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Bill must be stopped

Anti-runoff lobbyists focus on Senators...
Published: 
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Dr Merle Hodge puts the finishing touches to her placard during a protest outside the Parliament Building, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. Anti-runoff lobbyists plan to continue their protests outside Parliament until the Senate meets on the now controversial Constitution (Amendment) Bill. PHOTO: KRISTIAN DE SILVA

Hours after ending an all-night vigil outside the Parliament Building, Port-of-Spain, activists returned to the scene yesterday to continue protesting over the now controversial Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014. 

They upped their efforts after the bill was passed in the Lower House early yesterday with 23 Government MPs voting for it, 14 MPs—including the Congress of the People’s Winston Dookeran and Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan—voting against it and COP’s Dr Rodger Samuel abstaining, despite a public outcry and internal coalition concern from the COP against doing so before more public consultation, especially on the runoff poll. 

The People’s Partnership now needs only one senator to vote with it for the bill to be passed when the Upper House debates it in two weeks, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan announced yesterday. Yesterday, activist Kirk Waithe was joined by Constitution Reform Commission member Dr Merle Hodge, environmental activist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh and several others as he protested outside the Parliament.

Waithe, who intends to protest until the Senate sits on the bill, said Government was wasting the country’s time. “The focus is engaging on educating the public so that this bill could be stopped,” Waithe said in an interview with the T&T Guardian. “We need to get to what is the most important business of the people which is legislation to govern political-campaign financing, political-party financing and procurement.

“The number one job of our Parliament right now should be protecting the country’s purse,” he added.

JSC best option
Waithe said the activists would lobby senators and engaging the public further. “We want them to reject this bill unless it is sent to a Joint Select Committee (JSC) which engages a public conversation. “You cannot mess with our vote. The bill must be rejected, just like the soldier bill,” he said. Waithe said he was heartened by the contributions of COP members Dookeran and Seepersad-Bachan during the debate in the Lower House. “Finally, after way too long, they have stood up to their principles,” he said.

Hodge said her group, WorkingWomen, supported calls for senators to reject the bill. “We are determined that this bill should not become law,” Hodge said. She said she would continue her attempts to educate the public and support a people’s protest. Hodge, who was part of the CRC team during the government-commissioned public consultations on constitutional reform, has joined the anti-bill lobby since admitting last week that the controversial runoff poll was not part of those public consultation.

Kublalsingh, no stranger to battles with the Government as head of the Highway Reroute Movement, said the attempts to change the electoral system would present confusion to the electorate. “This is another attempt to tinker with the Constitution without giving people power. “If you were really serious about constitution reform, you wouldn’t start by picking the chairperson of the committee from Government. A more independent approach was needed,” he added.