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Ramadhar after Chaguanas West defeat: It can’t be business as usual
The People’s Partnership administration needs to reconnect with the people following the defeat of the main member of the coalition, the United National Congress, in last Monday’s by-election in the Chaguanas West constituency. Political Leader of the second largest grouping in the Government (the Congress of the People), Minister of Legal Affairs Prakash Ramadhar stressed that it cannot be business as usual.
While respecting the wishes of the Chaguanas West constituents, Ramadhar reiterated his concern that the incumbent Jack Warner won the seat.
Q: Mr Ramadhar, are you a spoilsport?
A: (At his Pasea Street, Tunapuna, constituency office Tuesday afternoon) No I am not.
So why were you so critical of the win by Jack Warner of the Independent Liberal Party, describing it as a “most dangerous development in the politics of our country?”
(A remorseless expression) We respect the right of the people of Chaguanas West to exercise their choice. However, we have understood and from what he has said, a lot of his interaction with his constituents was a result of helping people with his own private funds.
What’s your problem with that?
Now that may sound laudable, but when you really analyse what that means is that in the future you may have others with tremendous money going into constituencies and purchasing the goodwill of constituents.
Which is worse, Mr Ramadhar, financing your own campaign or using state resources to do so, which all parties in office have been accused of doing?
Well that is why the COP’s position has been that we need not just campaign finance reform but party finance reform…that we would legitimise contributions so that the population would know that no government is in the pocket of anybody or any group or business.
Did you think, Mr Ramadhar, that the UNC wold have lost and by that wide margin?
Well there was always that clear possibility having regards to Mr Warner’s popularity in Chaguanas West and that is why we thought it necessary to participate in the election. In terms of what has happened, you may very well have a future government made up of persons who are wealthy independently and that they would be able to purchase votes, and that is not a healthy thing for our democracy.
Mr Ramadhar, how would you feel personally when Mr Warner re-enters Parliament this time around?
I will welcome him as a person, as the representative for Chaguanas West, it is the decent thing to do, the proper thing to do. I will never disrespect him as a person.
In retrospect, would you say your immediate comment on his victory was done emotionally and perhaps you ought to...?
Not at all. (Resolutely) The remarks made last night were very clear, and I wanted to be abundantly clear on what the COP position is and what my position is. This party may take unpopular positions, but we will always take positions as we see to be in the interest of Trinidad and Tobago.
You are in charge of the constitutional reform exercise of the PP administration and several promises in this regard were made by the PP in its 2010 general election campaign, none of which has yet seen the light of day. Why?
Well, it has seen the light of day to the extent that we had promised that the new constitution of Trinidad and Tobago should come from the people of this country. To the extent there has been widespread consultation...
Where has that reached?
Oh, very far. We have finished the consultation. We are in the process now of doing a report to the population and from that we shall go into legislative drafting to be brought into law.
Mr Minister, when a party is in opposition they always clamour for proper procurement legislation as one sure way of dealing with corruption involving state resources?
You know this is the first Government that has really manfully taken on the need to change the procurement regime and to that extent, we put it before the House through a joint select committee and the opposition PNM has reneged from attending at some level. We said we are going ahead with it. The bottom line is that the work of this committee has been sent to the chief parliamentary counsel for drafting.
The draft will be available in September, then head to Parliament for debate. I am so glad for this because if we don’t change systems—those in need of dire change—under which we operate we will inherit again different personalities with the same old complaints.
Can we have a guarantee that most, if not all of these promises including the recall of MPs, term limit for the Prime Minister and the staging of referenda would be on the books before 2015?
Let me just say that those promises in the manifesto of 2010 were promises that got to be kept and which would require a certain number of votes in the legislature.
Former prime minister Basdeo Panday is not convinced that anything would be achieved in this regard and claimed the Government did not have the right approach?
(Slightly agitated while shifting in his chair) Well, Mr Panday had his opportunity and he speaks now of what shoulda coulda. We are doing what we know we must do. I am committed to it, Cabinet gave us the authority to go forward with the consultation, and I would do my work and present it to the population.
What in your view is the most pressing need in terms of constitutional reform?
I don’t want to be presumptuous in giving my opinion, although I will tell you based on the people’s consultation, one of the most important is the need for referenda and proportional representation. But there are many others such as the protection of the environment.
Mr Ramadhar, is the criticism being levelled by the people that your party has not been providing the change they expected as a constituent group in the PP administration a fair one?
Yes, I have (shaking his head in the affirmative) heard that criticism, and it is unfair but I can understand why people will say it; the changes that we promised in 2010 are fundamental to the success of Trinidad and Tobago, but we realise that change does not come easy. It takes hard work and a lot of resistance is met, however, the change is happening and we are working on things, as I have told you, in so many areas including procurement legislation.
Do you blame people for being impatient?
No, but the timeline is five years, right? And the promise of a manifesto is from the date you took office to the date an election is called, and a lot of people want to judge the game after just three years. But the reality must be faced, and the reality is slower than I would want, and it would be wrong to say, however, that change is not coming.
Is it a fact, Mr Ramadhar, that the PP is being put under much more pressure than previous regimes as members of this administration would argue?
I am glad you asked that because sometimes the facts are very, very different from the perception, and I would ask anyone to take a drive around any community and see the sort of work that is taking place, particularly to the physical infrastructure. I think we have not really been communicating as well as we should on the ground to let people know what our plans are, the time frame within which it is to take place, so therefore a lot of disappointment comes to the surface.
Is it the fault of the delivery system, or is it a case of the well documented missteps which have occurred under this regime clouding the positives that may have been achieved?
And rightly so, for instance the Section 34 issue, that is a stain on all of us; the PNM voted for this thing, eh? The consequence of what has happened, a minister was removed from the Cabinet, the fire truck issue and so on.
Mr Ramadhar, to end where we started, has Monday’s result dealt a fatal blow to the People’s Partnership administration?
(Leaning forward and rubbing his palms) I don’t think it is a fatal blow, but there is potential in anything if one does not wake up and realise that we cannot operate with business as usual.
What went wrong?
Well, the real question is how we arrived at this position where the UNC lost its safest seat. And we need to now reconnect, all of us, with the reality on the ground; what the people are saying, what they need, what they want. We need to analyse that as soon as is possible and fix that.