INDEPENDENT Senator Ian Roach, in an impassioned delivery yesterday, said race, religion and geographic location are “spoiling” the country. Roach, who was clear about his rejection of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 that was debated in the Senate again yesterday, at the International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, said he lived in South Africa for 20 years before returning to Trinidad and Tobago and, on coming back, he found the country was not the same place.
He said ethnicity and religion now seemed to be important criteria for joining a political party, and this type of system was corrupting the love and warmth for which Trinidadians were known. Roach said governance must evolve, go past unnecessary antagonism and the citizenry must be better engaged in matters such as the proposals in the controversial bill.
The Government’s proposals include a two-term limit for Prime Ministers, right of recall for MPs and a run-off clause for elections.
Roach, who said he would have no problem supporting the Government if he felt it was appropriate, took issue with the possibility of a 15-day delay in settling a Government that could occur following a general election, saying the population was particularly worried about that gap.
“People are anxious about the 15 days,” Roach said, adding he will not support something he believes offends public opinion. He said people were concerned about what kind of wrongdoing could take place in that time, based on desperation for power. The right of recall also created a lot of room for “mischief”, he said, especially in the case of Opposition MPs who do not have access to State funding and resources.
“What can you do in Opposition?” he asked. Attorney General Anand Ramlogan had earlier stated the Government was on good legal grounds with the bill, having consulted a team of UK attorneys and also Sir Fenton Ramsahoye, QC. Roach said the problem with legal opinions was that until they were proven in a court of law, they remained just that—opinions.
He also said what applies in the UK may not work in T&T.
In the debate on Tuesday, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who piloted the bill, had said her research showed small and third parties could benefit from the maligned run-off clause, in that they could be given second wind by another go at the polls.
Roach said yesterday he did not share this view and, while he was not casting aspersions on the Government or intimating at a motive behind the bill, the process engaged in the forming of the bill was wrong. “I think it is an antithesis to the whole process of the small party,” Roach said, adding the common agenda of the House should be to put Trinidad and Tobago first.
Following his delivery, Roach said he would gladly walk out if the President (Anthony Carmona) were to see it fit to move him.