Thursday, February 22, 2018

Keep Constitution reform deadline


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The Congress of the People's annual Christmas dinner last weekend was the occasion for some timely soul-searching by leaders and others in the party that is a junior partner in the ruling People's Partnership coalition.

That the sharing of power and office with the United National Congress has not been a smooth process had been borne out by remarks from Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar who, addressing her party's meeting the day before, had referred to her own difficulties in keeping the parties under the Partnership umbrella.

It must have been heartening for her to hear COP political leader Prakash Ramadhar's reflections that "this political vehicle called the People's Partnership is the best we have ever known".

Differences had arisen over the Kublalsingh hunger strike, to the extent of causing a headline-making appeal from COP founder Winston Dookeran, personally calling on the PM for "compassion".

In his turn, Mr Ramadhar, while reflecting on the difficulties, said on Sunday: "A partnership for the people is worth saving."

Even more important, however, is the COP leader's update on his progress in amending the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution.

That Mr Ramadhar, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs, has now given himself a May 2013 deadline for producing a draft new constitution is perhaps the best news of all to come from COP and UNC sources last weekend. He should expect to be firmly held to that commitment.

If he is true to his word, that will make it exactly three years since the People's Partnership came into office and not a minute too soon to make the necessary changes to the Constitution.

And also at the head of Mr Ramadhar's "to do" list is the enactment of procurement legislation, which the People's Partnership made into an election campaign rallying cry, with the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago then fast-tracking its way through a substantial portion of state funds with very little accountability.

It goes without saying that three years is much too long to have waited for such crucial legislation, especially for a Government which came into office claiming to vehemently oppose all forms of corruption and vouching for transparency.

And, unfortunately, by the time the MPs get down to debating the legislation, most if not all the contracts for Trinidad and Tobago's biggest-ever public sector project—the now infamous Point Fortin Highway—will have been signed and agreed to, without the benefit of intense scrutiny from those who are ultimately footing the bill, the country's voiceless taxpayers.

We have waited long enough for these legislative and constitutional changes, Mr Ramadhar, and we will be counting down to next May to ensure there are no further delays.