It is clear that the Prime Minister herself does not intend stopping the Constitution reform debate as her office yesterday e-mailed the
Constitution Review Commission (CRC) report and the addendum to
media houses. The Parliament also issued Monday’s Order Paper which listed under Government business the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 which will be piloted by the Prime Minister.
There will be no stopping the debate on the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill 2014 on Monday, says Legal Affairs Minister and Congress of the People (COP) leader Prakash Ramadhar.
Since Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar introduced the bill in Parliament on August 4, which proposes fixed terms for the office of Prime Minister, right of recall and a run-off vote, there has been heavy objection from the Opposition, other politicians and citizens.
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and Independent Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner have warned against the bill and have signalled their intent to not support it when it is debated in the Parliament on Monday.
Two members of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC)—Dr Merle Hodge and Carlos Dillon—have called for the debate to be stopped and also stated that the issue of the run-off vote was not discussed with the people during the Constitution consultations.
However, in an interview yesterday with the Express at the Ministry of Legal Affairs, South Quay, Port of Spain, Ramadhar said the debate will go on and the Government will not back down on its manifesto promise of constitutional reform.
Ramadhar said those who are in objection to the bill and the sweeping changes it proposes do not want to strengthen this country’s democracy.
He said when the CRC held its consultations, the people were the ones who said they did not want a minority Government and the commission then had to come up with a mechanism to achieve this.
Ramadhar said the People’s National Movement (PNM) already stated its position and rejected the Government’s proposal of proportional representation and therefore another avenue had to be found to fulfill the people’s desire using a simple majority vote.
He said the run-off vote was the brainchild of the commission.
The minister admitted that members of his own COP executive have expressed concerns over the run-off vote, but he insists and believes it will be a good thing for this country and will empower the people.
“What I can say at this point in time, I do not really see any tremendous arguments for us, preventing Constitution reform from going forward,” said Ramadhar.
“The train is now leaving the station on constitutional reform, it is in movement, it is in motion and we will pass this ... this Government is quite serious about its promise for constitutional reform,” he said.
Questioned on Hodge’s concerns on the bill’s proposals, Ramadhar said she was entitled to have “second thoughts” on it.
“I admire and appreciate Merle, she’s entitled to those second thoughts but we need to analyse the arguments and see whether it is motivated from a genuine concerns, whether it is generated from the unknown and that is the problem we are faced with, any change in the country is resisted and we see it all levels, change everybody talks about it but nobody engages it. This Government which I am in part, insist that the changes we promised must come,” said Ramadhar.
Ramadhar said people were seeking to “demonise” the bill and the run-off provision without the facts.
He said contrary to the view that the run-off vote will destroy third parties, it will in fact empower them as the party would not have a level playing field and work the ground to get full support.
Ramadhar said gone are the days of votes being split and a party winning through a flaw.
“The run-off issue even though it may not have come from the floor, what the people were saying was that they did not want to have a minority Government, they did not want minority victories, they wanted an empowerment of the democracy,” he said.
“The commission had to decide how can we achieve that in our recommendations and that is how the issue of run-off came about so you would have the split vote fear being removed ... you are equally entitled like any other party and your supporters can support you knowing full well that they don’t have to fear there is another party they don’t want to win and therefore if they vote for this party it would guarantee the win of another,” he added.
Ramadhar said arguments aimed at creating fear among the people over these proposals are part of the Opposition propaganda.
“Fear must never ever rule your decision. If you have genuine concerns, we must analyse them and that is why it is important for the discussions to go but at the end of it, action must be taken. Understand that there is a leadership role, you know there is the old saying that too much analysis leads to paralysis, you end up doing nothing. This Government cannot afford to do noting on constitutional reform. It is one of our promises on page 18 of our manifesto, so therefore sometimes you have to bite the bullet and go forward,” he said.
Asked if this was going to be his position with respect to the concerns from his own party, Ramadhar responded, “I am the chairman of this commission, I recommended it, I supported it in the Cabinet, I have responsibilities there. It is my duty on Sunday to do the best that I can to allay the fears of my party, and to take on both their views and considerations.”
He said the people of this country want change and the Government had no choice but to bring it through this way where they can achieve that change without the support of the Opposition.
The marathon debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill will take place on Monday in Parliament at 10.30 a.m.