Saturday, December 16, 2017


Constitution reform controversy



Mark Fraser

A member of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) yesterday called for a postponement of Monday’s debate on the Constitution Amendment Bill, 2014 and has ta­ken issue with certain statements by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan.

In a strongly worded statement to the Express, author, activist and retired University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturer Dr Merle Hodge des­cribed Government’s proposal for the controversial run-off ballot as “anti-democratic” and a contradiction of “the principle of proportional representation”.

On a point of accuracy, Hodge said the right of recall “did not crop up belatedly in the follow-up consul­tations as claimed by the AG” on yesterday’s Morning Edition on TV6.

“Recall was there from the beginning. It featured in the PP’s [People’s Partnership] manifesto (Page 15), in the main consultations around the country, and in the CRC’s report (Page 23).”

The run-off proposal, however, the most controversial aspect of the

bill, did not feature in the People’s Partnership mani­festo, in the main consultations around the country or in the CRC’s report, she said.

Hodge said the run-off ballot was a mechanism and not a principle, and the CRC agreed, in the first instance, to a set of principles.

“Not every detail regarding how to implement these principles would have been worked out by members of the CRC, nor would these details have come necessarily from members of the public who participated in the consultation process,” she said. “But the CRC signed off on the whole package—principles, as well as implementation methodology. Therefore, we have to take responsibility.

“That, for me, does not mean de­fending tooth and nail an idea that, on deeper thought, turns out to be anti-democratic and a source of worry to citizens. I can see now that the run-off mechanism directly contradicts the principle of proportional representation which is a central recommendation of the CRC (Chapter 5 of the CRC’s report).” 

Hodge said ongoing public discussion on the bill proves time is need­ed for more and deeper scrutiny of Government’s proposals.

“As a member of the CRC, I bear no responsibility for the timetable that has been set for taking this bill

to Parliament,” she said. “As a citizen, I register here my dismay at what seems like an episode of legislative railroading set to happen next week. The country needs a decent period for discussion on the bill and for the return of parliamentarians who are predictably absent, this being a customary time of vacation.”

Hodge said the fact there were consultations could not be used to defend the specific provisions in the bill.

“The consultations were sessions of listening to the views of citizens. That was a forum for the gathering of ideas, for hearing as many voices as possible in the time available, not for the thrashing out of any specific idea. There was absolutely no focused public discussion, in that forum, on the items selected for inclusion in the Constitution Amendment Bill, 2014. This needs to happen. I add my voice, as a citizen, to the call for postponement of the parliamentary debate.”

She said while the CRC’s report contains proposals that were “constructive and far-reaching in their potential to improve governance”, these were all located at the upper regions of the governance structure such as Parliament, prime minister, president and judiciary.

“Once again, the ordinary citizen has not been properly served in the constitution reform process. I have already made known to my colleagues on the CRC my disappointment at our failure to propose anything that increases the direct input of ordinary citizens into decision-making. We have proposed no structures or mechanisms to achieve this. The only permanent structure that people have for channelling their views upwards to the political leadership, in the hope of influen­cing their decisions and their behaviour, is the media. 

“Popular participation in the demo­cratic process has not been expanded one jot beyond periodically staining the tip of one of our fingers. ‘More power to the people’? I don’t think so,” she said.

She said as a member of the CRC, she took full responsibility for “the whole package (not just this selective bill) to which I gave my con­sent”, but added she has now benefited from the analyses presented by intelligent and aware citizens.