PLANNING and Development Minister Senator Dr Bhoe Tewarie has defended Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s confirmation in the Senate Tuesday of a constituency fund for MPs, saying there was nothing wrong with the timing of the disclosure. Tewarie was speaking Tuesday night in the Senate, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, during the debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014.
More spirited than usual, Tewarie defended Government’s proposals of reform, which have fired up protest from the Opposition and parts of civil society—namely the proposal to limit Prime Ministers to two terms, the right of recall of MPs a run-off voting system for general and by-elections. Persad-Bissessar on Tuesday piloted the bill, the first time a sitting Prime Minister has done so in the Senate, and in the process announced Government’s implementation in the next fiscal year of a $10 million direct access fund for MPs for use in their constituencies.
The fund will total $410 million for the 41 constituencies and will pass through Local Government bodies. The PM said this development has made it all the more necessary to put in place the right of recall for MPs, having earlier stated that the run-off clause is a consequence of the right of the recall.
Tewarie said the fund mechanism, which was first mentioned by Persad-Bissessar in 2012, has gone through the Cabinet process and was done properly. He said it was “legitimate and reasonable” for the Prime Minister to have brought it up at this time when it is relevant to the issue of right of recall. Tewarie said he viewed the bill as a provision for deepening the democratic process and stated earlier that he did not think he should have to try to convince the population or the Independent senators to support a measure like term limits for Prime Ministers.
These things are controversial in nature, Tewarie said, adding that the report of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) from which the bill derived some recommendations, was the first such report to make it to the House and influence legislature on the table.
He also took a swipe at Independent Senator Helen Drayton, who had earlier criticised the bill, saying he wasn’t “looking for her there”.
Addressing concerns by detractors of the document that it threatened the democracy of the nation, Tewarie, who also accused the Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) of “conniving” to assault the country with negativity, said if the bill was indeed a threat, the protests staged outside the Parliament for the past three weeks would have consisted of a much larger crowd.