Sunday, January 21, 2018

AG: We are not afraid of people power

...Ramlogan says the Constitution (Amendment) Bill an act of selflessness on Government's part

ATTORNEY General Anand Ramlogan yesterday described the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill 2014 as a "self-less act" on the part of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Ramlogan, speaking during the debate of the contentious Bill in the Parliament, defended the integrity of the document which he said represented the "quintessence of democracy" in its ability to place power in the hands of the people.

The Bill, laid in Parliament last Monday, has been the focus of national debate since as it seeks to introduce paradigm changes in the electoral process through run-off voting, right to recall for MPs and a two-term limited in service for Prime Ministers.

Ramlogan said the fears expressed by the Opposition People's National Movement (PNM) that the Bill is a People's Partnership tool of survival are unfounded and that the proposal does the opposite of threatening the population's fundamental rights.

"We are not afraid of the power that the people ought to have," Ramlogan said. He later stated the Opposition's fear was largely based on its history, as it started in Governance with a minority in terms of numbers of votes.

On the limitations that could be imposed a Prime Minister's service, Ramlogan said the Westminster system to which this country subscribes is filled with politicians who exit in indignity and disgrace, having held on to power for as long as possible.

This is not so in countries that have imposed limits on their leaders, such as the United States, he said, where older statesmen can be seen still contributing to the countries as experienced advisors.

Ramlogan said in his research following an uproar over the Bill, he consulted with Michael Beloff, QC, who has in the past worked with the PNM.

Beloff, Ramlogan said, indicated that he did not consider the Bill to "violate any fundamental constitutional norms", that it did not encourage a separation of powers nor did it violate the rule of law.

Ramlogan called on critics to be specific and clarify which of the population's Constitutional rights will be violated by the proposed amendments.

Ramlogan said the Bill also does not interfere with the preamble of the Constitution, nor does it threaten Section 76, which gives the President the authority to appoint a Prime Minister.

On the run-off controversy, Ramlogan said there will not be the need for that process in every constituency following an election but will only be necessary where there is no clear winner.

On the issue of recall, Ramlogan said the present system allows citizens to participate in the political process for a few seconds during the act of voting, after which they become divorced from the process of running the country.

The right to recall an MP after three years if the service is not satisfactory is not only a reasonable setting but enhances the democratic power of the people, he said, while an MP facing recall will have the opportunity to state his or her case.