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Chamber says not enough time for Runoff Bill

By JULIEN NEAVES Wednesday, September 3 2014

click on pic to zoom in
PICTURE, PICTURE: TV6 chief cameraman, Mike Gonzales, gives some pointers to secondary school student, Mickhela Blackman, at yesterday's graduation ce...
PICTURE, PICTURE: TV6 chief cameraman, Mike Gonzales, gives some pointers to secondary school student, Mickhela Blackman, at yesterday's graduation ce...

CHAMBER of Industry and Commerce CEO, Catherine Kumar, says Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar should have allowed more time for consultation on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill.

“I certainly believe that if she had in fact allowed for greater time for consultation that we probably would have gotten something better out of the whole bill,” she said.

She also commented on the Constituency Development Fund saying that the process must be transparent as otherwise it could be an avenue for corruption.

The Constitution (Amendment) Bill, which has sparked a series of protests by members of civil society, was passed in the Senate with amendments last Thursday night. It is due to return to the House of Representatives for final approval before being sent to President’s House for assent following which it has to be proclaimed by the President, acting in accordance with the advice of Cabinet.

The bill features three provisions: a two-term limit for Prime Ministers; right of recall of MPs and a second or runoff ballot if a candidate does not get more than 50 percent of the vote. The runoff provision caused the most controversy and opposition, with some feeling that it would kill off third parties. It was amended in the Senate so that in the case where a strong third party misses the second place berth by just five points, then that third party will be able to enter the runoff, forming a triangulaire contest. The winner of this second poll will be first-past-the-post.

Kumar commented on the bill while speaking with the media following the Chamber’s Nova Committee JumpStart Programme Graduation Ceremony held yesterday at the Chamber’s offices in Westmoorings.

She said the Chamber believes that constitutional reform is necessary and a change is good for the country, with first-past-the-post totally in operation since Independence. She pointed out that the Chamber supports the two-term limit and the call for the recall of MPs if they are not performing, but its concern was “and still is, even though it has been passed in the Upper House and has to go back (to the Lower House), the process by which this was done”.

She said the Constitution Reform Commission report, which the Government has stated inspired the legislation, has been out since December but did not have anything on the runoff in it.

“And given that it was basically...about two weeks before it actually came to the Lower House we do not think that that time was sufficient. The PM said she listened and she provided an additional two weeks before it was debated in the Senate. It certainly was not sufficient time to allow the cross section of debate that we would have liked to have seen on it,” she said.

She said that a compromise was reached in the Senate, but questioned whether it was the best compromise or whether it was to get the bill passed and to have a resolution. She said the resolution which allows the third party to remain “will go against the whole objective of having the second round which is to ensure you have a majority Government. So in the second round you may end up with the same parties getting the votes as they did in the first round and you still won’t have a majority government.”

On the Constituency Development Fund, which Persad-Bissessar announced would be reintroduced in the 2014/2015 Budget, Kumar said the Chamber has not taken a particular stand, but she believes it is “not a bad idea.” She said that she understands the need for it as MPs do not necessarily have the funds to spend on their constituencies, but have to rely on ministries such as Works and Finance to provide allocations.

“And if you’re going to have a position of recall when (an MP doesn’t) have money to spend maybe (they) wanted to (but) they just didn’t have the opportunity,” she commented.

She noted that the Chamber’s main concern is that the process is transparent as it could be a possible avenue for corruption. She said if there are proper controls in place and there is procurement legislation so “as a citizen we can feel comfortable in wherever government spends money, whether it is in the constituency fund or otherwise that there is a level of accountability.”

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