One on One

It’s not just cricket – Interview with the Speaker of Trinidad and Tobago

For most Australians the Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago means one thing: cricket. But for Wade Mark MP, Speaker of the Trinidad and Tobago House of Representatives, the relationship between the two island countries is about so much more than our favourite sport.

“Cricket of course binds us… but there’s more to our relationship than cricket. We have excellent relations with Australia and the people of Australia. This year marks 46 years of diplomatic relations between both countries,” he said.

Speaker Mark visited Australia as part of a delegation from Trinidad and Tobago to learn more about parliamentary processes.

The Caribbean nation is currently implementing a transformation agenda to improve transparency and efficiency within the parliament.

“We have partnered with the United Nations Development Program and are working on a project called Strengthening the Parliament of T&T,” Speaker Mark said.

For the first time in the 53 years since independence from Britain, the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago will be implementing a comprehensive strategic development plan. This plan outlines the vision, mission, objectives and values for the parliament.

“We have also established monitoring and evaluation committees to ensure every activity under the four major outputs are in fact implemented, monitored and evaluated,” he said.

Speaker Mark said the parliament was also using modern technology to transform business processes.

“We’ve established an information, communication and technology platform, which is a seven year program where we are seeking to transform how we do business in the parliament.”

One of the initiatives under the program is to reduce paper use in the parliament by 90 per cent by 2017. This measure is to help the environment and reduce costs.

“As a start, all Members have been provided with an iPad. All reports are electronically transmitted. If you need a hard copy you can get it in the library,” Speaker Mark said.

Financial transparency is another important aspect of the transformation agenda.

“For the first time we have a Standing Finance Committee that is meeting in the open, publically. We stream live in living rooms, in bed rooms and the World Wide Web… so that people can see what is taking place.

“In the past the Minister for Finance used to be in charge of the Finance Committee. That is now the role of the Speaker so there can be more balance, fairness and impartiality,” Speaker Mark said.

The House standing orders have also been revised to complement the transformation agenda. In 2014 the standing orders changed to allow for the establishment of new committees, including the Public administration and appropriations committee that is responsible for tracking government expenditure that was approved in the budget.

Speaker Mark said the new committee enabled the detailed examination of government departments and ministries.

“We are able to determine where the bureaucratic bottle necks exist to create greater levels of efficiency. All in the interest of providing the population with quality services in terms of delivery,” Speaker Mark said.

Engaging citizens with parliamentary processes is another aspect of improving transparency. Community engagement initiatives of the parliament include a school education program, special broadcasts and utilising social media.

“These are measures we have taken to bring parliament closer to the people because there’s a growing disconnect between the people and the parliamentarians…people feel disenchanted about parliament and parliamentarians. So it’s our responsibility to bridge that gap by connecting with the people,” he said.

The school visit program takes parts of the parliament to classrooms around the country. Speaker Mark said that students gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the workings of parliament by learning about how laws are made, the impact of the national budget, and the role of parliament in sustaining democracy.

Students also have the opportunity to engage through Parliamentary Apprentice – a television program where competing students undertake challenges within Parliament House. For adults, there is Democracy Challenge. On this television quiz show competing teams test their knowledge about parliament, battling it out over multiple rounds to win prizes. In addition to a dedicated television channel for live 24/7 broadcasts, the parliament also has its own radio frequency so citizens can tune in to what’s happening in parliament.

Speaker Mark said social media was also an important platform to engage with the youth of Trinidad and Tobago.

“We have been able to establish our own Facebook page, in one year we moved from about 300 fans to over 3000. We have Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. These are platforms we have established to allow young people to communicate, so they will let us know what they are thinking. If a bill has been introduced and they want to give their comments, their views, their perspectives they can send it through Facebook or Twitter – and we have people who will respond and get that information to the relevant parliamentarians, so they will have an appreciation of what young people think,” he said.

Interview with the Hon Wade Mark MP, Speaker of the House of Trinidad and Tobago