Schism between people and institutions — CRF
By Shereen Ali Sunday, March 17 2013
Trinidad an Tobago’s current Constitution is a failed social contract in the sense that it did not involve wide public participation in its making. Olabisi Kuboni, Chair of the Constitution Reform Forum (CRF), spoke with Sunday Newsday about this and other issues, to add perspective on the ongoing 17 public consultations on reform organised by the current Government.
“The public consultations throughout the country are very good,” thinks Kuboni. “We are pleased that is happening. We feel in the past this fundamental process — of people participating in the making of a Constitution — was not adhered to.”
She believes that a constitution is essentially a people’s document, which should be defined by the values and the nature of their society.
“Not only did we not shape the current Constitution, but it was not shaped in terms of any values that we decided were important,” says Kuboni. She refers to Eric Williams’ remark on July 19, 1955 at a public meeting:
“…the time has come when the British constitution, suitably modified, can be applied to Trinidad and Tobago. After all, if the British constitution is good enough for Great Britain, it should be good enough for Trinidad and Tobago.” (Williams, 1955, quoted in Ghany, 2009)
“That is totally outrageous!” exclaims Kuboni, saying:
“The Constitution we have is a hangover of our colonial past and a continuation of our colonial status. Simeon McIntosh, Senior Law Professor at UWI Cavehill campus, once said that a constitution is supposed to be a mirror of the society. What we have now is not really a mirror of us.” Instead, it is an echo of a way of organising and valuing from a society which once exploited us. It’s time for fresh thinking, she feels.
Kuboni notes the current Government did not first prepare a draft constitutional reform document for the current public debate — which she sees as a “very positive thing,” in that it opens up possibilities for many kinds of original reform discussions. She hopes timely reports on the public’s comments will be made available — to make clear what the public says it wants, “before it ends up in the hands of the politicians.”
Kuboni reflects on TT’s current spate of violent crime, and believes it relates to “fragmentation” in the society — a fragmentation relating to all the institutions.
“It suggests a schism between individuals and institutions. We are all defined by institutions — schools, church or temple, village council, clubs, the government. When we have that schism, we have breakdowns. We need to help people connect their own living with the more formal institutions, going right up to the Parliament — which for me is not working.”
The Reform Forum offers many suggestions for practical forms of reform, one of which is rethinking the role of MPs.
“Constituency representatives should be full-time, and they should not be Ministers,” believes the Reform Forum. Kuboni, as its spokesman, says right now, all Trinidad and Tobago constituencies are “badly represented.” She draws an example: in the current debate on the precepting of soldiers, she asks: “How many MPs have come forward and said: ‘I had a meeting with my constituents, and we discussed it, and this is what we think.’? That does not happen. MPs just express their own opinions, and tow the party line. The people’s views are never brought up in Parliament.”
In the current public consultations on Constitution reform, five persons comprise the Con-
stitutional Reform Comm-
ission: Justice Sebastian Ventour, Dr Merle Hodge, Dr Hamid Ghany, Carlos Dillon and retired judge AmrikaTiwary-Reddy. Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar is chairing the Commission.What are the exact responsibilities and roles of the Commissioners, though? The Reform Forum is not sure, and feels this could be clarified.