28 May, 2008

Checks & Balances

Checks and Balances. The United States Constitution is often touted as that which best demonstrates checks and balances on the power of the Executive. We have all seen the Senate Committees in action. The President nominates someone to be the next Chief Justice. That is the Executive influencing the Judiciary. There has to be a check and balance. The Senate Judiciary Committee must approve the President's nomination, or the person selected by the President cannot be appointed. That is the Legislature acting as a check on the power of the Executive. This is recognised and appreciated as one of the finest aspects of the US Constitution.

The US has a Presidential-style Constitution. We in Anguilla have what is called a Westminster-style Constitution. It is a written form of the unwritten rules that prevail at Westminster in London. One of the characteristics of a Westminster-style Constitution is that there are no checks and balances. The British traditionally left all that to individual honour and integrity. Parliament was then considered a gentleman's club. No Prime Minister could be thought to be acting improperly in making appointments! Now, even the British have given up on that mistaken theory. Prime Ministers need to raise large sums of money to get re-elected. Money greases the wheels of power everywhere. So, the British have begun to introduce checks and balances into their system. Today, in England, the Minister cannot appoint a crony to a Hospital Board, as used to be done in past years. An Appointments Commission, set up by law, must check credentials and background and approve all appointments to public boards in the UK.

Many of us in Anguilla have not woken up to the weaknesses and deficiencies in this area of our Constitution. We are not surprised when, after every general election, the Ministers divide up the statutory boards and national committees between themselves. One Minister might appoint incompetent but politically important supporters to the Social Security Board. Another Minister, by agreement, would take the Anglec Board. [No, I have no particular appointment in mind. I picked them at random as typical of appointments to all boards and committees over the years in Anguilla]. No one in Anguilla questions these appointments. We laugh, and call it “enjoying the fruits of office”, and think nothing more of it. In fact, it stinks of corruption, and should make us all ashamed of our governments, past and present.

If we are going to ask the people to support a push for increased internal self-government, we must show that it is balanced by checks on abuse of power. If as much thought is not put into checks and balances, then people will not support increased self-government. They will think, better to have arbitrary, one-man, government by the far-away British who seldom get in our face, than the same by an unchecked and unbalanced local politician who can, and will, delight in harming the interests of those of us he perceives as opposing his wishes and interests.

Recent history in the Caribbean has proven it ever to be so. And, they say we cannot learn from history?

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