Friday, February 23, 2018

"Tormented" Dookeran explains why he voted against Bill

CONGRESS of the People (COP) member, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran on Monday night was one of two Cabinet members to vote against the Constitution (Amendment) Bill. In his address to Parliament, Dookeran said he had been tormented by the issue, and considered certain provisions to be dangerous, troubling, and without consensus, and in contradiction of a fundamental principles of the COP. The following is Dookeran's address -

Over the last 12 hours or so I have been in a state of great torment.

I recollect Madam Deputy Speaker the early beginnings of our Constitution when two important and significant sons of Trinidad and Tobago, Tajmool Hosein and Ellis Clarke, forged together a framework for governance in Trinidad and Tobago.

I knew them both, Mr Speaker, I recollect in my discussions with Ellis Clarke when I was about to engage in the formation of the Congress of the People, he emphasised to me how much he is grounded in individual rights of the citizens of this country.

And Tajmool Hosein, who also engaged me in discussions to the lead up of the Congress of the People spoke to me about anchoring our society in the democratic rights of the society.

Those two fundamental concepts have served us well, and have informed our entire framework of governance over the last 50 years.

I take the opportunity to acknowledge their contribution here in the records of Parliament.

The debate continues and shortly thereafter a Constitution Commission was established under the very distinguished leadership of Hugh Wooding that brought to us an expression of freedom as we moved into a Republican status and it also brought to us a recognition that there is changing political sociology in Trinidad and Tobago and that that required a different electoral arrangement.

Many would recollect that that Commission recommended the system of Proportional Representation.

I have heard during the course of this debate many fears expressed about the stability of our democracy, about our ability to enact change with fear but I have been involved, as you are well aware Madam Deputy Speaker in many parts of the history of our nation.

I know that our democracy is at the heart of the people of this country and I also know that justice is in the soul of the people of this country and that is why I have always felt confident that our nation will always exercise the right to our democracy as defined by our Constitution and indeed will search for justice in so doing.

So I am not fearful about the democracy in Trinidad and Tobago it is in that context Madam Deputy Speaker I recollect that in the affairs of the Congress of the People we had established a committee, chaired by my honourable colleague the member of St Augustine, to look at the Manning 2009 draft proposals and report it to us.

And I wish to read two paragraphs from that report, it starts with a quote and it is a quote from the Independence Day speech of Dr Eric Williams when he said 'democracy is but a hollow mockery and gigantic fraud if it is based on the ruling group's domination'.

And the report went on to say the process by which one arrives at the Constitution is as important as the content of the institution itself.

Madam Deputy Speaker for the record I just want to put another extract from this report 'The Congress of the People is entirely opposed to a Constitution for Trinidad and Tobago that does not reflect the collective will of the people'.

And we take note that the working document does not even represent a consensus among the round table participants invited by the Prime Minister to prepare a draft Constitution and that one of the members of that Commission, the round table, had in fact resigned.

I say this Mr Speaker because this was our position on the Manning 2009 draft Constitution, that what was important in Constitution making and amendments to Constitution was the process itself.

If the process does not have legitimacy, the contents of the Constitution will never be accepted as being legitimate.

And that is why I believe that this particular exercise in which we are engaged has not been completed in terms of its consultation.

True a Commission was established and the report was laid but that was in the formulation of the ideas and the framework for decision making, now we are faced with decision making and therefore there is need in order to find what is the collective will of the people that we do another form of consultation.

This is why I took the trouble to inform the Prime Minister and the Cabinet that we needed to establish some form of consultation and I made reference to the Joint Select Committee as perhaps that form so that we can look at the specific proposals that are now before us and establish a legitimacy for it or indeed alter it if need be.

All those who have written on this issue have spoken at length that if the process is not acceptable then the contents will not be valid.

Madam Deputy Speaker this is a fundamental part of Constitution making.

I would not go in to......time will not allow me under the new Standing Orders to go into the details of the scholars who have written on this subject but to me that is a very important point that must be acknowledged when we engage in this very sacred duty of altering and in this case altering the electoral arrangements that we must adhere to.

Madam Deputy Speaker I want to go further I want to say what has in fact been the foundation principles of the Congress of the People.

Madam Deputy Speaker there is no doubt that we started our movement on the basis of an analysis and one of the fundamental precepts of that analysis is that the politics of gatekeeper politics must be dismantled in Trinidad and Tobago for Trinidad and Tobago to arrive at a higher level of politics.

That has been the fundamental principle, and we talked about a choiceless democracy in which the people are not called upon to make choices on governments and policies and performance but merely to follow the herd.

And we said for the future this is what we want but we know it would not happen overnight but we had to work and work and work and for each generation you may get an improvement so that one day will come when free and independent choice will be available to all the citizens of the country.

That was one of the fundamental issues that lead us into that movement.

We did many conversations on the issue and we said in order to have such a society we must work in the context of the new trends that are going to emerge.

At one time nationhood was the way in which we tried to moralise our country but soon it became clear that the interest of different parties and different groups were far more important than the collective notion of nationhood and that these different groups and different parties were now demanding that the political system that they have must accommodate their interests.

So in the very early part of nationhood it was easy to call for adherence to the nation but as we move on and we have heard of the history of it we saw now a different politics emerging. It was the politics of coalition.

The politics of coalition therefore became what we began to address and in so doing Madam Deputy Speaker we had many consultations, I would not go into it but I want to just make reference to one in which we had many including people like Clyde Weatherhead, including people like Dr Hamid Ghany and others who at that time were clearly articulating that the future of politics in the world and in the developing world and Trinidad and Tobago is the politics of coalition.

The documents are there, the symposium on the politics of coalition went beyond that and therefore as we attempt to dismantle the politics which we inherited in the first period of Independence we are now seeing something different emerging and it is in that context, Mr Speaker I want to look at the proposals before us.

Much has already been said about the proposals that are before us with respect to the right of recall and I see a general acceptance of that principle, subject of course to modifications to the mechanisms to make it realistic.

To me that is a matter that the process will deal with in due course. The question of coalition politics was given vent in the Wooding commission by his articulation for some form of proportional representation and it is that context the issue of proportional representation in some form became the proper reflection of the changing political and sociology of the country.

What is the most troubling part of the proposal that has been laid in this Parliament and under discussion is the part which says that the run-off mechanism is based on what some of my colleagues have referred to as majorital type of politics, majority politics.

But I want to make reference to the letter that Dr Merle Hodge sent to the newspaper. Dr Merle Hodge is indeed a respected activist, it is unfortunate that she was attacked especially by my colleague.

But this is what she said among other things in this letter, the run-off mechanism directly contradicts the principle of proportional representation which is a central recommendation of the Constitution Reform Committee.

The run-off mechanism directly contradicts the principle of proportional representation which is the central recommendation of the Constitution Reform Committee Chapter Five she mentioned.

So if I were to vote in support of this run-off mechanism, I am voting against the principle of proportional representation and that is my major concern at this point and I cannot have spent an entire life in search of a mechanism to bring about a wider participation of all the different groups in this society and adopted that we should move toward proportional representation in some form and fashion and now have to simply accept that a run-off mechanism will be a substitute and in fact it is a contradiction.

Madam Deputy Speaker this is not about the politics of today this about the politics of tomorrow and the next generation and I cannot sit here and allow the next generation's interest to be compromised by the politics of today.

I set myself that course many years ago when I went in Mid Centre Mall and called for a different kind of politics from what I had inherited.

Mr Speaker that course is still in my mind and I am still motivated by it and I know it is right for the next generation of people in this country.

So you see Mr Speaker, Madame Deputy Speaker, I said first and foremost that the process is just as important as the content and I say now that we cannot accept a mechanism that is in contradiction of a fundamental principle of the Congress of the People and others in this particular debate.

Do we have a choice? Do we have a choice? We have found the mechanism that we will deal with those things that can be dealt with within the framework of the majority in this Parliament and the Prime Minister has announced earlier on that other legislation will come forward on proportional representation but we cannot deal with one part without dealing with the other part because then we will be buying cat in bag on this very fundamental issue for the people of this country. That is also my concern.

I am just simply expressing the torment that went through me during tonight as I listened to the debate and I understood where I myself had laid my entire political bucket down, how could I now kick that bucket out of the bathtub.

Madam Deputy Speaker, very recently we began to build a conversation and an argument that will ensure that our democracy can be deepened on the basis of the principles which we set about and we came up with a document called 'Every Vote Matters in the Election'.

'Every Vote Matters in the Election". Notice it is every vote matters, every vote must count and that is the basis upon which we said we shall build the new frameworks, based on Proportional Representation, based on use of referendum.

Because if in fact we cannot get agreement in this Parliament on Proportional Representation we must find the mechanism to go to the people to get that agreement so that we can reflect the will of the people for that.

So Mister Speaker I therefore.....I want to quickly refer to a few sentences which were done by the Most Honourable PJ Patterson, the former prime minister of Jamaica in a foreword to a book in which I among others participated called 'Power, Politics and Performance'.

This was a detailed expression of how power, politics and performance are linked together. Constitution making is about the distribution of power and is at the heart of performance.

What did Mr Patterson say 'there is still an ongoing search to create a brand new paradigm for the exercise of political power. It is high time that the perception of politics as an obstacle to the advancement of the Caribbean be removed. This indeed is a moment to expose bold concepts which extend the frontiers of our knowledge, that also reflect the full appreciation of what is essential to fashion new political models engendering change and deepening the political process. We must not put on a framework which we have to sell by populace clothing, it must be based on fundamental structures'.

And that is why we must be happy that we started this debate and I agree for the first time issues of this nature have been debated by the Parliament of the country but it must not be a debate that is dealing with the shadow and not the substance.

And therefore it is necessary to bring together all the elements that have been reflected in that report including the addendum and in so doing be able to bring together what Mr Patterson called high time to embrace new models of politics and political behaviour. We go on to explain it all in the document.

So my comment has been that this debate is taking place based on the frivolity of the present when it ought to take place on the future and the nation ahead of time and the citizens ahead of us.

But I know you have to start and the argument has been made that you have got to start but if you start on a foot that will contradict the next step then you have not made a start forward you have perhaps made a start backwards.

So Madam Deputy Speaker all my political life I have searched for this formula.

I recognised that it had to come through the politics, I recognised that it is through the politics will emerge the different formula in which I believe we all share and I also recognise you do not come in one shot, it will come in pieces over time eventually culminating in a political party called the Congress of the People which was able to a secure significant percentage of votes.

The future of politics in Trinidad and Tobago will see a greater constituency in numbers calling for good governance as opposed to ethnic loyalties. This is my firm belief.

And anyone who is interested in a future, must build that future based on good governance policies not on the basis of ethnic loyalties.

And if you have a formula as the one that is proposed to us today, a formula that is going to have this run-off, what it is saying is that coalition politics is not dead it will flourish but will not flourish as a subset.

I think the most important piece of information that I gleaned from this concept is what is the impact of these measures. It is not that the politics of coalition will not flourish but it will flourish within parties not among parties.

I want to refer that.

Coalition of politics will be within the party structure and not of the party structure so we will have to go to one of the two dominant parties to find a place.

So we are talking about the changing demands on our political system and the need to have the politics of coalition and the need to have a system of proportional representation but what we have before us is going to have coalition within the dominant parties. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact some will argue that in the past the parties were coalitions in their own right, from within.

But it will in fact not allow space for coalition among parties and that is where you are denying access to a democratic right.

That to me is the most dangerous part of this legislation and that is the behaviour that will develop over time, every party can build coalitions within its borders but a political system cannot deny coalitions to be established so that you can build coalitions among parties.

So Madam Deputy Speaker I believe that the legislation before us is missing, in terms of its accountability to the country, on the count of the process and on the count of the mechanism that will in fact stifle the development of parties.

It is a point that has been debated and some people do not agree but this is my strong view that that is so.

In order to facilitate this I expressed these views very openly to my colleagues, they are all aware of it, I won't go into the details but we had a full session.

I was disappointed in the session but everyone is entitled to their view.

But I produced a five-page document on this calling in the first instance for a Joint Select Committee to be established so there can be more indepth analysis and the public can be invited and then call in and look in at all the requirements in order to make sure that this attempt at constitutional change does not simply end up one that it is appealing to populace goals but more fundamentally to things that are going to sustain our democracy.

I was disappointed that such a mechanism was not accepted, or any other mechanism of that nature.

I know that the prime minister expressed a deep commitment to bring things in the future and at the same time the prime minister said to us we must make a start, and she is right we must make a start but why do we have to make a start Mr Speaker if we have not gotten a consensus on the issue before us and that is my concern and that is my dilemma.

And I am not saying this here for the first time, I have said this within the corridors of Cabinet, they are all aware of it.

And I believe it is somewhat in recognition of that as well as the fact that the Congress of the People took a strong position on this issue that the prime minister did indicate that she was withdrawing the obligations of collective responsibility. In other words saying 'well you are free to vote how you want', and I say I appreciate that.

But for me if conscience matters and indeed it matters and we must exercise our conscience on an important issue like this it is also important to exercise that conscience in the concept of collective responsibility so I am not prepared here to simply accept the conscience matters in the vote before us I am also prepared to accept the obligations of that vote in the context of collective responsibility.

I will seek a further audience on that matter with the prime minister.

But at this stage I want to say I have an obligation to myself and to my own conscience to support the aspirations of the 140,000 people who voted for the Congress of the People in 2007 and perhaps beyond that.

Now I also have an obligation to ensure that the young people of this country will have a political and electoral system in which they can in fact have free and independent choice in the exercise of their democratic rights.

Those are the two fundamental concepts and in whose name I have to stand.

This must not be construed to suggest that there is anything diametrically opposed to what is being proposed but in the context of the debate before us it is important to recognise that we do have obligations from which we cannot escape and these are political obligations but these are also personal obligations.

And in all my political life, and perhaps it has been too long, I have always attempted, whether it is in the formation of the NAR, whether it was in dealing with the most direct attack on our democracy in 1990, whether it was in the recreation of the transformed United National Congress or eventually in the formation of the Congress of the People I have had one star and one star always and that star is now looking me in my eyes and saying 'what is your inner voice Mr Dookeran'.

I am here today I respect every Parliament and I respect my own Parliament and because I have to listen to my inner voice I have to indicate to this honourable House that I really will be unable to support this bill in its present formation.

I will therefore have no choice but to vote against it at this point in time, thank you.