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Don’t back down, Merle

By \\\\\ Michelle Loubon

“They are playing with fire.”

Constitution Reform Commission member (CRC) Dr Merle Hodge was speaking yesterday in reference to the People’s Partnership  after debate commenced on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014  at Parliament Building, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain. 

Hodge was a member of the CRC that submitted a report to the Government after a year of public consultations on constitutional reform.  

Hodge and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan have been at loggerheads over the run-off proposal in the Bill with Ramlogan saying Hodge could have submitted a minority report if she had concerns about the Bill and  Hodge saying the run-off proposal was never part of the report and called for the debate to be stopped.

 Hodge said: “They are playing with fire. Suppose it comes out they have passed the Bill. Did you see the mood of the crowd out here? I am disappointed in the fact they could go ahead and continue to ride roughshod. There  is a lot of support for the thing (postponement of the debate on the Bill). They are stepping on dangerous ground. It is not support. It is an angry protest against the Bill,” added Hodge. 

Hodge was accompanied by former Gender, Youth and Child Development minister Verna St Rose-Greaves, cultural activist  Eintou Pearl-Springer and her daughter Attillah, academic Dr Charleston Thomas and Hodge’s cousins Diana Hodge-Lloyd and  Keith Hodge. After lunch, Hodge  was treated to a heroine’s welcome when she walked the precincts of the Parliament which was lined by scores of  People’s National Movement  (PNM) protesters and a sprinkling of  People’s Partnership supporters. Then she and her team joined the crowd of protesters. 

Asked what she felt should be done about the Bill, Hodge said: “I would like to see the voting suspended. Postpone the voting. Let people get more information.”   When informed Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had released the Government from collective responsibility and advised them to vote based on their conscience, Hodge said: “Conscience. What difference would that  make?  How  many  of  them would do it?”

Asked about Ramlogan’s views on her stance, Hodge said: “The AG is irrelevant. I done talk.”

Hodge also registered her angst that the big screen which was placed in the vicinity of the Breakfast Shed was turned off. She felt the modus operandi of the nation’s Parliament was shrouded in secrecy. Several protesters had complained vehemently that after Persad-Bissessar had finished her contribution in the House, it was turned off. They complained about being unable to hear Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley’s contribution. 

Hodge said: “They turned off the screen. We are supposed to know what is going on in the Parliament and they have chased the (lunchtime) crowd.  People have to understand all these little things are undemocratic. Where is the leader (Persad-Bissessar) when the others are making their contribution? She should be listening to all the arguments and listening to the Opposition.” 

With a tinge of sarcasm, Hodge said: “We are in a real nice       place.” 

Asked about the outpouring of love and support, Hodge said: “It was a bit uncomfortable at first  because I came as a protester. I did not initiate it. And I am not someone  for visibility.” 

Asked if she wanted to share information about her meeting with Persad-Bissessar, St Rose-Greaves declined. 

Asked to share her sentiments on Hodge, St Rose-Greaves added: “This is not the time for talk. It is the time for action. They can’t touch her (Hodge). They have to leave her alone.” 

 

Heroine’s welcome 

for Hodge

 

After lunch, Hodge and her team made their way down the perimeter of the Parliament. A small crowd had gathered. When they spotted her, Hodge became the recipient of kisses, hugs, congratulatory words for her stance. Protesters said Hodge was “a true daughter”, and “a patriot”. One man gave Hodge the assurance that “The AG can’t touch you”. Along the way, she met activists including  President of  the Sheep and Goat Farmers’ Association  Shiraz Khan and Morvant/Laventille activist Muhammed Shabazz who also registered their concerns with various issues.

Shabazz said: “Don’t back back now.”

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