By Andre Bagoo Monday, September 1 2014
PRESIDENT Anthony Carmona yesterday said Constitution reform is to be expected as “change is the only constant” but said the process of reform must be “transparent, well-informed, inclusive, tolerant and driven by critical analysis” and there was no room for “bull-headed partisanship”.
The President deviated from normal practise of issuing an Independence Day speech one day in advance, in favour of making his broad remarks at the annual Toast to the Nation, hosted by the Combined Officers of the Defence Force, at the western section of the National Academy for the Performing Art, in Port-of-Spain, at about 11.45 am.
This was one of several events traditionally held after the Independence Day Parade earlier in the day at the Queen’s Park Savannah. They include functions hosted by the Acting Commissioner of Police at the Police Administrative Building, on Edward Street, and by the Fire Chief at Fire Headquarters on Wrighston Road, Port-of-Spain.
Persons who would normally be in attendance at the event include: the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice, Members of Parliament and senior officers of the protective services and Ministry of National Security.
On the issue of Constitution reform, Carmona said, “As a relatively young Independent nation, we will experience growing pains. There will be lessons to learn. Our recent forays into constitutional reform are to be expected.”
He called for an atmosphere of transparency in relation to reform, but also appeared to criticise partisan interests on the issue.
“These attempts to refresh the foundation of our nationhood must however be conducted in an atmosphere that is transparent, well-informed, inclusive, tolerant and driven by critical analysis,” Carmona said. “In this exercise there is no room for blasé statements and bull-headed partisanship. Change is the only constant and to turn one’s back and pretend that it is not coming is an exercise in futility.”
The President said his role in the process was influenced by “constitutional restraints and neutrality.”
“Actively engaging in the discourse and discussion is the right of every citizen and the responsibility of every elected and appointed representative,” Carmona said. “It is not lost on the Office of The President the role that the Head of State must play in constitutional reform concomitant with constitutional restraints and neutrality. The national community would do well to remember that the current Head of State is not a former politician but a former Judge who seeks counsel.”
The President’s remarks came days after the Senate passed the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014. The legislation was passed in the Senate with amendments and therefore is due to return to the House of Representatives for final approval before being sent to President’s House for assent. Even after assent, the legislation has to be proclaimed by the President, acting in accordance with the advice of Cabinet. But none of this is due to take place at least until after the conclusion of the Budget process which starts on September 8 and could well stretch into the final weeks of that month.
The President was silent on the specific question of assent of bills.
Carmona yesterday noted he had deviated from tradition in not releasing an address to the nation and choosing, instead, to deliver his remarks at the Toast to the Nation.
“It is traditional for the Office of The President to release a message to commemorate Independence the day before,” Carmona said, according to notes of his speech released by the Office of the President. “But this year I felt the need to change that dynamic and what better way to do so than to address the nation at the toast to celebrate our 52nd birthday.”
Carmona also commented on the structure of the nation’s economy, particularly the issue of productivity.
“Let us be brutally frank on the issue of the national largesse and patrimony,” the President said. “Our dependency levels on the public purse in all sectors of our society are unparalleled. In this almost institutionalised age of entitlement in our history where dependency is the jockey riding the economy, where productivity levels continue to wane and we lose our competitive edge as reflected in our low placing on the world competitiveness index, we must as a nation take stock and become a wise custodian of our national purse.”
Carmona said the dependence on oil and natural gas must change.
“As much as with increased exploration new gas reserves can be found, what must be obvious to all is that our oil and gas reserves are not renewable and they are diminishing, and to protect the generations to come, we must engage in nothing short of a radical shift in the diversification of the economy,” the President said. This comment follows last week’s Ryder Scott report that gas reserves had declined by seven percent.
“The proverbial horse has not yet bolted. We have done well financially but we cannot, and must not sit on our laurels. Our traditional oil and gas philosophy does not have conservation as a crucial component and we can ill afford to continue to spend billions of dollars which are not reflected in the improved human capital of our country,” Carmona said.
The President contrasted petrochemical revenues with levels of crime and unemployment, though he did not give figures.
“We continue to challenge established sociological doctrine which establishes links between poverty and crime, unemployment and a low GDP,” Carmona said. “We have low unemployment and one of the highest GDPs in our region, yet still we have poverty, crime and lifestyle diseases rampant in our communities.” He further stated, “I am convinced that we can turn this around because our greatest resource is not oil and gas but remains our human resource.”
The President also issued a call for unity.
“Let us put aside our petty differences and work together on the road to becoming true patriots in deed and action, and not just in name,” Carmona said. “Happy Birthday Trinidad and Tobago. Happy Independence to all.”
See full speech on page 15A