Our Prime Minister’s warm relationship with President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela is no secret and even led to a verbal exchange with the US ambassador in Port of Spain.
There are media reports of a senior Venezuelan official being granted special permission to enter Trinidad to personally meet with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley after the COVID-19 closure of our borders. The latest issue of fuel being diverted to Venezuela now raises fears of possible US sanctions being imposed on Trinidad and Tobago in retaliation.
The Opposition United National Congress in response wrote to the US ambassador after being denied leave by the Speaker of the House to debate the matter in Parliament. These, among other issues underlie a growing disquiet about the nature of Trinidad and Tobago’s foreign policy as it pertains to the embattled country of Venezuela.
According to a report titled “Parliamentary Oversight of British Foreign Policy”, (The executive arm of the Government makes “foreign policy” as they see fit without ever being required to seek effective parliamentary or public approval. However, the public usually has principled views on such matters, yet the government’s powers and policies often run counter to the public’s wishes). A highly undemocratic provision in my view.
It is not apparent that the vast majority of our citizens subscribe to the politics and ideology of the Venezuelan government. Hence this begs the question from whence does our Government gets its mandate to pursue such a unilateral relationship outside of Caricom?
According to the report the power to make foreign policy without the approval, or even the knowledge, of Parliament comes from an old Royal prerogative power, a pre-democratic relic of monarchical rule.
The only oversight on the exercise of this power comes from the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which has the duty of considering and reporting, whenever necessary, on all matters relating to the foreign policy of the Government and examining the implications and likely effect on Trinidad and Tobago.
However, based on parliamentary attendance records the committee last met on February 6, 2019 and last reported on March 23, 2018. Not much of an oversight by any standards.
Trinidad and Tobago is in dire need of a “Democratic Audit”. This entails an in-depth examination of the relationship and balance of power between the three arms of State. Strengthening our Parliament’s ability to be an effective check and balance on the Executive is of paramount importance.
As the only truly democratic institution under our Constitution, the supremacy of our Parliament is vital to our country’s development.