Last update: 10-Dec-2013 1:42 am
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Nothing wrong with present Constitution
Before the largely irrelevant and potentially dangerous exercise in “constitution reform” gets out of hand (if it has not already done so), may I ask a question that nobody else appears to have posed: what exactly is wrong with our present Constitution, hailed when it was originally drawn up as one of the best in the world?
Our Constitution, first monarchical, then republican, has achieved exactly what constitutions are supposed to achieve:
•Ensured the freedom of the individual to speak, write, move and assemble.
•Ensured the freedom of the press, including its freedom to be continuously critical of the government of the day (something that can not be said for the press in scores of countries).
•Encouraged the formation of a vibrant, largely two-party system (the People’s Partnership is not a coalition in the generally accepted sense but a group of parties which agreed to contest an election as a single unit). The history of third parties in T&T has (fortunately) not been an encouraging one, as the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) will eventually find out.
•Maintained the independence of the judiciary, so much so that one gets the impression our judges almost delight in giving judgements against the government, which is a very good thing since governments have so much power on their side to start with.
•Allowed trade unions to flourish and even border on the irresponsible.
•Allowed the feelings of the electorate to be reflected in regular changes of government.
•Created bicameral legislature of an elected House of Representatives and a nominated Senate, allowing people of substance and experience who may not relish direct partisan political involvement, the chance to contribute to governance.
•Encouraged the development of a vibrant non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector.
•Created an appropriate system of a non-executive head of state who can be above politics and respected for that role and an elected and politicised executive and parliament. Even so, the president still has the “political” power to withhold assent to legislation if he deems it desirable to do so.
•Established strict independence from political influence for the key offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Elections and Boundaries Commission and the Auditor General.
•Set up other independent organisations like the Integrity Commission and the Ombudsman to ensure as far as possible that politicians don’t enrich themselves by virtue of the influence they wield and to safeguard the public from unsatisfactory treatment by public servants.
I would wager that few constitutions in the world produce that collection of benefits for its citizens. We tamper with such a constitution at our peril and should reject, out of hand, virtually all of the hairbrained suggestions for “reform” that I have heard, including proportional representation (PR), shortening the term of office of a government, barring a prime minister from serving for more than two consecutive terms, the right of recall, fixed election dates, caps on funding for political parties, the holding of referenda, etc. All of those proposals contain major pitfalls and have the potential to undermine, rather than enhance, a constitution that has provided so many freedoms—in particular PR, surely the most asinine idea of the lot.
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