Former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas has called on Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith to recuse himself from presiding over the debate on the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill 2014 if he did in fact send an e-mail which urged the bill be sent to a Parliament Joint Select Committee (JSC).
Dumas, in a letter to the Express yesterday, stated Hamel-Smith’s fitness to continue holding the Senate presidency will be in question, depending on his response.
Dumas stated he received in his mailbox an e-mail from Hamel-Smith which was sent to certain persons (not Dumas), which was dated Sunday, August 10, 2014, and sent after 4 p.m.
“I make no comment on whether it followed that day’s meeting of the Congress of the People (COP), to which Mr Hamel-Smith belongs,” stated Dumas.
He stated the message read as follows: “I am writing to request your endorsement of the Constitution Amendment Bill to be referred to a Joint Select Committee of Parliament. This would allow for all stakeholders to make representations and the bill to be debated in, say, late September. Such a delay will not negatively impact the Government but rather allow it to get a broader cross-section of support and take into account other views that might indeed improve the bill. I urge you and [organisation] to announce this to the media as a matter of urgency.”
Dumas questioned whether it was proper for Hamel-Smith to take such action.
“Does Mr Hamel-Smith consider it proper, and in keeping with the principles of good governance, for the presiding officer of one of our Houses of Parliament, who is expected to be, and be seen to be, impartial in the performance of his duties and in his conduct of the business of that House, to take a public, partisan position on legislation that is, or is to come, before that House? And lobby or “urge” members of the public to support that position through the media?” stated Dumas.
“If I do not receive a response from Mr Hamel-Smith, or receive one I consider unsatisfactory, I shall call on him to recuse himself from the Senate deliberations on the bill in question. Nor shall I be able to avoid reflecting on his fitness to continue to hold the Senate presidency,” stated Dumas.
Speaking to the Express by phone yesterday, Hamel-Smith said he was not in a position to comment and it would be improper of him to so do.
Asked to confirm whether he sent the e-mail, Hamel-Smith said he does not know which e-mail was in question and would not be able to comment on it.
Questioned on whether he was a COP member, he responded, “Yes, I am a member, but I don’t participate in any political meeting or decision-making or anything like that, or form part of any committees.”
Asked whether he has looked at the Constitution (Amendment) Bill and whether he has any concerns, Hamel-Smith said, “I am a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and I have looked at the bill and have considered it like anyone else and, yes, I have views.”
Hamel-Smith said his views on constitutional reform are not secret as this paper carried in a series a presentation that Hamel-Smith made to the Port of Spain Rotary Club on February 18 this year.
The four-part series entitled “Re-engineering the Constitution” was published in April.
“The Express ran a whole series of articles on the Constitution that I had presented to the Rotary Club; you can see all my views expressed there. I do have a view. At that time, I had no idea a bill was coming,” said Hamel-Smith.
He said he feels entitled as a citizen to express his views as it relates to reforming the Constitution.
Hamel Smith’s opinions were expressed at various forums, including a conference at The University of the West Indies (UWI).
He questioned whether Dumas thinks he should not express his views at all.
Hamel-Smith added in all fairness to Dumas’ concerns, when he spoke about Constitution reform earlier this year, there was no bill around.
The Constitution (Amendment) Bill was passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday morning.
The COP, on the eve of the debate on August 10, had taken a position that voting on the bill be put on hold and allow for further consultations.
COP Ministers Winston Dookeran and Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan voted against the bill while COP’s Rodger Samuel, Minister of Social Integration, abstained from voting.
Debate is expected to take place in the Senate on August 26 where Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has said the vote of at least one Independent senator is required for its passage.