By twinning investigative journalism with reporting on development stimulated some very interesting perspectives from regional reporters assembled for the event.
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Reform bill political corruption—Ramesh
Former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj has accused Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of “political corruption” over the proposed runoff election system being included in the Constitution (Amendment) Bil 2014. He said Persad-Bissessar lied to the country when she said the Government held a series of consultations with the population.
“That is a lie. What is a lie is that you had a lot of discussion on constitutional reform but you had no consultation on a proposal to have two polls and have a runoff,” Maharaj said during the Independent Liberal Party’s (ILP) forum to discuss and explain the three provisions tabled by Persad-Bissessar as part of the proposed reform on Saturday.
The meeting was held at the Centre of Excellence, Macoya, and included former Congress of the People leadership contender Rufus Foster, Independent Liberal Party (ILP) leader Lyndira Oudit and Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) PRO Gregory Fernandez. “You had no consultation on that and there is proof of that beyond a reasonable doubt and therefore the Prime Minister had no right to tell untruths to the population of Trinidad and Tobago,” Maharaj said.
He said the bill was “totally against” the United National Congress’ own constitution, but that the party stood to gain the most from the runoff system. “In the history of the elections of T&T, when you have the PNM and you have the UNC, the UNC stood a better chance of getting some of the votes which go to other political parties if you have a three-way fight or you have a four-way fight,” he said. “What she wants, is that she wants to eliminate those political parties, eliminate those voters and have a chance get the split votes.”
He said the UNC and the Prime Minister had a “motive” for pushing the bill. “It is not in the public interest, it is not for the peace, order and good government of T&T. The motive of this bill is for the UNC to have a better chance to win the election, but by using governmental power and the government using Parliament and state power to get that advantage,” he said. Maharaj, who also spoke on a similar forum held by the MSJ just days before, reiterated his plan to forward the constitutional amendments to the Privy Council.
“Even if it is passed in Senate, the Privy Council will block it,” he told the crowd. “In the constitutional motion that is being prepared to challenge this bill, one of the points in the forefront of that argument will be that this Government has introduced this bill in an effort to steal the election of T&T,” he said. He said it was the internal UNC cabal that would benefit the most from the bill’s passage.
Persad-Bissessar tabled the controversial bill on August 4 and it was debated on August 11 and passed after the marathon debate ended early on August 12. The bill is expected to be debated by the Senate on August 26. But since the passage of the bill there have been several dissenting voices about the constitutionality of the tenets of the amendments.