STATEMENT on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014
As the lone voice in the Parliament for a minority party in the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, I view this constitution Bill as an ambush of the electorate and all Opposition Parties.
As Chairman of the Independent Liberal Party, we view the Constitution (amendment) Bill 2014 as dangerous, deceptive and unconstitutional, not only in the intention, but also in its form and arrangement.
By the insertion of 50% vote requirement for entry into the House of Representatives, this move is a devious and desperate attempt of the United National Congress to prevent all Opposition Parties from participating fully and effectively in any General Election. This proposed requirement together with the second-ballot run-off voting, directly contravenes our system of democracy and our present Constitution.
I note with alarm, a distinct path towards dictatorial, undemocratic operations of the current PP government in the time, manner and content of this Bill which will have direct and disastrous effects on any healthy democratic General Election in this country.
The Prime Minister declared that “Parliament is vested with the authority to provide for the manner by which members are to be elected to this honourable House… and that a “simple majority” was required for changes proposed in the Bill, namely, a term limit for the office of Prime Minister, a recall provision and a run-off poll in the elections for the House of Representatives.
“These measures, Mr Speaker, require only a simple majority.” (Prime Minister)
The Independent Liberal Party and I do believe this to be untrue, improper and contrary to the Constitution.
The ILP believes that the Bill itself is contrary to the Constitution and that the amendments proposed to the existing Constitution are misleading and are a clear attempt at misdirection by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of the People’s Partnership government.
Additionally, we believe the convening of Parliament on Monday to debate this Bill, by itself, is in direct and clear contravention of the new Standing Orders of the Parliament, with specific reference to Article 14 and the summoning of Parliament during a period of recess.
In this instance, alone, the actions of the Speaker, the Leader of Government Business and the Prime Minister must be seen as contempt of the Parliament.
It is incumbent that all citizens call for a reversal of this decision and, at best, that no sitting of the Parliament should be held to debate this bill on Monday as planned.
All citizens must call for the offensive bill to be withdrawn.
This Constitutional Bill is in breach of the very pillar of our democracy, the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
There are grave indications and implications of abrogation, abridgement and infringement of entrenched rights and freedoms which will arise should this Bill become law in Trinidad and Tobago.
Contraventions of the Constitution
Section 54 provides clear direction of the power of Parliament to make and alter law in Trinidad and Tobago. It allows Parliament to “alter any of the provisions of this Constitution…” but gives clear and unambiguous direction in the limit of this power of Parliament “in so far as it alters” specific sections of said Constitution, including 49, 67 and 68.
One can easily see how the Sections named in the Constitution Bill are contained in section 54 (2) and (3) and require either a two-thirds or a three-quarters majority, contrary to the assertion of the Prime Minister about a “simple majority.”
In addition, for clarification, Section 5 of the Constitution provides for the protection of rights and freedoms of all citizens, save and except as identified in Chapter 1 and Section 54, and states “no law may abrogate, abridge or infringe or authorise the abrogation, abridgement or infringement of any of the rights and freedoms hereinbefore recognised and declared.”
Section 6 goes further and defines “alters” to avoid any confusion about how laws may be changed and states that “alters, in relation to an existing law, includes repealing that law and re-enacting it with modifications or making different provisions in place of it or modifying it.”
The Bill seeks to amend Section 49 by amending 49 (2), inserting new 49 (b) and 49 (c) to provide for the recall of a sitting MP, to issue a recall petition and to provide for the casting of ballots. It is instructive to note that the system of balloting in the Constitution is contained in Section 73, which would now be altered by the insertion of a new 49 c.
But more importantly, according to the Constitution “in so far as it alters Section 49 (1)….a Bill shall not be passed by the Parliament unless it is supported at the final vote thereon – in the HOR, by not less than three-fourths and, in the Senate by votes not less than two-thirds of all members.”
The Constitution Bill further proposes to amend section 67 to provide for a supplementary poll (second round voting) but directing a change in the way Parliament is to be summoned after a general election.
According to the Constitution “in so far as it alters section 67 (2) …a Bill shall not be passed by Parliament unless at the final vote thereon in each House it is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all members of each House.”
Further, the proposed amendment of section 67 draws directly from section 68 (4) which deals with the summoning of the two Houses of Parliament “where an emergency arises…” and any change of alteration to section 68 requires a vote of no less than three-fourths.
The Independent Liberal Party therefore makes a clarion call to all of our supporters, our friends in other political parties and all patriotic citizens of this country to join the chorus of protest in the court of public opinion.
We call on the Prime Minister and the government to recall or withdraw this Bill, which is ill conceived, poorly drafted, incorrectly referenced to the constitution and, by intent and form, unconstitutional.
We call on the minority Parties within the Partnership Government to distance itself from such an attack on our democratic Parliamentary system and to stand by the PEOPLE, instead of standing with a compromised few, hell bent on destroying free, fair and just governance.
Further, we call on the government to cancel the convening of Parliament, which is clearly in contravention of the Standing Orders of the Parliament.
We call on the government to an honest engagement with the citizenry through public consultation, especially with the legal associations, stakeholders including all political parties, civil and international bodies before any such Bill is re-drafted or re-submitted to our Parliament.
Further, we call on all political parties opposed to this Bill to set aside political differences, to engage in non-partisan dialogue and to present a unified voice against this attempt to undermine our democratic tradition and foundation.
Such an engagement will signal a strong intent to hold our country first, above all else and will set the precedent required for any legislation designed to alter our constitution or rights thereafter.
We call on all to prevent this Bill from becoming a Law in our country.
Member of Parliament
Chaguanas West Constituency
Independent Liberal Party
August 8, 2014