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By Andre Bagoo Thursday, August 28 2014
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Strong point: Independent Senator Ian Roach makes a strong argument on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill during debate in the Senate yesterday....
THE GOVERNMENT should follow the example of former Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, and call an early general election to renew its mandate, Independent Senator, Ian Roach, said yesterday as he signaled his unwillingness to support the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill 2014 on the basis of “improper process.”
Speaking in the Senate, Roach said, “After losing four consecutive elections in recent times and following scandal after scandal, the moral thing to do is for this government to return to the electorate for a fresh mandate just like Prime Minister Manning did on two occasions.”
Roach, an attorney who served as legal counsel to the Commission of Inquiry into Udecott appointed by the Manning Cabinet in 2008, continued, “How can you expect the public to trust a government who behaves like this? Who did not consult the public with this runoff clause and yet who seek to make it the law. I say enough is enough. The people of Trinidad and Tobago deserve to be treated with respect and have a say with what is significant tampering with the Constitution. The public is owed a duty to be consulted by the government. I urge the government to do the right thing and withdraw this bill and if it is genuine consult with the public.” Roach said, “My duty to the people of this country dictates that I withhold support of this bill.” He said the public had expressed, “distress, unease and anxiety.”
“This is not the correct way to do this thing,” the Independent said.
The lawyer argued that while legal opinions obtained by Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan, found that only a simple majority was needed to effect changes to certain parts of the Constitution, this was yet to be tested in court. “If we are going to tamper with the Constitution, arguably it cannot be done by a simple majority,” the Independent said. “Until they are tested in court, they remain opinions.” Roach made no mention of the case of McLeod v. Attorney General where the Privy Council ruled that only a simple majority is needed to change certain portions of the Constitution.
Roach said he was of the view that he did not need to get into the substantive merits of the proposals.
“I will not spend much time debating the possible merits or demerits,” he said. However, he said the proposed runoff, “does not necessarily lead to full participation.” He did not elaborate on this point. He further stated, “Most people have no problem with the first two ideas but most people have problems with the runoff. I believe in this instance, without engaging in the technical aspects of the runoff, the process is wrong.”
At the same time, Roach called for more extensive Constitution reform, stating while a special majority might be needed and while the PNM was unlikely to give it, the government should bring the measures and let the population deal with the PNM.
“Whether the PNM has stated they will not vote for it, bring it here and let the PNM do what they want to do,” Roach said. “The electorate will deal with them.”
Roach added, “I am prepared to support the government when they are prepared to bring a comprehensive reform package and until such time I am not prepared as I feel that my role is not to support this bill. I am not casting aspersions on the government, but it is not a proper and fair process to bring this before us.” He did not elaborate. On prime ministerial term limits, Roach said, “I am neither here nor there with fixing a fixed term to the Prime Minister.” He expressed the view that currently the terms are self-regulated.
“Whether the prime minister has three short terms, it is almost self-regulated,” he said.
The Independent said the recall provision would create opportunity for mischief because no criteria for triggering the recall was spelt out aside from the actual ten percent threshold and the requirement of two initial actors.
“This is creating a lot of opportunity for mischief,” he said. He said the population was intelligent.
“We have a very highly educated people in Trinidad and Tobago because of GATE and so on,” he said. “Let’s not fool the people. We are here to educate the people.” He said he agreed that representatives ought not to be unimpeachable.
“I ought not to have security as a senator,” he said, noting that it is within the President’s discretion to revoke his appointment.