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PM still goes ahead

Concerns raised in cabinet on reform bill
Published: 
Saturday, August 9, 2014
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, left, chats with House Speaker Wade Mark and his wife Sushilla during her annual Eid-ul-Fitr dinner at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's, on Thursday night. (See page A8) PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ

Amid confirmation that some Congress of the People (COP) MPs have raised concerns in Cabinet about Government’s runoff poll proposal, COP MP Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan yesterday rebuked certain remarks by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan about Constitutional Reform Commission member Dr Merle Hodge’s views on the issue.

Information reaching T&T Guardian is that concerns on the proposed runoff poll were raised in Cabinet weeks ago -  ahead of announcement of the plan in Parliament on Monday - and up to Thursday also. Hodge was part of the CRC which made constitutional reform recommendations, holding public consultations since last year. A report was submitted in December 2013 and an addendum to the report on July 18. 

The CRC, headed by COP leader Prakash Ramadhar, also included Madam Justice Amrika Tiwary-Reddy, Justice Sebastian Ventour, Dr. Hamid Ghany and Tobagonian business entrepreneur Carlos Dillon. 

In Monday’s address to Parliament on the constitutional reform proposals, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar  said matters for CRC consideration included limitations on terms of service by the prime minister, a right of recall in respect of non-performing Parliamentary representatives, “respecting the voices of the minorities whilst giving effect to the will of the majority, making every vote count” and also for provision for fixed dates for general elections.

Persad-Bissessar on Monday also announced proposed legislation, to be debated in Parliament Monday, concerning two-term limits for prime ministers, right of recall for MPs and the runoff poll system to apply where candidates received less than 50 per cent of votes cast. The issue triggered negative feedback from various quarters, including the Opposition.

Some quarters of the public have argued that the runoff pool proposal will in fact further entrench a two-party system and kill off the chances of small parties like the Independent Liberal Party (ILP), Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) and even the COP. In a letter to the media Thursday night, Hodge said the runoff proposal was in not in the PP’s manifesto, or in main constitutional reform consultations around T&T, or the Commission’s report. 

Disassociating herself from the particular proposal, Hodge added, “What the current discussion proves is that before it is taken to the final stage in Parliament, this Bill needs more and deeper scrutiny by the public, nationwide, over a longer period than one week.” Yesterday, CRC member Dillon also echoed the call to Government to hold off on debate.

2nd CRC member wants hold on move
Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) member Carlos Dillon has become the second member of the body calling on Government to hold its hand on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014. In a statement yesterday, Dillon said as a member of the commission, whose remit was to “co-ordinate the consultation sessions” throughout the country and to submit a report, he took responsibility for the report, which was subsequently put out for public comment.

Dillon added, “In my view, the main concerns of the citizenry at this time include the right of recall of an MP, the methodology to be used for putting proportional representation into effect and the timing of bringing the bill to Parliament. “The right of recall of an MP and the question of proportional representation were indeed raised by the public during the consultations and are reflected in the report. 

“However, the methods of putting the right of recall and the methodology for effecting PR were not part of the public discussion, for acceptance/rejection.” Dillon said the timing of bringing the bill to Parliament was not the function of the commission. “As a consequence of the furore surrounding the bill,” he suggested, “good sense should prevail and that the timing of debate on such a most important matter be looked at again.”

CRC member Amrika Tiwary-Reddy, declining comment on the public debate yesterday, said she considered the CRC’s job done. She said the CRC had listened to the public’s responses and many meetings were held. Any queries should be addressed to the CRC chairman Prakash Ramadhar, she said. CRC members Dr Hamid Ghany and Justice Sebastien Ventour could not be reached for comment yesterday.