Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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All 31 senators urged to reject Bill
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s olive branch to civil society, when she invited recommendations on the proposed Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014, was yesterday rejected by 10 organisations.
In an open letter to Independent senators, the groups warned that if government’s proposal became law, it would further entrench racial voting as it would entrench a two-party voting system. Speaking at a media conference at the Communication Workers Union (CWU) Henry Street building, chairman of the Constitution Reform Forum Olabisi Kuboni called not only on Independent senators to vote against the bill, but on all 31 members of the Upper House of Parliament.
“Even though the debate is going to continue, fundamentally we are saying that the debate should be stopped. It should not have gone through anyway. Since it is going through and continues on Tuesday, we are asking all our senators, not just the Independent senators, but all senators who are representing the people of Trinidad and Tobago, not to make this bill pass the Upper House,” Kuboni said.
Endorsing her position was the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs (Fitun), Trinidad Youth Council (TYC), Government Daily Paid Retiree Association, Trinidad United Farmers’ Association, the Constitution Reform Forum (CTF), Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), Working Women for Social Progress, Highway Re-route Movement, Artiste Coalition of T&T and the Communication Workers Union.
An advocate for constitution reform for 13 years, Kuboni said her group participated in the public consultations held by the Constitution Reform Commission and the proposed runoff ballot was never discussed. She said the burning issues for people were having an electoral system which would end race-based voting and the creating of a process that allowed more voices in Parliament. She said Government was riding roughshod over the country for selfish reasons.
“It was clearly a window dressing so that ultimately at the end of the day, they could ride on the backs of the population and bring into effect whatever they want to bring into effect. We’ve all heard before that this notion of runoff was never brought up in the consultations.
“I know because I was there, we participated fully. As one of the participating organisations, I would like to register our strong objection to the Government riding roughshod over the population in that manner and then coming at the end of the day to talk about power to the people. “That is absolutely not power to the people and they should not be made to get away with using a phrase that emerged out of the struggles of the people, to use it to mask their wanting to ride roughshod over the nation.”
Adding his voice to the public debate, Highway Re-route Movement leader Dr Wayne Kublalsingh said the bill was unnecessary and was tampering with the Constitution. He said even though T&T had survived republican and independent constitutions, there continued to be public outrage over the policies by successive governments.
“The Prime Minister will go into the Senate sometime shortly and she will try to convince the senators that this is a worthwhile initiative. This is a superficial initiative; it is an unnecessary tampering with our Constitution and an unnecessary tampering of our electoral system. “We have survived an independent constitution and we have survived a republican constitution, but we have not survived what really is a public outrage after outrage, removal of one government after another because of corruption.”
The letter, which was delivered to the Senate, argued that the proposed term limits for prime ministers and the right to recall clauses needed to be revisited to ensure their effectiveness. Noting that there were no public consultations on the runoff provision, it said the bill would establish a winner takes all system, further alienating parts of the electorate. Recalling Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011, the letter said legislators should be cautious with controversial bills.