Highway open: Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar cuts a ribbon to officially open the Diego Martin Highway Expansion Phase 4B yesterday. Joining her were, from left, Ministers Stacy Roopnarine, Suruj Rambachan and Emmanuel George. —Photo: ISHMAEL SALANDY

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PM awaiting debate

By Joel Julien joel.julien@trinidadexpress.com

PRIME Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday said she is awaiting with “great expectations” the debate in the Upper House on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014. Using the built-in delay mechanism in this country’s Parliament, Persad-Bissessar said the Senate debate on the bill, which was expected to be held next Tuesday, will now be pushed pack “to allow for further discussions before a vote is taken”.

Former leader of government business in the Senate Justice Minister Emmanuel George yesterday said he expects the bill to be passed in the Upper House. Persad-Bissessar and George made the statements at the opening ceremony for the Diego Martin Highway Expansion Phase 4B.

Delivering the feature address, Persad-Bissessar said, “In the history of governance in Trinidad and Tobago people have never been empowered as they are now as a result of changes being brought.”
One of those changes is the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014, which was passed in the Lower House on Tuesday morning, Persad-Bissessar said.

“We now await with great expectation the debate in the Senate on the Constitution Amendment Bill 2014,” Persad-Bissessar said.
“We will also note that using the built-in delay mechanism afforded by our two houses structure, a bicameral legislature, House and Senate, there is a delay and we are utilising that delay process to ensure that there is further time for discussion before a vote is taken in the Senate,” she said.

“The bill will be laid on Tuesday 19th, but the debate will not commence thereon but a date following upon that to allow for more time to elapse,” Persad-Bissessar said. “The people of Trinidad and Tobago must not be silent spectators to the process of governance and development, the concept of governance must not be limited to what the elected Government and its officials do.

“You have rights and we will seek to protect those rights and from as high as the nation’s Constitution, this is where those rights have maximum effect when you have the power to choose properly to exert your will on elected persons you ensure that issues such as infrastructure, child care, health care and education are managed, not for the political image of elected persons but for the broad benefit of the people who voted and that is you the electorate,” Persad-Bissessar said.

She said the bill was helping to put power back into the hands of citizens. “Through the power that the Constitution now gives you, you can dictate the pace, the level and the quality of development in your own communities. “You have the power to demand even more accountability, transparency and open government, and you have the assurance that as long as I have anything to do with it we will do everything we can to protect your rights and enhance those rights and respect them,” she said.

Persad-Bissessar said much was being said about the run-off provision in the bill without its real purpose being properly highlighted.
“I hear a lot about run-off, but I don’t know if we are giving cognizance to the fact that it is not the run-off that is the focus, that the focus is that an opportunity is being given to ensure that when you vote the member of Parliament you elect is elected by the majority of the votes and not by a minority.

That is the purpose of the run-off,” she said. “So where a candidate does not get 50 per cent of the vote, only in those instances there will be a second ballot between the highest-scoring and second-highest-scoring candidates to select them,” Persad-Bissessar said.
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