always be respectful of citizens' concerns.

UNC does not and should not depend on the largess of PNM to fulfill its obligations to its constituents. They earned that right through the polls and the will of a segment of the populace. Convening Parliament quickly is the only way they and non-cabinet PNM representatives can effectively carry out their obligations to their constituents.

Since governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed it follows that the governed always remains the supreme power. That Canadians waited for four months to convene their parliament is irrelevant to our situation. Treating citizens' concerns respectfully is the more important consideration although one may want to think these concerns are frivolous.

Mr. Imbert should watch his public utterances. They set a tone for and, as in the case of Pakistan, contribute negatively towards our democracy.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is

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