Works Minister Surujrattan Rambachan, who piloted the Elections and Boundaries (EBC) Draft Order as the former local government minister, yesterday apologised for the late presentation of the order, stating it came on July 3, 2011, when Parliament was on a break.
Despite objections that it was “undemocratic”, “ambush politics” and “unacceptable”, the order was passed in Parliament, at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, yesterday evening, amid the Government’s debate on the Municipal Corporations (Amendment) Bill 2013.
Attached to the order was a
265-page EBC report, which the Opposition collectively argued was only delivered the day before it was to be debated in Parliament, which seeks to change the electoral boundaries 47 days before the local government election, set for October 21.
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley described the EBC report as the “best-kept secret in the country” and called on the Government to withdraw it, given it has had it in its possession since July 3, 2011, but only now chooses to introduce it.
Rambachan explained to the House that the calling of the local government election made it imperative that the matter be debated.
At least seven corporations will be altered—Port of Spain, Point Fortin, Arima, Chaguanas, Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo, Mayaro and Princes Town—while some areas will see an increase in the amount of aldermen in the corporations.
Rambachan argued the order originated from an independent institution which was respected by both divides of the House and urged the Opposition to support it.
He said “with little effort”, the Opposition can adjust its campaign strategy to deal with the changes in the report.
Rowley acknowledged an increased quantity of councillors, which the report proposed, meant better representation for the people, but he observed there was no consultation on the decision to debate the report and deemed the process incomplete and called for it to be withdrawn.
The Opposition was united in condemnation of the Government’s actions.
St Joseph MP Herbert Volney explained that in the enactment of any new policy or law, ample opportunity should be given to parliamentarians to review the documents and accused the Government of “unparliamentary conduct”.
Chaguanas West MP and Independent Liberal Party (ILP) interim leader Jack Warner criticised the Municipal Corporations Bill, stating that again, “in the dead of the night, the Government has gotten up and changed the laws of the land”.
He contended while MPs should be focused on Monday’s budget, they were being distracted by the bill.
The rushed approach, he said, has embarrassed the Government before, like the Reshmi Ramnarine fiasco, Section 34, the Soldiers Bill and the Government’s proposal to give Tobago internal self-governance.
He chided the Government, saying while it had declared elections, it was changing the rules of the game to give itself an advantage.