Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Dookeran blanks Constitution bill

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Donstan Bonn

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EN-TT;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA">"I CANNOT sit here and allow the next generation's interest to be compromised by the politics of today."

So said Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran last night as he announced that he would not be voting with the government to support the controversial Constitution Amendment Bill 2014.

Dookeran said he was listening to his inner voice.

Speaking at the start of the debate on the bill yesterday, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she would allow government Members of Parliament to exercise a conscience vote on the Bill.

Dookeran said he would not be voting for the Bill when he made his contribution in Parliament.

He also slammed Attorney General Anand Ramlogan for his comments against Dr Merle Hodge.

"Dr Merle Hodge is indeed a respected activist, it is unfortunate that she was attacked especially by my colleague," Dookeran said.

He then referred to a letter submitted by Hodge on the run-off provision in the bill.

"The run-off mechanism directly contradicts the principle of proportional representation which is a central recommendation of the Constitution Reform Commission," Dookeran read.

"Over the last 12 hours or so I have been in a state of great torment," Dookeran said. 

"If I were to vote in support of this run-off mechanism I would be voting against the principle of proportional mechanism and that is my major concern at this point and I cannot have spent an entire life in search of a mechanism to bring about a wider participation of all the different groups in this society and adopted that we should move toward proportional representation in some form and fashion and now have to simply accept that a run-off mechanism will be a substitute and in fact it is a contradiction," he said. 

Dookeran said he made his views known to the Cabinet.

He said he wrote a five-page document calling for the establishment of a Joint Select Committee and have public consultation.

Dookeran said he was "disappointed" these suggestions were not accepted.

"This is not about the politics of today ,this about the politics of tomorrow and the next generation and I cannot sit here and allow the next generation's interest to be compromised by the politics of today," Dookeran said. 

"I set myself that course many years ago when I went in Mid Centre Mall and called for a different kind of politics from what I inherited," he said. 

"That course is still in my mind and I am still motivated by it and I know it is right for the next generation of people in this country," Dookeran said. 

"The process is just as important as the content and I say now that we cannot accept a mechanism that is in contradiction of a fundamental principle of the Congress of the People," he said.

Dookeran expressed concern that the country would be buying "cat in bag" with the proposed bill.

"The prime minister had announced earlier on that other legislation will come forward on proportional representation but we cannot deal with one part without dealing with the other part because then we will be buying cat in bag on this very fundamental issue for the people of this country. That is also my concern," Dookeran said.

"I am simply expressing the torment that went through me during tonight as I listened to the debate and I understood where I myself had laid my entire political bucket down, how could I now kick that bucket down," he said.

Dookeran said he would seek an audience with Persad-Bissessar on the issue.

"The Prime Minister did indicate that she was withdrawing the obligations of collective majority in other words saying 'well you are free to vote how you want' and I say I appreciate that," Dookeran said.

"But for me conscience and indeed it matters and we must exercise our conscience on an important issue like this. It is also important to exercise that conscience in the concept of collective responsibility so I am not prepared here to simply accept the conscience matters in the vote before us . I am also prepared to accept the obligations of that vote in the context of collective responsibility," he said.

COP political leader Prakash Ramadhar sat beside Dookeran during his contribution.

"I have an obligation to myself and to my own conscience to support the aspirations of the 140,000 people who voted for the Congress of the People in 2007," Dookeran said .

"I also have an obligation to ensure that the young people of this country will have a political and electoral system in which they can in fact have free and independent choice in the exercise of their democratic rights," Dookeran said.

"Because I have to listen to my inner voice I have to indicate to this honourable House that I really will be unable to support this Bill in its present formation, I therefore have no choice but to vote against it at this point in time," he said.

The Opposition thumped their desks in support of Dookeran.

"That is leader!" St Joseph MP Terrence Deyalsingh shouted. 

"Take back your party!" Opposition Chief Whip Marlene McDonald chimed in.