The Movement for Social Justice will launch a candlelight vigil outside President's House hours before Republic Day is celebrated on September 24, in the hope of swaying President Anthony Carmona to withhold his assent to the Constitution Amendment Bill, 2014.
Speaking at a press conference at MSJ's St Joseph Village, San Fernando headquarters yesterday, MSJ leader David Abdulah said the troubling issues surrounding the bill will continue to haunt Government long after today's budget is read unless public consultation is held.
He contended that it was Government's hope that the budget will distract from the issue of constitutional reform, but said the MSJ will continue to champion the cause. Calling on all social groups and citizens to join their vigil, Abdulah said his party will lobby alongside other interest groups to get Carmona to withhold his assent to the bill.
Saying the MSJ will not allow substantial changes to be made to the Constitution by a simple majority, he said it was only through unity of the people that the bill could be stopped from becoming law. He called on protesters to wear black for the vigil as a reflection of the dire state of the country.
"We cannot have an issue where the Constitution is amended in fundamental ways by a simple majority without due process. We cannot accept that. If that happens to the Constitution, can you image what will happen with other pieces of legislation?" Abdulah asked.He quoted Carmona's Independence Day message, in which he said the Constitution should be amended only by open transparent mechanisms that involve participation of citizens.
He also said the MSJ had rejected the ammendments proposed by Independent Senator Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir, which were passed in the Senate last week.
"We want to state we are in total disagreement with the ammendments in the Senate, in particular those ammendments that Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir made. We don't think mathematics can address what is essentially a political issue and the mathematical formula arrived at by the senator does not advance anything with respect to either the activities and participation of third parties in the political process," Abdulah said.
The bill was passed in the Senate after Government accepted a suggestion by Mahabir on the controversial runoff clause. Instead of allowing only the first two candidates who do not get at least 50 per cent of the votes entry into the runoff, he suggested a third candidate be given a chance.
But in order to qualify the candidate must receive 25 per cent of the votes cast and also must come within a five per cent margin of the votes obtained by the second-placed candidate. In this scenario, the candidates also will not require at least 50 per cent of the votes to win. But many have argued that this scenario puts the candidates right back to initial situation which Government had argued against, that no candidate must win by a minority vote of under 50 per cent.
Spending spree budget
With regard to today's national budget, Abdulah said it was clear the Government was in an election mode and will bring another deficit budget which will put a strain on T&T's economy."Nothing transformative has been achieved last year or this year, it is purely electioneering and campaigning," he said.
He said: "Our expectation is that it is going to be spend, spend, spend! It will be a budget to buy votes. It will not help the People's Partnership Government, but it will have a long term repercussion on the economy of T&T."He also chastised Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar early announcement of some of the budget goodies."Yesterday you had the Prime Minister announcing measures that ought to be announced as part of the budget speech by the Minister of Finance.
"Last year she did the same thing in the pre-budget rally. It is inappropriate for the Prime Minister to be making these announcements," he said.He also said the MSJ was opposed to the privatisation and the sale of CL Financial assets."These assets belong to citizens of T&T. When we sell those assets below market prices to friends and family, we are putting ourselves in a very precarious position," Abdulah said.
He also said projects done by special purpose companies which are not accounted for in the budget expenditure must be stopped.