Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Don’t rush it, Mr Ramadhar

Express editorial logo329

Mark Fraser

 We are disturbed by the decision of the Constitution Reform Commission to schedule public meetings to garner responses to its recently-released report in the height of the Carnival season.

Public input into the post-report process is far too important to be rushed or short-changed. The Commission’s radio advertisements urging the public to come out to its latest round of consultations since it is their last chance to have a say merely underscores the importance of ensuring that enough time is allowed for the country’s many interests to consider this report and develop their positions on it.

Rushing the process through the height of the very distracting Carnival season suggests that the Commission either does not understand very much about the culture of T&T or, at a more sinister level, is not very keen on getting public comment on its report.

It is also worth noting that the report was published without any indication of a deadline for comment. This is hardly the way to treat with the public who may well be assuming there will be time enough after Carnival to read the report, cogitate on it and offer comments, only to find the plug pulled on public comment.

We therefore urge the Prime Minister, who received her copy of the report on December 27, as well as the Commission, to set aside an adequate period of time within a stated deadline to allow the public to peruse, discuss, analyse and comment on this report. This is the only way that the report will benefit from considered public opinion. Anything less than that will be a dis-service to the public which has spent millions of dollars on the Constitution Reform Commission and its work.

Our insistence on an adequate period of time for public comment within a reasonable and stated deadline is aimed at avoiding the risk of sham public consultations. The consultation process currently underway appears to suffer from the general weakness of checking boxes in order to declare that consultation requirements have been met. Experience would suggest that rushing the consultation process to meet some convenient deadline invariably derails the entire process. Public opinion will insist on having its say, no matter what pre-emptive deadline is imposed on it. 

If the Commission is seriously interested in public input, it will have to do a lot better than staging consultations in the height of the Carnival season when so many people are deeply involved in Carnival-related activities.

Having spent eight months and many millions of taxpayers dollars to produce a report, the Constitution Reform Commission must now allow the public to have its say without setting the agenda by a Commission-determined schedule of meetings.

The public is quite conscious of the fact that Constitution reform was a manifesto pledge of the People’s Partnership.  But Mr Ramadhar and his team need to avoid the perception of unseemly haste if they are indeed to “advance the cause of Constitution reform” as they promised in delivering the report.