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Of ‘election’ changes and CCJ

By Rickey Singh

 SO, in this 52nd year of its political independence from the United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago has chosen to engage in historic constitutional pace-setting changes to give a significantly new meaning to multi-party electoral democracy.

Having followed Jamaica, within 25 days back in 1962, as the second country  of the English-speaking Caribbean to shed its colonial status, Trinidad and Tobago is now the first Caricom partner state to propose legislation with some unique features in the 54-member Commonwealth of Nations, such as the right to recall elected MPs.

However, quite regrettably, the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill of 2014—a signature legislation of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar—which is scheduled for debate next Monday—makes no provisions for Trinidad and Tobago to end the colonial relationship with Britain’s Privy Council as its final court of appeal.

In  this context, therefore, like Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago—which also celebrates its 52nd anniversary of political freedom this month—disappointingly continues to maintain the Privy Council as its court of last resort while faithfully honouring its financial obligations to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), based here in Port of Spain.

The CCJ, as is now widely known among the citizens of  Caricom, was established as an appeal court of last resort for all legal matters—civil and criminal. Further, it is empowered with  “original jurisdiction” for settling trade and other disputes—as being done by Caricom states yet to access it as their court of last resort.

Why when initiating action for introduction of  the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill, the Prime Minister overlooked the chance to also signal her Government’s intention to move Trinidad and Tobago towards accessing the CCJ  as this country’s final appellate institution?

After 52 years of Independence and seemingly in readiness  for  significant constitutional changes to enhance parliamentary democracy, why not at least a declaration of intent to jettison the remaining colonial link with the Privy Council in favour of the CCJ as Trinidad and Tobago’s final court of appeal?

If this lapse was an oversight in the anxiety to press ahead with presentation of the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill and with general elections 2015 very much in focus, then the Prime Minister would have the opportunity to address this issue during next week’s debate in Parliament.

For now, while leader of the Opposition People’s National Movement, Dr Keith Rowley, not surprisingly views the bill as a distraction from “scandals plaguing the country”, the Prime Minister and leader of the United National Congress appears to be skilfully moving her People’s Partnership Government along a calculated path for the general elections.

After the fiasco involving the departure from the People’s Partnership Government of the  controversial Jack Warner, Mr Warner has become pathetically quite subdued and appears  to be timing his inevitable departure from parliamentary politics.

Then, there followed the open leadership conflict within the Congress of People — the party which Foreign Minister Winston Dookeran is still being courted to return to lead  but the future of which seems destined to be settled within the context of the configuration of the current PP administration before Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is ready to announce the election date in 2015.

* Rickey Singh is a noted Guyana-born, Barbados-based Caribbean journalist.

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