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'Don't use House to attack people'

Blows for politicians

By Renuka Singh

Another round of lively public discourse on constitutional reform, this time focused on regulating political parties, took place on Saturday at City Hall, Port of Spain. Extra chairs were added to the room as the crowd grew.

Minister of Legal Affairs Prakash Ramadhar heard a variety of suggestions and also received documented proposals regarding possible changes to the Constitution. This was part of the ongoing series of meetings in the National Consultation on Constitution Reform. It began March 4, with the last meeting scheduled for May.

Key among the suggestions during the three-hour-long session centred around the freedoms of the political parties.

But while naturalist Phillip Franco's suggestion that political parties fall under Anti-Gang legislation brought laughter, another, Michael Coryat, was applauded when he called for all parties to first stop abusing parliamentary privilege and to also make their main financiers public.

"No member of Parliament must slander, vilify, castigate, disrespect, dishonour, bring into odium, degrade or otherwise belittle another person while presenting motions, arguments or engaging in debate in the House of Representatives under the spurious cover of parliamentary privilege," Coryat said.

"The political party must declare its best financier or financiers as it gears up for any national election. Stiff penalties should be the norm for any political party flouting such a law, " he said.

Another man, David Damarie, called for a reduction in political terms from five years to four, but called for the individual political parties to decide how many times its leader can be elected as Prime Minister as well as a fixed date for elections rather than a date to be announced. He also suggested that the right to bear arms be included in the Constitution.

Hugh Nurse, a self-proclaimed activist with a "certain political party", asked whether indeed every creed and race actually does find an equal place in the country.

"I want to suggest that the system of electioning is unjust, unequal and oppressive and lends itself to oppression," he said.

Congress of the People member Robert Mayers said he was in two minds about whether to attend the public meeting at all, but submitted a document which he dubbed "an accord" from the group he represented.

"Consideration should be given to establishing a genuine constituent assembly in which a wider body of persons, representatives of all kinds of interests in the country come and be able to give their full view on the constitutional matters," he said.

He suggested that the body then evolve into a secretariat which will then produce a people-centric Constitution. The next meeting is scheduled for April 15 at Penal Secondary School at 5 p.m.

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