Thursday, December 14, 2017

Kamla to join Senate debate

Rare move by Prime Minister on Constitution bill

PRIME Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is expected to participate in the debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 to be held in the Upper House next week.

Minister of the Environment and Water Resources Ganga Singh made the statement yesterday during the post-Cabinet news briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair.

Singh, the Leader of Government Business in the Senate, also said he knew Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith would be absent from the country during the highly anticipated debate to be held on Tuesday.

Singh said “politics is the art of compromise” and he expects the debate in the Senate will be “robust and focused”.

“No, I’m not surprised (by Hamel-Smith being out of the country for the debate). We had a discussion and he indicated that that is what he was going to proceed with, that discussion remained confidential until he acted on it,” Singh said.

Singh said the debate will be history-making with Persad-Bissessar making an appearance at the Upper House.

“I expect the debate to be robust, to be focused and I think that history will be on our side. I think that we will enjoy the debate because I think that it is for the first time in several decades that the Constitution is in the frontline of people’s attention and if my memory serves me right, this will be the first time in our history that a Prime Minister is coming to debate a bill in the Senate of Trinidad and Tobago,” Singh said.

He said the Government is clear in its vision but that politics is about compromise.

“Politics is the art of compromise so I therefore would not want to prejudice the debate. The debate will see the cut and thrust and we must be able to take an open approach to the debate but our position as a Government, our policy position as articulated in our manifesto as reflected and crystalised in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 is that fixed terms for prime ministers, recall for parliamentarians and run-off as a corollary to the recall,” he said.

Singh said the PM’s appearance in the Upper House would be history making.

However, in July 2009 the then Prime Minister Patrick Manning, contributed to the debate in the Senate on the Municipal Corporation Amendment bill, which sought to extend the life of the local government bodies (and thereby postpone the election) for the third consecutive time. 

At that time Manning’s appearance in the Senate was criticised because it was argued that the issue of local government did not fall within his portfolio. That bill had been piloted by then Local Government Minister Hazel Manning. In that debate all the Independent senators—with the exception of Gail Merhair and Michael Annisette—voted against the measure.