President Anthony Carmona has weighed in on the controversial Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014, saying yesterday that “forays” into reform were to be expected from a young nation, but there was no room for “bull-headed partisanship”.
Carmona said the constitutional reform exercise must be done transparently as he stressed his own role in the process.
He reminded the population that he was not a “former politician” but a former judge who seeks counsel.
The President broke with tradition this year, choosing to address the nation in a toast yesterday, Independence Day, rather than issue a statement on the eve of the occasion.
With Independence Day falling just three days after the passage in the Senate of the contentious Bill, Carmona stated: “As a relatively young independent nation, we will experience growing pains.
“There will be lessons to learn. Our recent forays into constitutional reform are to be expected.
“These attempts to refresh the foundation of our nationhood must, however, be conducted in an atmosphere that is transparent, well-informed, inclusive, tolerant and driven by critical analysis. In this exercise there is no room for blasé statements and bull-headed partisanship,” he added.
“Change is the only constant and to turn one’s back and pretend that it is not coming is an exercise in futility. “Actively engaging in the discourse and discussion is the right of every citizen and the responsibility of every elected and appointed representative.”
Carmona also sent a message about the role of the President in the reform process.
“It is not lost on the Office of The President the role that the Head of State must play in constitutional reform concomitant with constitutional restraints and neutrality.”
He added: “The national community would do well to remember that the current Head of State is not a former politician but a former judge who seeks counsel.”
Government’s Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014--which was piloted by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in the Senate last Tuesday, the first time a PM has done so in the Upper House--has received criticism from several quarters.
Three provisions of the Bill have drew debate and criticism--a two-term limit for prime ministers; right of recall of MPs; and an election run-off clause that anti-Bill activists contend was foisted on the population without consultation.
Consultations on reform had been carried out by the Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC), headed by Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, but former CRC member, Dr Merle Hodge, claimed that the run-off clause was not discussed.
The Bill was passed with amendments in the Senate on Thursday night with a vote of 18 for and 12 against.
Independent Senators Dr Rolph Balgobin, Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir and David Small supported the Bill.
It required the support of one Independent.