In the Senate
TRINIDAD and Tobago will be entering “unchartered waters” with the package of legislation being proposed in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014, Independent Senator David Small has said.
Small said only one country in the world, Kirabati (pronounced KIRR-i-bas), currently has both the run-off and recall provisions included in their constitution.
Because having a recall, a run-off and term limits for prime minister is unchartered territory, a British university professor who is an expert in constitutional reform intends to do a paper on it. Small made the statements during his contribution to the debate in the Upper House last night, at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain,.
Small said he saw nothing wrong with the individual amendments proposed in the bill.
“I have looked at it, I have listened and I don’t get the impression that there is anything sinister in the plans of the Government in bringing this to the table,” Small said. “How it has come has caused a huge problem, but I do not sense any malice, any sinister approach on behalf of the Government in bringing this. That is my read on it,” he said.
Small said 18 countries currently have the run-off provision included in their constitution. “Of the 18 countries in the world that use run-off, only one also uses recall. One,” Small said. That one country is the island nation of Kirabati in the central Pacific. Small said of the countries that use the first-past-the-post system, only six use recall.
“This bill will place Trinidad and Tobago in a very exclusive club of a total of two countries to have run-off and recall provisions, and then also term limits,” Small said.
“I think with the measures individually, we can pick them apart and say good, bad and indifferent, but there is no empirical evidence to show how they work together and for me, that is the biggest mental challenge that we have,” he said. Small said his main concern is that it has not been tested. “I have no objection, per se, to any one of these measures, in all honesty, but because this has not been tested as a package, I have deep concerns,” Small said.
Small said half of the countries that use run-off on a national level have political roots with France. “Half of the countries in the world that use the run-off system can trace their political roots to France, with eight having French as their national language,” Small said. Small said he believed the run-off provision should not be implemented without campaign-finance reform first being introduced. Small was among several senators who said they had been booed by protesters outside the Parliament.
“Everyone has jumped quickly on the for or against bandwagon. I didn’t have that luxury, Mr Vice-President, and in any event, that is not my character. Popularity is not a factor in my determinations so even though I was booed by the crowd, I am not here to be popular,” Small said. “What is a major factor is the application of the appropriate rigour to my analysis; all I have attempted to do here is to provide information, facts and observations that I hope will shape our common understanding of landscape,” he said.
“If the decision is that this legislation is implemented, then at least what I hope I have done here today is provide a better understanding of what we are entering into is relatively unchartered waters, and I am not sure that we understand that if we are agreeing to do that but understand we are going into waters that one other country has gone into, and I’m not sure if that has been impressed to all and sundry,” Small said.
Small said he is not opposed to change, but he is not certain if this country is ready for the amendments proposed in the bill.
“Given my factual observations and the analysis I have conducted, my decision and positions are logically pushed in a particular direction, but what I have always stated, I don’t expect perfect solutions; I tend to be willing to accept a 70 per cent solution to anything as opposed to remaining with the status quo,” he said.
“I am one for change and I like to be moving forward and being progressive, however, the legislation presents a combination of measures that have not been tested as a package, and I puzzle at the experience and capability and the sheer number of the administrative requirements to get this done; I am not sure if Trinidad and Tobago is ready for this as a package at this time without some additional analysis,” Small said.
Small said he used Dr Matt Qvortrup, the director of research at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, as a “sounding board” during his research on the bill. “Dr Qvortrup has asked me to make sure that when...he wants to understand the outcome (of this debate) because he is going to be writing something about this because what we are proposing here doesn’t exist anywhere in the world and he wants to be able to...he wants first dibs,” Small said.