(Trinidad Express) While Government continues to press on with its promise to make sweeping changes to the Constitution, the backlash against the bill continues to grow. The Law Association has now joined those opposed to passing the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 with its president Seenath Jairam, SC calling for the debate to be stopped and the people to be consulted on the controversial run-off measure. The imbroglio has also provoked former chairman of the Couva Tabaquite Talparo Regional Corporation (CTTRC) attorney Dave Persad to signal his intention to resign as a member of United National Congress (UNC) which is led by the Prime Minister. Persad also took issue with the bill’s run-off provision stating that “no amount of propaganda, public relations, gun-talk or rhetoric can and ought to detract from this issue”. And, to add to the ongoing drama the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) disclosed yesterday it was never consulted on the bill before it was brought to the Parliament. There has been a mountain of arguments against the Bill and in particular the run-off provision since Prime Minister Kamla Persad -Bissessar tabled the Bill in the Parliament on August 4.
Member of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) Dr Merle Hodge added fire against the bill, asserting that the people were never consulted on the run-off provision and the debate should be stopped.
The People’s National Movement (PNM), the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) as well as members of Government’s partner the Congress of the People (COP) have expressed concerns about the bill and the run-off vote and also calling for the debate to be stopped.
Outside the Parliament, political groups such as the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) activists as well as former politicians and some legal minds and analysts have joined the chorus against the bill with daily protests outside the Parliament at the International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.
Despite the controversy surrounding the bill, Government moved forward with the debate on August 11 and after 17-plus hours of debate, the bill was passed with Government’s simple majority.
However, after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissesar removed the whip of collective Cabinet responsibility and allowed a conscience vote, COP ministers Winston Dookeran and Carolyn Seepersad Bachan voted against the bill whilst COP Social Integration Minister Rodger Samuel abstained.
Debate on the bill in the Senate is carded for August 26 where the vote of just one Independent Senator is needed for its passage, according to AG Anand Ramlogan.
Law Association: Far-reaching consequences (LATT)
The Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) called on Government yesterday to stop the debate.
Jairam stated the LATT notes with concern the controversy on whether the public was properly consulted on the run-off provision of the bill.
“Reform of the Constitution is likely to have far-reaching consequences, more so where reform seeks to alter the manner of election or appointment of representatives in either House of Parliament. In the light of the above, it is imperative that there is public consultation and participation regarding any proposed amendments which undoubtedly require that citizens are consulted at every stage and on every aspect of this process,” stated Jairam.
He said LATT is of the view there must be clarity on this particular issue of run-off elections as a matter of urgency in order to engender confidence on this important measure.
“If indeed there has not been any proper consultation on the issue, the LATT calls upon the Government to postpone the scheduled Senate debate on the proposed amendment in order to facilitate proper consultation and to afford the population a meaningful opportunity to ventilate its views on the proposed amendment,” he stated.
The release also noted the Report of the Trinidad and Tobago Constitutional Reform Commission (December 27, 2013) identifies the pressing need for reform in many other important areas.
Jairam stated these areas include matters concerning the executive, the judiciary and local government which the LATT urges must be given equal consideration and included in the current initiative for constitutional reform.
While there have been several calls for the debate to be halted there is also bacchanal on whether Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith should recuse himself from presiding over the debate.
Former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas called on Hamel-Smith to step aside as he disclosed he received an e-mail in his mail box showing Hamel-Smith purportedly sent an e-mail to some people advising them to endorse having the bill be sent to the Parliament’s Joint Select Committee (JSC).
Dumas said it would be improper of Hamel-Smith to preside over the debate as he is no longer impartial on the issue having already taken a position.
Hamel-Smith had neither confirmed nor denied that he sent the e-mail.