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GIVE IT A CHANCE

Senior counsel, religious leaders weigh in on Constitution Bill:

By port of spain \\\\\ Kim Boodram

A willingness to give the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014 a chance appears to have come from Martin Daly SC, who said yesterday it will not obliterate smaller, third parties as feared.


The bill was passed on Thursday in the Senate, at Tower D, International

Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, after amendments were made to the controversial run-off provision.

Daly told TV6 News yesterday as a result of the negotiations between Independent senators and Government, there has been an “interesting experiment in constitutional reform”.

The negotiating also helped smooth out flaws in the bill, he said.

He said the intense negotiations during the committee stage of the bill will show the checks and balan­ces in the governance system do work.

“Whatever you think of the concession the Government made, it can’t be said that the bill, which will become an act, will obliterate third parties,” Daly said.

“It’s really the unelected members who have the biggest influence on the process, and I think it worked to our advantage,” Daly said.

Stoking the ire of parts of civil society is the run-off clause in par­tic­ular, which allows for a second go at the polls between the two headers of a constituency.

This clause was not discussed with the public nor, according to former member of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) Dr Merle Hodge, with the commission itself.

That commission was chaired by Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, an arrangement viewed by some as slanting the work of the commission from the start.

The other provisions that have caused controversy are proposed two-term limits for prime ministers and the right of recall for MPs.

However, former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas remained staunch yesterday in his disagreement with Government’s lack of consultation on the run-off clause of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014.

Dumas last week wrote to Senate president Timothy Hamel-Smith, asking that Hamel-Smith recuse himself from the August 26 debate, based on an e-mail he, Hamel-Smith, was alleged to have circula­ted to various people, asking that they support a call for the bill to be taken to a Joint Select Committee.

Hamel-Smith left days later on a vacation he said had been booked before the bill issue came up, giving way to Senate vice-president James Lambert.

Speaking via telephone from his home in Bacolet, Tobago, yesterday, Dumas said he did not object in principle to the provisions for recall and limited terms for prime ministers as they have featured in local political literature in the past.

With regard to the right of recall, Dumas said a lot of MPs have not behaved properly towards their constituents—but with such legislation, “the devil is in the details”.

Dumas said his consternation remained with the run-off clause.

“The matter was not even discussed by the population,” Dumas said.

“It did not even come up. You can’t have feedback if there is nothing to feed back.”

Dumas said the manner in which the clause was brought to the public’s eye is “completely erroneous”.

“I resent that because it brought the people into something they know nothing about,” he said.

He said he has observed, as well, the report produced by the CRC did not contain a terms of reference (ToR), though members have in the past repeatedly referred to their “mandate”.

“What in God’s name is their mandate or their remit?,” Dumas asked, adding such reports are typically required to contain a ToR.

He said he has never been part of a commission that did not include a ToR in its documents or written a report without its ToR having been set out.
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