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Thursday, April 24, 2014
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Constitution Commission Report recommends No declarations until Integrity probes begin
The Constitution Commission says consideration should be given to altering the procedure of the Integrity Commission to provide for citizens to “swear to an undertaking that they would provide declarations” if they were the subject of an investigation. This proposal is contained in the 47-page Constitution Commission Report, which is expected to be discussed in Cabinet this week.
The report said allowing citizens to swear “would enhance the capacity of the Integrity Commission to function more effectively by changing its focus from chasing down hundreds of declarations to examining only those that require investigation.” The report said the existing procedure had become “cumbersome and inefficient and has prevented many persons from coming forward to serve.”
It noted that many people in public life were reluctant to come forward to serve “because of their concern about the process of mandatory filing of their assets and liabilities with the Integrity Commission.” And the Constitution Commission said: “The impression has been created that the Integrity Commission has become an institution that is required to conduct investigations at the behest of politicians who may be seeking to embarrass other politicians who hold offices in public.”
It noted the last three chairmen of the Integrity Commission—John Martin, Fr Henry Charles and Dr Eric St Cyr—resigned due to controversies associated with their tenure. The report said consequently “this has strained the moral authority of the commission (Integrity) to assert itself as the moral police of the society.” The report further stated that non-compliance with the Integrity in Public Life Act should be met with sanctions for the offending parties and the obligation to make declarations “should be enforced rigidly.”
The report also proposes a fixed date for general election and the recall of MPs. It was recommended that MPs be recalled “after the expiration of three years and not in the fifth year.” It further said the right of recall should be restricted only to those constituents who voted in the election in that constituency and the petition for recall should attain the requirement of two-thirds of the voters for it to be effected. It also recommended a two-term limit for a prime minister.
Another major change being proposed relates to the method of appointment for the Senate President. “The President should designate the President of the Senate from among those senators appointed by the President in his own discretion,” the report recommended. Under the existing constitutional arrangements, the President of the Senate is elected by senators at the first meeting after a general election. This is done before any other business.
The report also said the relationship between the Office of the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) “ought to be reviewed to ensure the independence of the latter.” It added the review was necessary because of previous controversies between the two offices. The Constitution Commission recommended that the DPP “should be awarded an independent fiscal vote which would be audited by the Auditor General, whose report would be laid in Parliament.”
Another recommendation is for the office of the DPP to “report to the President annually on his performance which shall include statistics as may be prescribed.” It said the DPP’s report should be laid in Parliament. The Constitution Commission was chaired by Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar and the report was completed on December 27, 2013 after public and private consultations with stakeholders.
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