Tuesday, January 16, 2018

After forward step, PM could stumble and fall

 Some good proportion of the discordant noises surrounding the government’s constitutional proposals was always to be expected. Given the dodgy character of the People’s Partnership administration’s track record, not even its most well-meaning initiatives will escape reflex suspicion and unsparing scrutiny.

Undeterred by this realisation, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar boldly strode into an arena where no Prime Minister has ventured since Eric Eustace Williams in the 1970s. She showed the courage of her convictions not just to table the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill 2014 but also to set a time-frame for enactment. If other Prime Ministers had talked Constitution reform, the present was making clear her readiness for action on that front.

The effect, catching everyone off guard, was to capture leadership of, and set terms for, a discussion on Constitution reform. The opposition PNM was evidently caught napping, even though Constitution reform had been on the active national agenda for more than a year, involving public consultations and publication of the report of the Constitution Reform Committee.

PNM spin doctors dismissed conclusions that the party had, after the Prime Minister’s parliamentary performance, entered “panic” mode. But it was hard to recall when last, and on what issue, the PNM had held an “emergency” meeting, like the one last week.

Opposition Leader Keith Rowley had rebounded enough by Friday to mount a comprehensive assault on the Government’s constitutional proposals, and to rally public support for a grand show of rejection of Constitutional (Amendment) Bill 2014 provisions. Citing with approval the fourth term of office enjoyed by THA Chief Secretary Orville London, Dr Rowley opposed the proposed two-term limit for Prime Ministers.

But the fixed two-term limit seems to commend itself for institutionalising the much-overlooked necessity of succession planning. It discourages the apathetic acceptance of same-old leaders and same-old leadership styles, and the danger of entrenching a cult of personality, while turning off and turning away new blood.

Fixed election date is another welcome innovation for ending the tiresome humbug of Prime Ministers’ treating the election writ like a trump card to be played for partisan benefit. Fixed dates facilitate not only planning by political parties, but also management by the EBC.

Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar is liable, however, to squander whatever she gained by purposefully declaring open a national focus on the Constitution. This would be the certain outcome of any insistence on premature parliamentary debate on measures obviously so unfamiliar as to provoke responses based on widespread distrust. Clearly, more and wider debate is needed on the recall of MPs and the run-off vote.

In this regard, too, the overly boisterous advocacy of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, seen in his responses to former CRC member Merle Hodge, serves the negative purpose of lowering the tone of discourse.

Given the level of serious concern raised on several levels of the society we urge the Prime Minister to consider postponing tomorrow’s debate on the bill to a later time to facilitate the widest discussion possible on the contentious proposed legislation.