Thursday, January 18, 2018

Moonilal: Reform brings pain

President understood process, says minister


WARM GREETING: Deputy political leader of the United National Congress (UNC), Dr Roodal Moonilal, left, greets former deputy political leader of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) Anna Deonarine with the words “welcome home to the Debe Water Park and not Warner Park” yesterday, during an Indian Classical and Chutney singers competition at the Debe Water Park, Debe. See Page 3. —Photo: TREVOR WATSON

Mark Fraser

Leader of Government Business Dr Roodal Moonilal yesterday said he believed comments made by President Anthony Carmona on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014 were in support of the Government.

Carmona made his remarks on Independence Day at the annual Toast to the Nation, hosted by the Combined Officers of the Defence Force, at the western section of the National Academy for the Perfor­ming Arts (NAPA), Keate Street, Port of Spain.

Carmona had 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. 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. 

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. 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.”

The Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014 was passed with amendments last Thursday in the Senate after three days of marathon debate. The bill has to return to the Lower House for those amendments to be passed, after which it will be sent to Carmona for proclamation.

Moonilal, who spoke yesterday at an Independence Day classical and chutney singing event in his East Oropouche constituency, said, “I listened to his entire speech, not only the part carried in the press. I listened to the entire speech. I thought he understood well the process; I thought he understood well the need for pain to bring about reform and he indicated he’s a former judge. He knows the law well,” Moonilal said. 

“I did listen to the entire presentation of the President; I was very happy. The President has alerted the nation that notwithstanding conflict and the diffe­rent opinions on the matter

that there can be no developments without conflict and there can be no fundamental recourse without the growing pains that a young nation will go through.

“So I think I agree with him that not withstanding the different issues and the disagreements that we were able to come together and pass fundamental reform. 

“The President did say that one should not do this in a bull-headed way and I agree with him, and I give further praise and applaud the Prime Minister, Mrs Persad-Bissesar, who took the opportunity in the Senate to accept critical amendments from the senators, and I thought she showed the flexibility and the will, the political will, for fundamental reform,” Moonilal said.

He said the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) should take note.

“I appeal to the PNM to take heed of the President’s statements and conduct their business in a more flexible and a less dogmatic way, so that we can build compromise and consensus with future constitutional reform amendments.”

The Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014 was passed, with amendments, in the Senate with a vote of 18 for and 12 against.

Moonilal said he was pleased with the process.

“I think we all felt that given the way we handled it...because it was a short time, it allowed almost for an explosion of views and a debate that you would not have had, had it been a prolonged and long-term period of discussion and consultation. I think the timing as well led to an enormous amount of analysis in the society. The entire country was concerned with constitutional reform. 

“In fact I must tell you, the television stations indicated that a lot of their regular programme was not seen because the entire population looked at the debate. So I thought the period that we chose gave enormous opportunity for analysis.”

He hinted the process may be continued with other amendments, “We have new legislation on fixed dates

for election, that is something we are looking at and other constitutional reform matters. Those are not before us now so its very difficult to say a timetable, but I think in due course, we will have that and from the success of this approach where we allowed maximum consultation and because of the time frame in the Parliament, the entire society was bursting with discourse on constitutional issues; I think it augers well for the future.”

The Minister of Housing said he hoped next week’s budget will provide adequate funding for his ministry.

Independent Liberal Party (ILP) former deputy leader Anna Deonarine was also at the event and was welcomed by Moonilal.