DEMOCRACY IN ACTION

It was never my intention to make a contribution on March 5th, chiefly because I had promised myself that I would have properly been prepared. This never happened , which was not surprising as my professional and personal work load has been heavier of late.

The session started a few minutes after the stipulated time of 5PM, and there were a sprinkling of the public in attendance, with the main panel in front of the audience with three supporting tables adjacent to and behind. I was diverted to one of these tables to register my name and contact information.

We were given a package that comprised of a Ministry of Legal Affairs (MLA) booklet advertising the public consultations, a hard copy of the Constitution of T&T, a questionnaire, notepad and pen. The Himalaya forum was open air, with those large portable cooling fans strategically placed for the public and panelists. The panelists were : Dr. Hamid Ghany, Justice Sebastian Ventour, Dr. Merle Hodge, Justice Amrika Tiwary-Reddy, Prakash Ramadhar and Mr. Carlos Dillon.

It opened with a warm, ebullient colloquial presentation and invitation from Penelope Spencer. This was obviously an ice breaker, as she did not telegraph the impression that she was versed with the subject at hand. This overture to the masses was lost on my person, as both the subject and the forum was not alien to me at all. Surprisingly, and in the same vein, the Master of Ceremonies or moderator turned out to be none other than Errol Fabien. So here was a deliberate attempt to corral the general populace into a contributory mood.

The clumsy introduction from Ms. Spencer gave the impression that this particular session was to be only centred around the topic of “proportional representation.” This was quickly put to rest by MC Fabien, however, and the topic prompted explanations from the panelists on proportional representation, Hamid Ghany and Prakash Ramadar being foremost. Prakash had earlier pointed to the easternmost table that was spilling over with a group attired in black, and introduced them as the MLA’s leading legal support team on the Constitutional Reform project. I used the term ‘project’ deliberately to emphasise a point later on in this commentary.

It was either Hamid or Prakash, that mentioned the French electoral system as an example of proportional representation or perhaps they were speaking of the second round of voting for the President. It is however, quite an interesting model that we should review, even if for only intellectual curiousity: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_France. An interesting aspect of the French system is the use of referendum to gain consent from the electorate for constitutional reform. Indeed, one of the members of the audience suggested the very same concept. He went further and suggested that referendum be the first amendment to the constitution, before all else.

Someone suggested that people refer to the Dennis Pantin archives in UWI for pertinent information on consitutional reform.

Vernon De Lima remarked that we have evolved to the stage where there is no limit of talent and resource such that appeals to the Privy Council are vestigial, and that the Supreme Court, not the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) be the final recourse for appellants. He also made an emotional appeal for the death penalty to be enforced.
Another noteworthy contribution suggested a bipartisan Joint Select Committee be created to oversee and approve projects that cost more than a predetermined sum, to check instances of runaway public spending.

Although Prakash had hinted at it earlier, I posed the question to him directly, for the benefit of the listeners and for my own appeasement, on whether the government had prepared a draft document in advance of the public consultation. He reiterated emphatically in the negative, and said that they wanted to go directly to the people first, without any preconception.

In critiquing organisations and institutions in public forums, I have more than once used a psychological technique to make my targets more receptive of my argument. Not for a lack of sincerity, I thanked the PP government and the panelists for this opportunity for the general public to make a contribution towards constitutional reform. I reminded the panelists, and turning towards the audience, that there are many who are under the false impression that democracy begins and ends at the ballot box. I told them that this is the farthest thing from the reality, and it is in forums like this where we can see democracy in action.

The panelists were then soundly scolded for the process that they were taking for the constitutional reform exercise. On the fly, and unprepared, I offered an alternative process. I suggested that they should have had a six months to a year of public education on the EXISTING constitution. In three phases, the first being the education, and the second being the public consultation, and concurrently, a legal professional effort. The final phase would be the commingling of the two efforts, to produce a single document comprised of sound technical structure, and incorporating the will and sentiment of the people.

Riding this momentum, I told the panelists that they should make it a priority of brainstorming a ‘Plan B.’ Simply because all of the efforts of constitutional reform in the previous regime went ‘down the road’, and the PP government may have to face a similar doom. Part or all of the efforts towards constitutional reform should preside in a non-governmental organisation, so that there would always be continuity, and that the people will not lose out as in what transpired previously. It is the people that stand to suffer from the undulating fortunes of the constitutional reform tide.

Representation. This was the 800 pound gorilla in the room. We are lesser for a civilisation because of it. This is what I hammered into the panel, and into the audience. This lay at the root of failed democracy. We the people, need to REPRESENTED in Parliament. There should be no executives / cabinet who also share the responsibilities of the constituency. Executives need to be free to execute their respective functions. If there was an examination of what lay at the root of talk of proportional representation, we will find non-functioning and incapable local government bodies. Members of “Parle”-ment who are really pompous and uncaring buffoons (I am seriously paraphrasing and exercising my creative license here). Their raison d’etre to tow their respective party line, and seek to embarrass and harass the opposing side, suffer the people. Useless is what they are.

So what we need to have is a clean separation, as much as is reasonably and pragmatically possible, between the Executive and the Legislature.

I hope the esteemed legal swarm at the easternmost panel were taking notes.

You can find more information on submitting your suggestions and comments to the MLA on this dedicated website:

http://www.reformtheconstitution.com/

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MAKE, OR BREAK!

MAKE, OR BREAK!.

“Security can only be achieved through constant change, through discarding old ideas that have outlived their usefulness and adapting others to current facts.”

William O. Douglas,

Longest serving US judge

So we have come. Come to this point. And in the Be-Coming we have become lost. The looking glass has been smashed, such that when we look upon ourselves there is not a unitary shape that could be discerned. Multiple figments and filaments return our stare.

Quo vadis? Whither?

We need to study this quotation from the US law dispenser. What are the ideas that bind or liberate us? It is only with careful consideration of our lot, can we chart a brave new course.

The Hungry Tribes cannot free us from our contrived Hell. The Intelligenista are nothing but a chorus for the melodrama. Jeering Paparazzi of a Pappy Show. A Tragedy in joke.

This unexplored route into our future will contain more than one remedy for the disease. Inexorably it must gestate some form of Constitutional Reform. As Dr. B. Samaroo pointed out in the first of this series, we have not been yet cured of Colonialism.

Doctor, heal thyself”

We, the Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago are ridden with a Plague. A plague of poly-phobia. A corrupted and vile anti-thesis of a State. The true form of democracy is hidden from the gaze of this sycophantic mob.

Race is one such spawn of this Plague. A construct created to support the economic needs of sea marauding imperialists, it is an idea that should have died with the rise of universal education. But yet it lingers still, resistant to all philosophical salves and potions.

The polarisation that this Horseman of the Apocalypse has wrought upon our nation is disastrous. Look! The demographics have scarce changed over the decades. Stillborn and Force ripe!

What can we do!?

This polarisation manifests and is made stronger as through some centrifrugal force around our Philosophical axis in the Political Party system. This abstraction of our democracy has not served us well! March the Political Party to the Gallows! This is what Jack and his imps should be hanging!

What we should have instead is stronger Local Government institutions. Limit the common ballot to a constituency or county. Let this elected council, who will have term limits, minimum qualifications and relevant experience, run the affairs of those arms of the public service that matter most! This cannot happen without a budget.

This is why I think that we should retain the bicameral system. Either an Upper Executive House with a Lower Representative House (from the local councils), or a Lower Executive legislature and Upper House drawn from a conglomeration of business, religious, arts, and the scientific community. Term limits toute bagai! No room for Massa in the Inn!

In whatever permutation or incarnation, the Executive should be extended for two political cycles to preserve continuity for National Development.

“If you are taking the right medicine, how come you are still sick”?

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Step Down Caesar!

At last somebody talks about recall!

http://www.trinidadexpress.com/commentaries/Recall_referendum__abuse_of_process_-128543318.html

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At Last! Something to post about!

I will be following up on this!

http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,139637.html

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Captain the ship is adrift!

It is high time that we settle down to the matter of governance and to implement those changes that are necessary to change the course of our nation!

We have been on this roller coaster before!

We have vomited all the things that we should have kept down, like democracy, self determination, sovereignity, compassion, critical thinking and patriotism.

What will be vomit next out next!?

Honeymoon over!! Time to get serious!

http://www.yestt.org/cmsd/pdf/Bring%20the%20Referendum!.pdf

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Amnesty or Pardon for Insurrectionists?

Not being an expert in Constitutional Law, or not being entirely clear on the actual chronology and accuracy of events on July 27th 1990 is even more reason for the Commission of Enquiry into the Attempted Coup of our Republic.

Is an amnesty constitutional? Did the Privy Council rule for or against the legality of the Amnesty? My memory suggests that the Privy Council in the UK  proclaimed the amnesty illegal and invalid.

If this was the case, why weren’t the members of the Jamaat re-charged with treason and re-arrested?

I remember my grandfather pointing out to me that the amnesty was invalid (long before the Privy Council took it up) because the Constitution only afforded the President to pardon an individual, not a GROUP of individuals, especially a group engaging in insurrection and lawlessness.

Is this not a case for Constitutional Reform? Of is the text in Chp 6. Clause 87-89 sufficient?

POWER OF PARDON, ETC.
87.- 1. The President may grant to any person a pardon, either free or subject to lawful
conditions, respecting any offences that he may have committed. The power of the
President under this subsection may be exercised by him either before or after the
person is charged with any offence and before he is convicted thereof.
2. The President maya.
grant to any person convicted of any offence against the law of Trinidad and Tobago
a pardon, either free or subject to lawful conditions;
b. grant to any person a respite, either indefinite or for a specified period, from the
execution of any punishment imposed on that person for such an offence;
c. substitute a less severe form of punishment for that imposed by any sentence for
such an offence; or
d. remitted the whole or any part of any sentence passed for such an offence or any
penalty or forfeiture otherwise due to the State on account of such an offence.
3. The power of the President under subsection (2) may be exercised b y him in
accordance with the advice of a Minister designated by him, acting in accordance with
the advice of the Prime Minister.

ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON POWER OF PARDON
88.- There shall be an Advisory Committee on the Power of Pardon which shall consist
ofa.
the Minister referred to in section 87(3) who shall be Chairman;
b. the Attorney General;
c. the Director of Public Prosecutions;
d. not more than four other members appointed by the President, after consultation with
the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
FUNCTIONS OF ADVISORY COMMITTEE
89.- 1. Where an offender has been sentenced to death by any court for an offence
against the law of Trinidad and Tobago, the Minister shall cause a written report of the
case from the trial judge, together with such other information derived from the record of
the case or else-where as the Minister may require, to be taken into consideration at a
meeting of the Advisory Committee.
2. The Minister may consult with the Advisory Committee before tendering any advice to
the President under section 87(3) in any case not falling within subsection (1).
3. The Minister shall not be obliged in any case to act in accordance with the advice of
the Advisory Committee.
4. The Advisory Committe may regulate its own procedure.
5. In this section “the Minister” means the Minister referred to in section 87(3).

Did the Acting President or Prime Minister engage in the amnesty knowing full well that it was unlawful?

I could find no mention of the word “amnesty” in the Constitution.

Charging the perpetrators of this crime will certainly send a strong message to any future transgressors.

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How will the Proposed Constitution be amended? (via Stanley Kamau)

I thought that this particular blog was interesting in the subject matter and the fact that it is proposed that future amendments to the Constitution that fall in particular categories would require a referendum to be passed!

How about that!?

What do you think!?

Current Constitution Section 47 of the current Constitution provides for its amendment in only one way: A Bill in Parliament which must be supported by at least 65 per cent of the Members of Parliament (excluding the Speaker and the Attorney General). If Parliament is for any reason unwilling to consider such a Bill or cannot achieve the 65 per cent support, the Constitution cannot be amended, whatever its merits for citizens. Proposed Constituti … Read More

via Stanley Kamau

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Referenda

There has been much talk about referendum as a possible avenue for direct democracy as opposed to representative democracy in T&T.

Although I suspect that this has come about largely because of the sense of helplessness and disenfranchisement of large sectors of the society with regards to the state of affairs in our land.

In terms of physical infrastructure there has been significant changes that almost overwhelm the senses on first contact, but subsequently an aftertaste that scars the social psyche soon emerges. The common man introspects, and tries to rationalise the towers of steel, concrete and glass with scores of urban vagrants and virulent and violent crime.

Now that the Coalition is in power, within which at least the appearance of a wide cross-section of the society is represented, we will need to see whether the momentum for referendum and recall remains.

In the gestating stages of the popular opposition movement, Stephen Cadiz organised a three series forum to educate the public on referendum and recall. I was fortunate to attend one of these sessions with members of my group Citizens 4 Change in Naparima Girls High School in San Fernando.

It was relatively well attended, and the post-forum discussions outside of the classroom was food for thought as well. I learned from the forum that there were many countries who had implemented referendum. Mr. Cadiz introduced a world renowned expert on the subject. His name escapes me at the moment. I trust that one of my followers or commenters could refresh my memory and I will update this blog accordingly.

From my readings and in my discussion with citizens from other countries who have implemented referenda, it appears that there has been mixed success with the system.

In Sweden for example…the voters were very conservative, only approving of 10% of the legislature passed through the referenda! A recent discussion introduced an interesting dilemma…in London, citizens were asked to vote on a toll of 8 pounds for personal vehicles to enter the inner city. What happened was that the majority of who responded to the poll were owners of vehicles, and there was little response from mass transit commuters. The result was then obviously skewed to the negative. I learned further that in Australia there is a mechanism to coerce all into voting to achieve more balanced results in referenda.

What would be our experience here in Trinidad and Tobago? Are our citizens sufficiently politically and socially mature to work with such a mechanism? Now that there is a clear two-thirds majority in Parliament, it means that based on past history, it suggests that most legislation WILL past and get to the Upper House. Referendum may now pose a potential threat to the will of the Cabinet. It remains to be seen whether the Coalition will have the political stomach to push forward with Constitutional Reform legislation.

As with most complex political systems, the Government may wish to have an extended educational drive to the public on what referendum means and how it could affect our daily lives and the governance of the country. Even then, the electorate will need to be highly converse with the subjects of the referenda.

What legislation or issues would be sent for referenda? Will it only be national agenda or could issues be linked to a constituency or religion?

To my readers I suggest one start with wikipedia and research the various topics, and then perhaps delve deeper into journals or books to better understand the implications.

I will be taking my own advice.

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Welcome to the New World!

T&T Constitutional Reform will allow open, free and flowing dialogue on matters concerning deficiencies in the existing Constitution and proposals to enhance it.

At the bottom of the blog page, you will find a widget that will allow you to download the current Constitution.

Fire Away!

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