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Independent Vieira urges Govt to withdraw Bill

By Sasha Harrinanan Friday, August 29 2014

click on pic to zoom in
SENATOR VIEIRA: Independent Senator Anthony Vieira speaking yesterday in the Senate on the Constitution Bill....
SENATOR VIEIRA: Independent Senator Anthony Vieira speaking yesterday in the Senate on the Constitution Bill....

“I cannot, whether from a philosophical point of view, or in all good conscience, support” the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014, Independent Senator, Anthony Vieira, yesterday declared during his contribution to day three of the Senate debate on the controversial piece of legislation.

“Even if I was already in agreement with all counts of the Bill, I would still urge the Government to withdraw it,” Vieira added, telling Parliament he was “inclined to believe that the runoff system will exclude minority interests, and may lead to a fragmentation of our political party systems.”

“I am inclined to believe that it will not solve voters’ rights problems, and...will not provide for fair and accurate representation of all parties or offer fair representation for all.”

Vieira also noted that what troubled him the most “in the entire Bill, pertains to the fact that no grounds are needed for the application to be made.”

“My understanding of the provision, as it is worded, is that once the numbers are there, the petition for recall must be initiated, and to my mind, such a provision may be open to abuse.”

Saying the proposed Right of Recall appears democratic, the Independent Senator warned that the wording of the Bill “assumes (MPs) will only be recalled for just and good cause. I can’t help but wonder what the knock-on effect is likely to be, however, if a minister can be removed merely on the basis of numbers.”

Vieira warned of possible litigation if the Bill was passed as-is, citing the example of Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada where the recall provision is being challenged as “ultra virus the Constitution of British Colombia on the grounds, among others, that it introduces political institutions foreign to, and incompatible with, the Canadian system of democracy.”

The Independent Senator pointed out that one of the grounds advanced in the Vancouver litigation is that the recall provisions are contrary to Section 33 of their Constitution Act, which limits the grounds for which a member shall forfeit his/her seat to situations where the member shall become bankrupt or an insolvent debtor or a public defaulter or be attained of treason or be convicted of felony or any infamous crime.

Vieira noted that here in Trinidad and Tobago, there are similar grounds for removal of an MP.

“Accordingly, one must be concerned whether this provision (Right of Recall) has the propensity to undermine the principle of electing good MPs and giving them a chance to govern until the next election.”

“Or whether it might lead to abuses by well-organised special interest groups. One has to question whether, on balance, the recall provisions will really make MPs accountable to their constituents or whether we will, in effect, be ‘emasculating’ them.”

The runoff proposal was also of serious concern to Vieira, who cautioned about the likelihood of the 15-day hiatus leading up to the conduct of the supplementary poll providing an opportunity for manipulation, financial inducement and corruption.

He also asked how the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) would handle the logistical challenge of conducting multiple runoffs in a 15-day period.

“By my calculation, in the 2007 (General) Election there would have been 14 runoffs. Can you imagine the logistics involved if the EBC has to conduct 14 runoffs next year? The demand on schools which serve as polling stations, students would lose two days at least... employees have to apply for time off... the EBC will have to rent and set up booths and equipment.”

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