Saturday, February 24, 2018

‘Constitutional arrangement not suitable for our system’

Former National Security minister in the Peoples’ National Movement (PNM) Overand Padmore has said the country  may encounter difficulty in applying a constitutional arrangement that is designed for a superpower like the United States. 

He also said the United National Congress (UNC) contested the elections as the Peoples’ Partnership and enlisted the support of the Congress of the People (COP) because the UNC knew it would have been rejected by a large segment of the electorate which did not trust it. Padmore made these comments at a discussion on the Constitution Amendment (2014) Bill at Balisier House, Tranquility Street, Port of Spain, on Wednesday night. Padmore was joined by the party’s education officer Anthony Garcia, former senator Fitzgerald Hinds (now temporary) and one of the PNM’s founders Ferdie Ferreira. A small audience attended the meeting, including Carol Ann Agard, a member of the Education Committee.

During the discussion, Padmore said: “We must recognise we are a small country of 1.3 million people and in trying to apply a constitutional arrangement developed for a continental superpower like the United States, we could run into difficulty. We cannot try to apply their constitutional arrangements here. It  may not work in our circumstances.”

Padmore added: “For example, when the Congress does not pass a Budget, the whole American administrative system is shutdown. Can you envisage a House of Representatives refusing to pass a Budget here under the condition of separation of powers that you have in the United States? Can you envisage the government shutting down and sending home civil servants without pay? It is certainly not appropriate to our circumstances. This complete separation is certainly not appropriate in our setting of a Westminster Parliamentary system which we adhere to.”

Turning to the UNC election campaign, Padmore said “A significant part of the population did not trust them. And they did it under the cover of the COP. And now they are in post election mode, we are having a naked UNC government. It is subjugating the COP component. As a consequence, it (the COP)  has lost its appeal and is now in grave danger of being decimated at the polls. 

Padmore added: “If they came to you as the UNC you would not accept them. They knew that. The Congress of the People provided the UNC with a measure of legitimacy. The UNC are using the leader of the COP (Prakash Ramadhar) whom they put in charge of the Constitution Commission, which came up with the controversial proposals which would spell the death knell of the COP. He was used to oversee constitutional reform which will result in the electoral demise of his own party.”

On August 26, when debate started on the controversial Bill in the Senate, Persad-Bissessar said “I am aware as I enter the political battlefield this may be political suicide, but we can’t do business as usual. I am not afraid.”

Asked about this statement, Padmore said: “It is the sound of a desperate person. Much of the dialogue is about desperation in T&T. In the term limit, you have a lame duck status, and a prime minister long before the expiration of his term can begin to face challenges to his authority which could result in ineffective government. All of these adverse developments in this small country of 1.3 million people.”

With respect to the run-off poll, Padmore pointed to the possibility of the person who gets over 50 per cent on the second run-off poll, could receive less votes than the person who obtained less than 50 per cent on the first round. 

Padmore also raised concerns about the recall saying, that the Government can interfere deliberately in the operations of an opposition constituency by having a shadow MP who with government resources can undermine the role of the legitimately elected MP and use this as the basis for triggering a recall.