Get out of the way
ANDRE BAGOO Saturday, September 7 2013
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Rowley in the House: Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley during debate in the House of Representatives yesterday. ...
OPPOSITION Leader Dr Keith Rowley yesterday told Government MPs that his party wanted them “out of the way” so that the PNM could take over running the country, and called the proposal to introduce proportional representation to the country’s democracy politically expedient “tomfoolery”.
“We want you all out of the way,” the PNM political leader told elected Government MPs sitting in the Parliament at the International Waterfront Centre, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain. “So we can begin to take responsibility for the country and rectify the damage you have done to the country.”
In his contribution to the debate of the Municipal Corporations (Amendment) Bill 2013, Rowley at one point “steupsed” and exclaimed “I give up!” when challenged by Tobago West MP Delmon Baker over the details of legislation to introduce proportional representation in local government. The Diego Martin West MP described the proposal to have four aldermen chosen based on the proportion of votes cast for councillors as undemocratic, stating the four aldermen would be un-elected.
These remarks drew the ire of Baker who protested that under the current system no one votes for the aldermen at all: they are hand-picked by the victorious party. In an exchange of cross-talk Rowley said the proposal would, “increase the ration of elected to unelected members on the corporations”.
This provoked protests from Baker, whose cross-talk was inaudible but who appeared to animatedly object to Rowley’s statements. So much so that Rowley turned to Deputy Speaker Nela Khan saying, “Madam Deputy Speaker, could you control the member for Tobago West so he could listen and learn something?”
The Deputy Speaker did not respond to Rowley’s appeal. Rowley continued to speak but was soon interrupted by more remarks from Baker, who could this time be heard saying, “he does not understand!” At this point, Rowley let out a loud “steups” and exclaimed, “I give up!”
After the exchange, Baker told Newsday, “I was saying during that cross-talk that what he was in fact saying was wrong because the opposite is true. The truth is that currently the aldermen are not elected and this proposal would see them elected on the basis of the proportional system.”
During his contribution, Rowley also said the Municipal Corporations (Amendment) Bill 2013 was an attempt to undermine the incoming executives at local government bodies before the elections take place through the obtaining of one alderman post. He told the Government to pass the bill.
“We know you have the votes to pass it so pass it and go make this earth-shattering change of adding an alderman to the Port-of-Spain Corporation,” Rowley said. (In fact the Port-of-Spain Corporation already has four aldermen, meaning the bill’s proposal to make all corporations have four aldermen will not increase the number of aldermen in Port-of-Spain.)
Rowley acknowledged that under the proposals the winning party would likely be allocated two of the four aldermen and possibly even the third. He said the minority voice stood to get one out of the four. However, he knocked the proposal as undemocratic. He did not refer to the legislation in detail.
Rowley also alleged the system would open the door to a minister using care-taker powers to take over the corporation, but he did not set out how this claim arose from the details of the actual legislative proposal.
Rowley also seemed to suggest a softening of the PNM’s stance on proportional representation as a principle saying the Opposition might have been open to dialogue on it.
“Both systems have their pros and cons,” Rowley said of first-past-the-post and proportional representation.
“The PNM has no problem with engaging in a debate of this nature on proportional representation.” That stance seemed different from the stance of the PNM in a press release last week and decades ago.
Rowley alluded to former Prime Minister Eric Williams’s famous 1974 statement that proportional representation would be a “dagger to the heart of the PNM” but said the real “dagger” here would be the one minority alderman who would attack the majority of the corporation. Rowley said Williams set out the PNM’s position on proportional representation on page 149 of his collection of speeches, Forged From the Love of Liberty but did not state what that position was.
Checks yesterday revealed that in a long, garrulous speech starting on that page of the book, Williams basically rejected the idea of proportional representation as an attempt “to reduce the present majorities in Trinidad and Tobago” — dismissing the views of Indian lobby groups that had called on him to implement it in 1962.