Thank you my dear friends, thank you, thank you so much for such a thunderous welcome, I am really very happy to be with you here in Gasparillo this evening.
The UNC’s Monday Night Forum is back!
We are hitting the road with the intention of touching every corner of our country, to personally tell you about what your Government has been doing to make life better for each and every person in Trinidad & Tobago.
In the months since we came to talk with you and to hear from you, a great deal has happened to secure the future of our country.
On all fronts - economy, social development, health, infrastructure, utilities, Parliamentary democracy and even our constitution – we have held the course of fulfilling our manifesto promises and delivering on the things our country voted for.
And tonight, I come to you to speak and listen as we prepare to finalise advances to our nation’s constitution that will see democracy and freedom widened and deepened in favour of the people, like no other time in our history.
My friends, early last week, your Government went to Parliament with a Constitutional Amendment Bill that had the intention of reforming elements of our democracy to put more power into the hands of people.
Those reforms are important, because it is the best way for us to achieve a long-held, national dream, of true empowerment of the people.
For many years, talk and action on democracy have always centred on your right to vote, your right to choose, and your right to freely build your life with the right opportunities.
But as years advance, and times have changed, so too has the demand for stronger democracy in the way that Governments operate, and in the power that the people have over politicians.
This is why when we came to the nation and campaigned in 2010, we placed constitutional reform high up on our agenda.
You spoke and you told us that because of past experiences, you wanted your Government to ensure that democracy was tilted in favour of the people, so that no politician could ever again taunt and threaten and put our stability at risk.
Constitutional reform was a promise we made and in our first term, we have delivered on those promises.
The reforms we took to Parliament last week focused on three core areas:
(i) Term limits for Prime Ministers,
(ii) The right of recall, and
(iii) Second ballot run-off voting
And while our Government MPs put their best foot forward in explaining the meaning and significance of these reforms, I wanted to come to you, to hear you and to speak with you about what these reforms will mean for a better life or everyone.
Make no mistake; the reforms we are pressing on with WILL have a direct impact on your daily lives, a real impact, a positive impact.
Most of all, in our conversations I have heard our young people talking about wanting to be able to plan their future and feel secure that they will always live free and successful lives.
The focus of these reforms is to end political domination by a handful and open the gates of transparency, accountability and true representation of your interests.
No person, no party, no secret group must ever be given even an opening to wage war against your freedoms and these reforms will secure those freedoms.
Reform 1: Two term limits for Prime Ministers
Throughout all of our history of elections, the constitution has always called upon His Excellency The President, to invite the leader of the House of Representatives most likely to command a majority, to form a Government.
This occurs because our electoral system operates by the first past the post system. What that means is:
If PARTY A receives 180,000 votes, but more than 21 seats,
But Party B receives 220,000 votes, but less than 21 seats…
Even with the majority of votes cast, even with more people wanting to be governed by Party B, they go into Opposition.
So Party A forms the Government with a number of MPs who were elected with less than 50 percent of registered voters in their constituencies, and takes control of State resources against the wishes of the majority of people.
In the current system, all the leader of Party A has to do is ensure he maintains a seat majority and he can be Prime Minister for as long as he wants, continuously breaking promises and continuously refusing to acknowledge the majority of people.
Does that sound like true democracy?
In fact that sounds exactly like the previous Government where Dr Rowley sat comfortably! This is what he means when he says he wants to pick up where the PNM left off…
With the two-term limit now a constitutional barrier to anyone trying to strangle leadership, Prime Ministers must now focus on delivery and achieving a strong legacy because they know, when the time comes, they must have achieved something.
The two term limit will eliminate the concept of a maximum leader, and will require that parties engage in thoughtful, meaningful succession planning in putting forward leaders from their ranks to be offered to the electorate.
Two term limits for Prime Ministers is how we take the power of the politicians and put it into the hands of the people, especially the young people of our country who will one day lead.
Reform 2: Right of recall
My friends, the next change is to introduce the right of recall for the people to ensure that their elected representatives serve as they take an oath to do.
And if you used the same example of Party A and Party B according to our present constitution, there is nothing the people can do if elected representatives from Party A fail to serve the people, nothing!
In fact, many of them might even have sought election, not to serve the people, but to hold high Cabinet offices.
The right of recall will change that. The right of recall will mean that if your MP is not performing and truly serving the people, you have a constitutionally protected process where you have the power to commence proceedings to have that MP removed, and replaced by another of your choice.
The right of recall is another measure to take the power of the politicians and put it into the hands of the people.
Reform 3: Second ballot run-off voting
The third provision is the one that has been most misrepresented, and vilified, not because it is undemocratic, but because it will command a higher level of democracy and performance.
Again, return to the example of Party A with 180,000 votes and 21 seats, and Party B with 220,000 and 20 seats.
Our present constitutional arrangements leave fertile ground for such a situation to arise and in fact, it has arisen in the past.
So let’s use an example of Tunapuna where the total registered voters in that constituency are 20,000 people.
The votes were split like this:
Party A: 8100 votes
Party B: 7900 votes
Party C: 2500 votes
With the second ballot run off voting, the two top parties will have to return to an election because neither secured more than half of the registered votes for Tunapuna.
But where will those votes come from? It is now for Party A and Party B to sit with Party C to understand their campaign issues and the interests most important to them.
It is Party C, which some might call the third party, that ends up being the one holding the balance of power.
So in this example, Party C agrees that the members of Party B will take their issues forward and provide representation for their members and what happens?
In the second election, Party A held at 8100 votes, and Party B registered 10,400 votes.
Party B therefore wins, with a clear majority of more than 50 percent of the total constituency votes which means that they earn the right to represent with a true majority by securing democratic principles triumphed.
It is that simple, and that straightforward, but some have chosen to dominate the national discussion with fear and panic by completely misrepresenting the facts.
So I want to briefly explain these reforms so that you can set aside the deliberate misinformation from the Opposition, who has taken to causing fear and panic because they simply have no interest in true democracy.
Everything Dr Rowley’s Opposition has done in the past four years amounts to an aggressive stand against the people, to bully the people of our country away from achieving their goals.
And what outrages him is that we continuously defeat his attempts to derail Government and our stability, and that we continue to act in a manner where people now expect Governments to hold to their promises.
Honourable things such as those are, in Dr Rowley’s mind, just jokes and things you say to make people vote for you. In his mind, no citizen has a right to demand that promises be kept.
He has repeatedly threatened this country to take us back to where the PNM left off, to a time when hundreds of billions passed in and out of this country leaving not even a dent in progress.
Do you know why?
Do you know why he wants to take us backwards?
Because he doesn’t know what to do! He has no ideas! He has no vision for our country! He has no understanding of the goals and dreams of our citizens!
All he knows is what the PNM did before, and in his own words, if he is given the chance, that’s where he said he is taking this country back to…he must never get that chance to destroy the progress we have made!
You heard our promises, you held us to our promises, we’re delivering on our promises and it hurts Dr Rowley that the bar has now been set so high for governance, that he simply isn’t competent enough to lead Trinidad & Tobago.
But I want to tell you about the reforms that will put the power to control your Government, into your hands.
The Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 standing in my name in the parliament is about keeping promises.
It is about keeping promises re constitutional reform we made to the people of Trinidad and Tobago in the campaign leading up to the general election in 2010 and in our manifesto which was thereafter adopted as government policy.
We promised at pages 15-16 of our Manifesto [APPENDIX 1] participatory democracy and constitutional reform.
(i) We promised consultations for Constitutional Reform and the establishment of a Constitution Commission
In 2013, we appointed a Constitution Reform Commission to undertake a series of public consultations – 21 such consultations were held.
(ii) We promised to provide for term limits for the office of the Prime Minister
Promise Kept: Clause 9 of the Bill
(iii) We promised constituents’ right of recall for non-performing MPs
Promise Kept: Clauses 6 & 7
(iv) We promised to respect the voices of minorities whilst acknowledging the will of the majority.
Promise Kept – Clause 8 – majority vote for MPs
These all require a simple majority vote and on the recommendation of the NCR they are being brought separately from other provisions which require special majorities.
(v) We promised the introduction of Procurement Legislation
Promise Kept : Procurement Bill (requiring a special majority) is on the House Order Paper now.
(vi) We promised strengthening parliamentary representation eg, the committee system of parliament and full parliamentary debate on controversial issues
Promise Kept – New Standing Orders
(vii) We promised establishment of a Ministry of the People
(viii) We promised the establishment of Civil Society Board and an Economic Development Board
Promise kept : in process now
(ix) MORE TO COME
The constitution of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago is a living document.
It must, at all times, serve the people of our nation and no Government should allow rules and procedures in it to fossilise and fall out of step with the needs of the present.
It must also evolve and develop when the needs of the people change.
This development can never cease.
Accordingly, the reforms in this Bill should not bring to an end the debate about our constitution and further Bills follow must in their wake.
Further, we promised inter alia, fixed election dates, referenda, and the NCCR has made other recommendations such as strengthing the office of the DPP, proportional representation for the Senate etc.
On the recommendation of the NCCR, these will be brought in separate bills since they require a special majority.
We made and keep the promises contained in this Bill because we firmly believe in placing more power in the hands of the people so we can strengthen and deepen our democracy by seeking to be a true government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Consequently, two core principles underpin the reforms which these Bills seek to bring about:
(i) power should be concentrated in the hands of the people of the Republic and not in the politicians;
(ii) the people of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago should be entitled to the very highest standards from their Government and from their elected representatives.
More than half a century ago, our nation gained its independence from the United Kingdom. Once again, we are on the eve of celebrating our Independence.
In the past, tentative steps towards constitutional reform have been taken. Those occasions (6) were:
• The Wooding Constitutional Commission Report (Thinking Things Through, January 1974)
• The Hyatali Constitutional Commission Report
(Thinking Things Over, 1987)
• The Draft Constitution of the Nine Independent Senators – The Forum for Constitutional Reform
• The Draft Constitution by the Principles of Fairness, November 2006
• The Sir Ellis Clarke Draft Constitution, August 2006
• The Draft Constitution by the Manning Round Table, January 2009
• The Report of the Constitutional Reform Commission (December 2013) and postscript (July 2014) [APPENDIX 2]
It gives me great pride to say, that my Government is the first which has had the political courage to bring about the substantial reforms to the constitution of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago which the people of these islands yearn.
WE considered the constitutional legacy given to our nation.
We have identified the many positive characteristics of that legacy.
But we have also identified ways in which the people of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago can benefit from breaking away from the legacy and having properly given to them that which is their right, namely power.
Legislation in Other countries:
Recall – 91 countries have legislation for recalling elected representatives – with this Bill we can become no 92
States in which recall is permitted include:
1. The United States of America
5. British Columbia
The UK in currently in the process of moving toward the introduction of legislation on the recall of Members of Parliament.
Commitment to this process was reiterated in the Queen’s Speech on 04th June 2014, when her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II announced to the Parliament that:
“My Ministers will introduce legislation on the recall of Members of Parliament”.
Term Limits –
One of the largest democracies in the world the USA has term limits for their president
Other countries include Bolivia, Canada, South Africa, Mexico, and France.
Many countries have runoff provisions includingKenya, Uganda, France, and Argentina.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO - PNM CONSTITUTION
All three proposals are contained in documents of the PNM. In fact, I subsequently found out that the reforms to the PNM Constitution in Dec 2012 included a runoff election
These reforms were announced at a press conference on November 29th 2012 held by the PNM where the runoff system was publicly praised by the Chairman and General Secretary of the PNM and fully explained at that time.
I hold before you today a copy of the revised PNM constitution which introduced the runoff system for their internal elections.
I am now amazed that there are members of the PNM who are now saying that the runoff system is undemocratic and will cause confusion.
If it is good enough for the PNM to put the runoff election procedure into their November 2012 revised constitution, why would they now want to deny that to the general public and to themselves for the country’s constitution by saying it is undemocratic ?
Why is there so much double speak on this issue ?
What is the real reason why the party would embrace this method so triumphantly into their constitution and then less than two years later come and tell the public how terrible it is ?
Because there was no need to activate the runoff system under the revised PNM constitution in their internal elections in May this year means that it was not made known to the public that it is a PNM technique for their own internal party elections.
1. Jamaica Observer – Article by Garfield Higgins in the Jamaican Observer on Sunday August 17th 2014, captioned “PM proposes seismic constitutional shifts for country’s executive”. [APPENDIX 4]
2. Barbados Nationews – Article by Shantal Munro-Knight in the Barbados Nation News on Saturday August 16th 2014 entitled “Firing Line: Power of Recall Needed”[APPENDIX 5]
3. Kenny Anthony clarifies – Article by Marcia Braveboy, dated August 9th 2014, on the “Caribbean News Now” website captioned “St. Lucia PM Clarifies Term Limits Report” [APPENDIX 6]
Trinidad And Tobago Journalists
1. Hamid Ghany - “The Runoff Confusion”, Sunday, August 17, 2014, Trinidad Guardian
2. Andre Bhagoo – “Runoff vs first-past-the-post”, Sunday, August 17, 2014, Newsday [APPENDIX 7]
3. Nigel Henry – “Run-off system more democratic”, August 09th 2014, Trinidad Express. [APPENDIX 8]
4. Raymond Ramcharitar – “A Constitutional LMFAO Moment”, Wednesday, August 13, 2014, Trinidad Guardian
5. Kevin Baldeosingh -
6. Anil Goorahoo – “Who Vex Lorse – Separating News from Noise”, Monday August 18th 2014, Newsday. [APPENDIX 9]
7. Capil Bisssoon
8. Farley Augustine - “Yes, Yes, Yes”, 09th August 2014, The Tobago News [APPENDIX 10]
Trinidad and Tobago Politicians
Law Association – not for or against but says delay debate
Ms. Merle Hodge – not for or against but says delay
The PP stands accused of being undemocratic but the very definition of democracy is giving power to the majority.
What the PNM is forwarding is minority rule also known as an Oligarchy or a government by the few.
Is the PNM an Oligarchy bent on ruling by hysteria and by divide and rule?
The correct persons to lead the country should be the persons that can unite the different segments of our society instead of dividing them.
The runoff system of itself would place the persons who are capable of uniting a plural society such as ours into office.
Our population is 35.4 % East Indian, 34.2 % Africans, 22.8% Mixed, 6.2% Undeclared and 1.4 % are the others (Chinese, White, Syrian, Lebanese etc).
However since more than fifty one percent of votes is required to elect a majority, an MP would require more than the ethnic vote to win the seat.
So while Dr. Rowley tries to scare people into believing indians will take over with a runoff, this is not borne out by the data:
(i) Afro Trinis do not make up more than 50% of the population;
(ii) Indo Trinis do not make up more than 50% of the population
(iii) The other groups do not make up more than 50% of the population
In each group make up roughly one third of the population.
This means that no one ethnic group on its own can win the required more than 50% of the vote.
They would have to unite with other groups.
That is what the runoff really signifies.
Majority rule with a mandate of unification instead of division.
Dr. Rowley's lack of support and fear of a runoff suggests that he believes he cannot unite people nor can he win the majority of the votes of the people.
Threats to Democracy
And my friends, I want you to listen very carefully to this especially. Dr Rowley and his Opposition PNM have been the ones most responsible for fear and panic with a failure to put together any new ideas.
Dr Rowley stands and with an extreme height of shamelessness, tries to mislead the nation by saying we might put democracy under threat.
He deliberately misrepresents the facts. His every statement talks about what the PNM wants, and never what the people want…and he accuses us of being a threat.
But my friends, you know better than I do, that it is Dr Rowley’s Opposition that has always posed the greatest threats to our democracy.
Who was it that brought Freedom of Information legislation? We did!
But who was it that amended the legislation to weaken its effect if citizens demanded information? it was Dr Rowley’s PNM!
Who was it that delivered measures to protect journalists and the media from tyrannical politicians? We did!
But who was it that walked into a radio station and threatened the jobs of two talk-show hosts? It was Dr Rowley’s PNM!
Who was it that sought to limit the terms of Prime Ministers and give people the power to recall non-performing MPs? We did!
But who was it that was trying to force an Executive Presidency on our country, a President for life! It was Dr Rowley’s PNM!
Who was it that came to you, in 21 consultations over an extended period, to ensure you had your say on reforming the national constitution? We did!
But who was it, sat in a dark backroom, and attempted to foist an entirely new constitution on the nation? It was Dr Rowley’s PNM!
Who was it that put an end to the use of State equipment to spy on journalists, politicians, the President? We did!
But who were the ones who were tapping phones and tracking the movement and activities of ordinary persons in our society, in secret? It was Dr Rowley’s PNM!
Dr Rowley and his Opposition PNM are our country’s biggest threats to democracy, and have gone all out on a campaign to mislead, incite fear and panic and to block the progress of our people and our country.
CONCERNS ON THE RUNOFFF
Some of the fears expressed about the runoff system suggest that another election would be undemocratic and would impose a restriction on the freedom of choice of the voter.
The individual’s right of choice to vote for a party or candidate of their choice is not restricted in any form or fashion and will remain unfettered.
Instead, the right of choice of the individual is in factbroadened by permitting the voter a second opportunity to vote in any instance where the electorate is unable to decide on a majority winner in any constituency.
In fact, such voters would have their opportunity to vote expanded, and not restricted, as they will have the chance to vote for a second time and may wish to change their minds or keep their original choice.
Additionally, persons who did not vote on election day might decide to vote when the runoff election is held. Who knows how they will vote.
In the case where any party did not make it to the runoff election fifteen days later, those electors who voted before will have the opportunity to vote for a second choice candidate so that there is absolutely no restriction on the right to vote.
Indeed, that choice may not be for one of the two major political parties depending on who makes the runoff poll.The very logic of runoff elections implies that there will be more than two parties before one gets to the runoff.
To that end, I dismiss all arguments that the runoff election is designed to protect major parties.
2. Third Parties
In fact, it is designed to afford smaller parties a chance to participate because they could qualify for a runoff, whereas under the current system when the results are declared the first time the election is over.
The possibility of runoff elections will only arise depending upon the will of the electorate.
The breakdown of the number of runoff elections that would have arisen between 1961 and 2010 is as follows :
1961 – One
1966 – Three
1971 – Zero
1976 – Six
1981 – Ten
1986 – Three
1991 – Eleven
1995 – One
2000 – One
2001 – Two
2002 – Zero
2007 – Fourteen
2010 – Zero
How would third parties have fared in past runoff elections.
There has been a lot of speculation and pontificating about the adverse impact of the “run off” proposal will have on third parties.
Some claim it would destroy third parties and entrench the two major parties.
My political career was born in the coalition and partnership government in the National Alliance for Re-construction.
I was therefore very concerned about this allegation as it would deny my very political birth and existence.
That would be contrary to my Governments policy and intention and hence I analysed the empirical data. I was comforted by what it revealed
Since 1956 to present there have been over 46 parties that contested general elections that are now defunct or no longer in existence.
The first past the post system has clearly driven such parties into political oblivion. I then applied the run off to some of the critical junctures in our political history to check on the permutations of the results had the run off policy been applied.
In 1981 the ONR got over 90,000 votes but did not win a single seat. The ULF got 62,000 votes and won 8 seats and formed the opposition in parliament with the right to appoint opposition senators. Had a runoff election taken place, the ONR would have featured in at least 3 runoff election in the constituencies of Nariva, Point-a-Pierre and Oropuche where it polled the 2nd highest number of votes.
In 1991, the NAR was virtually obliterated from Trinidad as it failed to win a single seat.
The result of that election was PNM 21 seats, UNC 13 seats and NAR 2 seats.
The NAR would have featured in two run offs against the UNC candidate in Tabaquite and the PNM candidate in San Fernando West.
There would have been a run off between UNC and PNM candidates in the constituencies of Barataria/ San Juan, Ottowa/ Mayaro, Point-a-Pierre and Tunapuna.
In the 2007 General Election the Congress of the People received over 148,000 votes but, like the ONR and NAR, failed to win a single seat.
Had the run off procedure been in place the COP would have featured in 2 run offs in the constituencies of St. Augustine and Tabaquite against the UNC.
The empirical data therefore shows that contrary to the mischief and misinformation peddled by some, the run off system would have allowed critical 3rd parties to survive by winning seats in Parliament.
It is extremely difficult for a political party to survive in the Westminster system unless it has a voice in the Parliament.
The run off procedure breathes life into 3rd parties whereas the present First Past the Post system leads to its destruction and extinction.
How different could our politics have been had these parties been given a voice the Parliament which could sustain and guarantee their political survival? We will never know.
Giving voters the right to choose candidates on two occasions allows firm decisions to be made by voters in situations where third and fourth parties would have been eliminated at the first ballot as is currently the case.
This system allows third and fourth parties to participate in the hope that they may run second and force a runoff, whereas now they cannot do that.
Your candidate representing your party of choice will always be on the first ballot. If your candidate is unable to run first or second in a situation where no candidate can earn more than fifty percent of the votes cast, then it is clear that those voters will have to shift to another choice which will be offered to them in the form of the first two candidates who would, in fact, account for the largest number of votes in excess of fifty percent combined.
More elections can never be dictatorial or anti-democratic.
Elections are instruments of democracy, not of dictatorship.
3. Smooth Transition Of Power
Allow me to clarify two misconceptions that have been mischievously and erroneously peddled by some of my learned friends on the Opposite side.
They claim that the government wishes to remain in office for an extra 15 days even if a party obtains a clear majority, as the bill allows the government to remain in office until the results of the supplementary poll are known.
I have heard arguments that the runoff system will impair the peaceful transfer of power. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There will be no impairment of the peaceful transfer of power as the incumbent Prime Minister always remains in office until another Prime Minister is appointed.
To be specific, the transfer of power will take place in accordance with the existing provisions of section 77(2)(a) which read as follows :
“The Prime Minister shall also vacate his office –
(a) when after any dissolution of Parliament he is informed by the President that the President is about to reappoint him as Prime Minister or to appoint another person as Prime Minister…”
The amendment before this House today does not touch section 77(2)(a) in any form or fashion.
Section 76(1) of the Constitution provides that the President shall appoint as the Prime Minister, a Member of the House of Representatives, who is the leader that commands the support of the majority of Members of the House.
We have not amended that section in any way and the president will in fact be able to appoint a pm if a clear majority of 21 seats or more has been attained.
That much is self-evident and crystal clear and I will be happy to make it clearer if it would give my friend some added comfort: a Prime Minister can be appointed once a majority of at least 21 seats has been achieved regardless of the number of outstanding runoff polls.
This would be consistent with our Government’s policy and intentions, as in such circumstances the result of the runoff polls cannot change or supersede the majority of 21 seats or more.
A further point was made that the Government will remain in place until the results of the Runoff Elections are known, in the event no one had obtained a majority in the first poll of 21 seats or more.
The Constitution already provides for the Government to continue in office after the dissolution of Parliament until General Elections.
This is a logical extension of that principle, as the general election will now comprise a primary and supplementary poll.
Again, there will be no need for the Government to continue in office if a clear majority was achieved at the end of the first poll.
The period between a dissolution of Parliament and the appointment of a new Prime Minister has traditionally been a caretaker period.
That will in no way be disrupted and will resemble the transition period between a defeat of an American President on their election day in November of a leap year and the assumption of office of the new President at 12 noon on the January 20th following.
Examples of such transition defeats in the United States are Jimmy Carter in 1980 and and George Herbert Walker Bush in 1992.
We are a properly functioning democracy and nothing prevents us from attaining the same level of democratic maturity to facilitate a transition of power over two weeks as opposed to two months !
An incoming government that knows that it has won a general election will in fact have the time to start making its preparations for the assumption of power and as such an incoming Prime Minister will have his/her period of time counted from the later date of assumption of duty in respect of the ten years and six months term limit that is also proposed in this Bill.
No party could ever stay beyond its constitutional period of office because it is the President who makes the appointment of a Prime Minister and not the Prime Minister herself or himself.
In 2001, the country waited from December 10th until December 24th for the President to appoint a Prime Minister.
In 2000, the country waited from December 11th until December 20th for the President to appoint a Prime Minister.
Nothing prevents a Prime Minister who has lost an election from resigning as Prime Minister thereby allowing the President to appoint a new Prime Minister.
Despite having a minority of seats (17 out of 36) after the general election of 6th November 1995, Patrick Manning remained as Prime Minister until November 9th when Basdeo Panday was appointed Prime Minister, despite the fact that Manning had publicly stated during the election campaign that he would not engage in any coalition discussions and that the PNM would win alone or lose alone.
The option for Mr. Manning to resign was always available to him because the PNM had lost the general election that he had called after three years and ten months in office.
The fifteen-day window is designed to facilitate the holding of an election, it is not designed to keep any government in office.
After the holding of the election, the political composition of the House of Representatives will be very clear for the President to make up his own mind about the appointments that he must make.
The general population will also be very clear about the choices that they made.There can be no suspension of freedom when an election is being held.
The only time that suspension of freedom would arise is if an election was being prevented as has traditionally happened under PNM administrations in the case of local government elections that were repeatedly postponed by the Manning administration of which the Leader of the Opposition was a member.
The People’s Partnership Government has always kept elections whenever elections are due and nothing will deter me from honouring all of my constitutional duties.
Freedom thrives when there are elections. Dictatorship thrives when elections are not held.
This Government will not deprive voters in a constituency where they cannot decide on an MP by a margin of greater than 50% the opportunity to choose their MP by such a margin in another election.
But my friends, Dr Rowley has so far not served any importance to the people of Trinidad & Tobago, because he has said repeatedly that he is only concerned about the PNM, not the people.
So I move on.
My friends, you will be happy to know, I wrote to the Secretary General of CARICOM, as well as the Hon. PM of Antigua and Barbuda who is the Chairman of Caricom Conference, and the Honourable Prime Ministerof St Kitts and Nevis on an issue that has the potential to harm our region and our people.
As you will know already, on 08th August 2014 the World Health Organization (WHO) said the spread of Ebola in West Africa is an international health emergency and said a co-ordinated response was essential to stop and reverse the spread of the virus.
The Director General of the WHO said that this was the "most complex outbreak in the four decades of this disease."
As Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, my approach to regional matters is similar to my approach here at home – we must not wait for a crisis to act! We must act preemptively.
In another health advisory, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has stated that the risk of Ebola being imported into the Caribbean is low and that it is “committed to supporting Member States to adequately prepare for potential cases to implement the necessary steps to protect healthcare facilities, patients, healthcare workers and communities.”
My advice to colleague Heads of Government in the Caribbean is to take pre-emptive measures to ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of millions of citizens of the Caribbean region.
While our risk is low, our actions must further diminish the risks to our citizens. And I am confident that nations across CARICOM will respond favourably.
So my friends, it’s a Monday night and you have work tomorrow, so I want to conclude here so that you have sufficient time to return home safely and prepare for your daily lives.
As you go, I ask you to take careful note of the things you hear and what you read.
Your Government has outperformed all previous Governments in delivering services, improving utilities and infrastructure, protecting democracy and making your lives better.
What that means is that the Opposition will use any and every opportunity to derail our progress, to misrepresent what we have delivered and to confuse the population.
Your Government has pulled our people and our country back from the brink of economic collapse and the PNM is desperate to get their hands back on the Treasury.
If you hear something and you’re not sure, contact the Ministries, contact your MPs, contact your Councillors or your party Headquarters.
What we have achieved for our country in four years will forever stand as a testament to what can be achieved when a Government puts the people as their top priority.
Now is the time for us to look forward, to deliver more, to raise our people and country up to the heights that it can reach and Dr Rowley’s PNM must never be given the chance to dominate and destroy Trinidad & Tobago again.
Walk with me, talk with me, share your ideas with me and your tomorrow will be secure.My friends, may God Bless you all and I thank you for taking time out of your Monday evening to join us.