Saturday, February 24, 2018


Independent Senator Rolph Balgobin hints at giving Government much-needed vote


Deciding factor: Independent Senator Rolph Balgobin makes his point during debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 yesterday in the Senate at the International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain. Seated is Independent Senator Helen Drayton. See Pages 3 & 4. —Photo: CURTIS CHASE

Mark Fraser

“YOU need one, you may have one.”

So said Independent Senator Dr Rolph Balgobin as he yesterday signalled his intention to support the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 once “reasonable changes” are made.

The Government needs the support of only one of the nine Independent Senators to pass the controversial bill.

During his contribution at the Upper House yesterday, Balgobin hinted that he was in favour of the bill. He said the bill has “excited the imagination of the public”.

“It has got people stirred up, it has interested them to no small degree in what happens in our Parliament and what happens in our democracy,” Balgobin said.

“I have listened to the radio, I have read the newspapers, engaged the placarders, talked to people, I received many mails, letters and so on and of course I have talked to people and people have approached me opportunistically and at random, and many of them have taken the manner of approaching me with a wagging finger,” Balgobin said.

“They say: ‘I hope you are not voting for that’ and so I listen to that and I propose to speak to that and of course it morphed to ‘who will it be’, ‘the one’,” he said.

“It took me almost a fortnight to work out that this had the elements of a very well run public campaign and one of the things I found interesting was that I was not able to receive a cogent answer to a simple question I put to people who walk up to me wagging their finger,” Balgobin said. 

Balgobin said he has not gotten the answers he wanted to why people were opposed to the run-off proposal in the bill.

“That tells me that there is an element of this discussion that remains unexplored that the depths have not been plumbed,” Balgobin said.

Balgobin said many commentators have expressed an opinion based on “relatively low quality reporting”.

“What that does is it has the effect of lending intelligence to increased ignorance,” he said.

Balgobin questioned what is the “ideal process”.

“The problem I am having is given the fractured and cannibalistic nature of our politics I cannot figure what the ideal process should look like because we have been doing this 40 years now and we still didn’t get any alignment,” Balgobin said.

“If we cannot figure out what the ideal process is then it may mean that some government has to make a move and see what happens and you do the best you can with the sense you have and the information you have and you see,” he said.

“Of course you can play it safe and do nothing. Confucius says ‘Man who does very little, makes very little mistakes’,” Balgobin said.

Balgobin said he is of the view that because it is an election year people are viewing the amendments with “tainted lenses”.

“Why should you stop doing your job because an election is a year away. I don’t see the logic in that,” Balgobin said.

He said a significant portion of the objection to the bill is due to the mistrust of governments.

“Fortunately, I don’t have to vote on my feelings, or if I trust you or not, I have to vote on the issues and that is what I will take a position on, the legislation in front of me,” Balgobin said.

Balgobin said each of the senators on the Independent bench has a mind of their own.

He said he did not like the way the situation concerning the recusal of Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith played out.

“Special majority legislation is passed in this Senate all the time and that requires just four (votes needed). It does not help the democracy either strictly speaking that is just three more people,” Balgobin said.

Balgobin said usually the Independents vote more or less along the same lines or it splits evenly.

“To create the idea of one against eight is improper. Each of us here keeps our own counsel and to imply that any one of us voting one way or the other is breaking ranks is frankly foolish at best and an attempt to play with the mindset and the decision making process of Independents. I for one don’t like that at all,” he said.

“I don’t appreciate it because you can’t bully me by replacing my ideas with yours on the basis of volume. You have to convince me and I am opened to be convinced. Give me a reason to share your point of view and I will share it. I have no vested interest either way,” Balgobin said.

He said the discussions on the bill have become “so polarised”.

“We can’t continue to do the same thing and expect a different result. Our democracy needs to move forward, it needs to morph, evolve and advance,” Balgobin said.

“This legislation is not perfect. There are changes of course that I would like to see but if you are willing to be open and accommodating then perhaps the debate would benefit from the maturity that comes with early resolution.”

“And so if I can get reasonable changes notwithstanding the polarised debate and argument inside and outside you need one you may have one,” Balgobin.