Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has relieved members of her Cabinet of the doctrine of collective responsibility by allowing all them to vote according to conscience on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014.
The Bill seeks to set Term Limits for Prime Ministers, introduce Right of Recall of Members of Parliament and making every person’s vote count by making politicians earn the support of the majority of the people.
Debate began today in the Parlaiment, a Tower D, Watefront Complex, Port of Spain. In a press statmenet from teh Office of the Prime Minister, Persad-Bissessar's decision to allwed for a conscience vote, was described as an historic move.
The statement said "the Prime Minister has signalled that no one would be penalised for having a dissenting opinion on this important legislation".
“In the circumstances, when the final vote is taken on this Bill, all members of the Cabinet will not be bound by collective responsibility when recording their vote in the division which I shall request,” Mrs. Persad-Bissessar said.
According to the statement "In her contribution, the Prime Minister noted that Constitutional Reform has been on the national agenda for more than 30 years, and this is the first government that has had the political courage to bring reforms to the Constitution to Parliament that will give more power to the people.
The Prime Minister stressed that the proposals to amend the Constitution are grounded in the Manifesto of the People’s Partnership, and is a mandate set by the people of Trinidad and Tobago. “In our Manifesto, we said we would have respect for the voices of minorities, while acknowledging the will of the majority,” she said. “We made a promise to the people, and it is our intention to fulfil that promise.”
The legislation, she noted, was drafted following an extensive public consultation process throughout Trinidad and Tobago, and is based on the recommendations of the Constitution Reform Commission in its report and addendum, both of which have been made public.
The Prime Minister also exposed the Opposition PNM’s hypocrisy and double-speak on the proposed amendments. She referenced the PNM’s support in their internal party constitution for term limits, recall and runoff - the very same proposals of which they are now critical.
She stressed, “They (PNM) do not have the moral authority to oppose this Bill.”
According to the statement: "In stark contrast, the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Keith Rowley, has once again demonstrated to the people that he has no vision, plan or desire to develop Trinidad and Tobago. Further, he presented no alternative policy for reforming the country’s Constitution, and is opposed to any measures that will take power from the politicians and place it in the hands of the people.
Dr Rowley spent the majority of his contribution lamenting that he had to come to Parliament during his vacation to debate legislation and conduct the work of the people, instead of presenting a coherent argument on the legislation before the House.
It is worth noting that it is not unprecedented for the House of Representatives to sit during this period. Former Prime Minister Patrick Manning laid the Ellis Clarke Draft Constitution on 18th August 2006.
After listening to Dr Rowley’s contribution, the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago have no idea of what his or his party’s position is on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014.
The Leader of the Opposition talked at length about a system of alternative voting which is not in the Bill and has no significance to the current debate. What the Bill is proposing is a greater opportunity for the people to choose their representatives.
Dr Rowley claimed that the 15 day period in cases where a runoff election is needed would create instability and prevents the smooth transition of power. He must answer why, in 2002, he was happy to be part of an illegitimate Cabinet, when the PNM took advantage of grey areas of the constitution and clung to power for 10 months without Parliamentary scrutiny".
According to the statement: "Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has proposed measures that are designed to prevent any attempts to subvert the country’s democracy, but the Opposition Leader is clearly not in support measures that will strengthen the country’s democracy and put more power into the hands of the people of Trinidad and Tobago".