Articles on this Page
- 04/04/15--21:01: _Failed Elites And B...
- 04/11/15--19:22: _CUT AND PASTE INSTI...
- 04/19/15--02:01: _THE CCJ CHALLENGE
- 04/25/15--22:01: _UNC’s 26th anniversary
- 05/02/15--23:09: _DEBATING THE CCJ
- 05/09/15--20:56: _DEBATES AND POLITIC...
- 05/16/15--21:50: _SUSPENDING MPs
- 05/23/15--20:56: _CASE COMPROMISED
- 05/30/15--22:10: _POLITICAL TIMELINES
- 06/06/15--21:45: _DEBATING THE DEBATES
- 06/13/15--23:23: _DISSOLVING PARLIAMENT
- 06/21/15--04:22: _Cabinet powers
- 06/28/15--02:34: _PRESIDENTIAL CONSUL...
- 07/05/15--02:43: _FIXING INTEGRITY
- 07/11/15--23:01: _A THIRD FORCE
- 07/18/15--22:38: _FORCED OUT
- 07/25/15--22:03: _THE OTHER DEBATE
- 08/01/15--22:49: _THE LEADERSHIP EXCH...
- 08/08/15--21:45: _THE OTHER FORCE
- 08/15/15--22:39: _DEBATING NEUTRALITY...
- 04/04/15--21:01: Failed Elites And Broken Institutions
- 04/11/15--19:22: CUT AND PASTE INSTITUTIONS
- 04/19/15--02:01: THE CCJ CHALLENGE
- 04/25/15--22:01: UNC’s 26th anniversary
- 05/02/15--23:09: DEBATING THE CCJ
- 05/09/15--20:56: DEBATES AND POLITICS ...Come better than that
- 05/16/15--21:50: SUSPENDING MPs
- 05/23/15--20:56: CASE COMPROMISED
- 05/30/15--22:10: POLITICAL TIMELINES
- 06/06/15--21:45: DEBATING THE DEBATES
- 06/13/15--23:23: DISSOLVING PARLIAMENT
- 06/21/15--04:22: Cabinet powers
- 06/28/15--02:34: PRESIDENTIAL CONSULTATION
- 07/05/15--02:43: FIXING INTEGRITY
- 07/11/15--23:01: A THIRD FORCE
- 07/18/15--22:38: FORCED OUT
- 07/25/15--22:03: THE OTHER DEBATE
- 08/01/15--22:49: THE LEADERSHIP EXCHANGE
- 08/08/15--21:45: THE OTHER FORCE
- 08/15/15--22:39: DEBATING NEUTRALITY AND TRUST
On March 20 last, Dr Terrence Farrell delivered an address to the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute in which he blamed our woes of corruption on failed elites and broken institutions. While much of the address seemed to engage in some finger pointing and an element of self-confession, he still seemed to miss the mark on the real source of our problems as a society.
As a multi-cultural, multi-religious society, one must be able to understand that the establishment of the independent state in 1962 brought with it the domination of a particular world view that was founded upon Western Christian values. Any other value system was deemed to be inferior and the problems were not about race, but rather about class.
The society of the 1960s and 1970s was one in which political patronage and political support had considerable overlaps. Those who opposed the regime of the day were locked out of a system that did not qualify to be called democratic until 1991, when the PNM returned to power after losing in 1986.
The political scientist Samuel Huntington has offered the discipline of political science “the two turnover rule” as a means of measuring whether or not developing societies have become functioning democracies or not. Our challenges really started in the 1990s when a different political value system was unleashed through a properly functioning two-party system in which one party was no longer dominant.
The viciousness of the political contest ever since we arrived at democratic status in the 1990s has turned both race and class into high-powered engines of our democracy. Engaging political change that would bring with it rural value systems that were not consonant with those of the urban elites provided a fundamental societal challenge that threatened to open the doors of power and polite society to persons whose background and upbringing did not match those who were accustomed to being dominant.
The Express newspaper had a famous headline that cursed the NAR government of ANR Robinson for what they called The Indianisation of the Government. Many viewed it as a racial attack instead of realising that it was coded class warfare that was about to be unleashed through the challenging of opportunities for persons who lived outside of the protected urban elite network. Rectifying an imbalance to bring equality created a scare.
The split in the NAR administration opened the door to the formation of a genuine two-party system that had its own urban-rural dichotomy, but the pendulum now swings on the basis of a cadre of independent voters who no longer buy into one value system over another. That is a clear and present danger to the domination of the urban elites whose social class networks are no longer as dominant as they once were.
This debate has gone way beyond the issue of “failed institutions” and “failed elites.” This has to do with an appreciation of our diversity and the need to genuinely recognise and accept that diversity instead of trying to assert the hegemonic dominance of one group in society over all others. The establishment of the independent state of T&T came out of the failure of the federation to survive the vote in favour of secession by Jamaica.
If there are broken institutions today it is not because they emerged out of any process of evolution, but rather because they were installed at independence on a “cut and paste” basis from constitutions drafted by the colonial authorities for former colonies in other parts of the British Empire. Our constitution came through negotiations among political elites and never rose from any united struggle of our people.
The PNM-UNC battles of the last two decades have been analysed as race and tribal wars by many. They clearly have misunderstood the evolving voting behaviour statistics for 1981, 1986, 1991, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007 and 2010 that debunk race and tribal theory. People’s voting behaviour does not mean that they are racist. That does not explain Tobago and ANR Robinson, the ONR and 1981, the NAR of 1986, the UNC of 1995 and 2000, the COP of 2007 and the PP of 2010.
Our problems exist today because our urban elites are unable to tolerate the presence of rural political elites in their midst offering different policy prescriptions that do not suit their value systems. A good example of this is the unrelenting struggle by urban elites and their allies to prevent the Debe to Mon Desir section of the Point Fortin highway being built, likewise the unfortunate remarks that have been made about the building of a UWI campus in Debe.
Our traditional urban elites are really in the fight of their lives as the society continues to change. Blaming broken institutions that have no historical connection to the people for corruption and the failures of social elites misses the mark as it distracts from the reality that those elites are in the midst of redefining how to maintain their dominance in the face of the political rise of value systems that are alien to them.
Last week I dealt with the issue of failed elites and broken institutions as a response to Dr Terrence Farrell’s recent address to the T&T Transparency Institute.
In challenging Farrell, I pointed out that our core institutional base was founded on nothing more than “cut and paste” as it was largely copied from elsewhere. In other words, there is no organic connection between our population and our institutions that were cobbled together at independence. Their survival today in the broken format that Farrell spoke about is less a function of failed elites than a flawed foundation that was elite driven.
The institutional formula can be traced to a public meeting on July 19, 1955, in Woodford Square, Port-of-Spain, held under the auspices of the Teachers’ Educational and Cultural Association where Dr Eric Williams said: “The Colonial Office does not need to examine its second-hand colonial constitutions. It has a constitution at hand which it can apply immediately to Trinidad and Tobago. That is the British Constitution. Ladies and Gentlemen, I suggest to you that the time has come when the British Constitution, suitably modified, can be applied to Trinidad and Tobago. After all, if the British Constitution is good enough for Great Britain, it should be good enough for Trinidad and Tobago.” (Eric Williams, Constitution Reform in Trinidad and Tobago, Public Affairs Pamphlet No 2, Teachers’ Educational and Cultural Association, Trinidad, 1955, p.30)
The core philosophy of Eric Williams on constitutional matters for T&T was founded on his deep admiration for the British system of government.
The Constitutional adviser to the Cabinet, Sir Ellis Clarke, was also of a similar view when drafting our independence constitution.
There is now declassified Colonial Office confirmation of where the ideas for some of our key institutions came from.
In a folio entry dated March 2, 1962, for Mr J A Peck, assistant legal adviser at the Colonial Office in the now-declassified Colonial Office file CO1031/3226 from Mr J E Whitelegg at the West Indian Department, the following is noted:
“Mr Peck, Mr Ellis Clarke telephoned me that the sources of the draft Trinidad Constitution are as follows:
Citizenship—Sierra Leone with the proviso to Article 1(1) omitted and an entirely new Article 2(1).
Human Rights—Sierra Leone except the Property Article.
Governor General—Sierra Leone
Parliament—present Trinidad provisions modified.
Appeals to H M in Council—new form.
Judicial and Legal Service Commission—based on Sierra Leone.
Finance—common form provisions with modifications.
Public Service Commission—new form.
Police Service Commission—largely new form but Nigeria provided the basis.
Pension and miscellaneous provisions—common form modified.”
This folio entry provides us with all the proof we need about where our institutions came from. They were largely “cut and paste” creations borrowed from elsewhere or modified. The draft constitution for public comment had just been published in T&T on February 19, 1962, and Ellis Clarke was at the time of this folio entry on a visit to London.
The only originality in the document appears to have arisen in the sections on the Judicature, Appeals to Her Majesty in Council and the Public Service Commission.
In 1976 when we became a republic, Williams refused to budge on the idea of abolishing appeals to the Privy Council.
In providing the insight into the creation of the tenure of office for judges at independence, Ellis Clarke outlined the following in a secret and confidential explanatory memorandum on the draft independence constitution for T&T dated April 16, 1962:
“Perhaps the most important single feature which goes to ensure the independence of the judiciary and the attraction to the judiciary of the right type of judge is the security of tenure afforded to judges. For that reason no attempt has been made in the draft constitution to be original. A formula, carefully devised by the Colonial Office after many years as being the most likely to be effective and acceptable and yet not to derogate from the principles of independence, has been adopted. It is word for word the formula that the Colonial Office was able to persuade Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Tanganyika to accept. There can be little doubt that it is what they would wish Trinidad and Tobago to accept.” (CO 1031 / 3226, Explanatory Memorandum by the Constitutional Adviser to the Cabinet on the Draft Independence Constitution for Trinidad and Tobago, April 16, 1962, p. 10)
This was written eleven days before the Queen’s Hall Conference was held. Ellis Clarke, like Eric Williams, was confident that the population would accept what the Colonial Office, he presumed, would want us to accept.
The most significant change coming out of the Queen’s Hall Conference was the change in our Bill of Rights from the European Convention model to the Canadian Bill of Rights model at the urging of the then president of the Bar Association, Hugh Wooding.
The DLP Opposition had already walked out of the Queen’s Hall Conference and the urban elites got their way. Now Farrell says that they have failed.
Last Thursday, the Caribbean Court of Justice marked its tenth anniversary with an intellectually stimulating ceremony at its headquarters in Port-of-Spain. There are now four Caricom countries that have adopted its appellate jurisdiction (Barbados, Guyana, Belize and Dominica), while all Caricom countries make use of its original jurisdiction under the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
The CCJ has used a narrative of seeking to “complete the cycle of our independence” in order to make its case to the public. As I have said before, the court ought to dispense with that narrative because it is faulty and fraught with intellectual contradictions.
Those contradictions are to be found on the Web site of the CCJ itself in respect of its descriptions for its former Chief Justice, Michael de la Bastide, as follows:
“Mr Justice de la Bastide demitted office as Chief Justice on July 18, 2002. He was sworn in as a member of the Privy Council by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on July 27, 2004 and as President of the Caribbean Court of Justice on August 18, 2004.”
The CCJ Web site says the following about its current Chief Justice, Sir Dennis Byron: “In 2000 Mr Justice Byron was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and he was appointed a member of the Privy Council in 2004.”
This is an intellectual contradiction that only arises when the argument about completing the cycle of our independence is made. It would be far better for the court to replace that narrative with a discourse about its modernity, its accessibility and its relevance to our region.
Knighthoods and membership of Her Majesty’s Privy Council are deeply-desired accolades among West Indian political and judicial elites. They are never surrendered because they define, in many respects, who we are as a people. They have been woven into the fabric of those countries that still have monarchical status.
The real completion of the cycle of our independence is the adoption of republican status moreso than the adoption of the CCJ. Three republics in the region no longer recognise Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as their Queen, namely Guyana, Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago.
In general, most regional public officials continue to swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors. When a change is made to that, then we can talk about completing the cycle of our independence.
Managing our own judicial affairs and retaining allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II in a personal capacity does not complete the cycle of independence. That is the case in Belize and Barbados. Guyana and Dominica are the only countries that have completed that cycle by becoming republics first and adopting the CCJ after.
Trinidad and Tobago completed the most important part of its independence in 1976 by becoming a republic. However, Dr Eric Williams refused to budge on the issue of the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council when the republican constitution was approved.
There are those who argue that the reluctance to advance to the CCJ in this country is based on a lack of self-confidence. I disagree with the self-confidence argument. The real issue is one of political trust.
In this country, there was an attempt by the PNM administration in 2006 to remove the Chief Justice. Prime Minister Patrick Manning commenced constitutional proceedings to remove Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma from office.
Concurrently, the then Chief Magistrate Sherman Mc Nicholls also facilitated criminal charges against the Chief Justice and indeed, an attempt was made by the State to arrest Chief Justice Sharma at his home.
Those were very dark days for the judiciary and the judicial process and the political wounds still remain to this day. The fact that when the time came to follow through with the requisite action in the Magistrates’ Court, Mc Nicholls suddenly decided that he had nothing to say and gave no evidence. The political damage had already been done.
What was worse was the fact that when Attorney General John Jeremie should have gone before the Lord Mustill Commission to give evidence against the Chief Justice, he too found a convenient way not to appear before it.
The general public has not forgotten that it was a Privy Council judge who held that Chief Justice Sharma had no case to answer. Sharma’s judicial career was ruined in the last few years before his retirement.
A few years before that, there was another controversy between the then Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and then Chief Justice Michael de la Bastide over the issue of the accountability of the judiciary and a Commission of Inquiry into the Judiciary under Lord Mackay was established.
The wounds from all of those judicial/political battles have undermined trust in the conversion from the Privy Council to the CCJ.
The best way to address the change itself is to have citizen participation in a referendum where the issues can be put squarely before the population, rather than being imposed from above by judicial and political elites who are embracing a faulty argument about completing the cycle of independence when that is not the real issue.
As the UNC celebrates its 26th anniversary this week, one of the realities for the discipline of political science that must be faced is that the advent of serious two-party politics in this country only emerged in the 1990s after the formation of the UNC.
The emergence of the NAR as a vehicle for the removal of the PNM from office for the first time in 30 unbroken years of power in 1986 was a game changer in local politics. For the first time, the PNM had a serious political challenge that had the capacity to remove it from power.
It was the schism within the NAR between ANR Robinson and Basdeo Panday that opened the door to the formation of CLUB 88 on October 16, 1988, at the Aranguez Savannah. After that, the UNC was formed on April 30, 1989, and popular support for the NAR dwindled after that.
The first political leader of the UNC, Basdeo Panday, made his initial foray into electoral politics as a candidate for the Workers and Farmers Party (WFP) that had been formed by CLR James in time for the 1966 general election. James was a former academic colleague of Eric Williams at Oxford and was later involved with the PNM as the editor of the Nation, the party’s newspaper.
The search for labour unity between the unions in oil and sugar was a cause célèbre for James. Writing in his autobiography, Inward Hunger: The Education of a Prime Minister, Eric Williams had this to say about James and the struggle to unite oil and sugar unions at page 311: “My outstanding responsibility in Parliament in the second five-year period was the Industrial Stabilisation Act. This was introduced on March 18th, 1965, in a situation in which we had had to declare a state of emergency in the sugar areas. The subversive elements in the society, with James in the forefront, were at work, the background was an open attempt to link the trade unions in oil and sugar.”
Uniting the unions in oil and sugar had first been achieved by Adrian Cola Rienzi in the 1930s when he became the first president general of both the OWTU and All Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factory Workers Trade Union. That feat has never been repeated by any labour leader since that time, and Rienzi was only recognised for his contribution by the State in 2012, for the 50th anniversary of independence, when he was awarded the ORTT, the highest national award, posthumously.
Panday adopted James’ philosophy of uniting the unions in oil and sugar after he became President General of the All Trinidad union and their headquarters was named the Rienzi Complex. After the formation of the United Labour Front (ULF), its headquarters was based at the Rienzi Complex in Couva. That venue has continued to be the headquarters of the UNC ever since its formation in 1989.
In 1990, the UNC replaced the PNM as the official Opposition in Parliament and in 1991, the party won 13 seats in the general election. By 1995, the party formed the Government in a post-election coalition together with the NAR in a hung Parliament that was divided 17-17-2 between the PNM, UNC and NAR respectively. The coalition with the NAR ended in 2000 and the first party to introduce direct elections for positions on its executive was the UNC in 2001.
Those first internal elections led to divisions within the party and it fell from government shortly after when there was a schism between Panday and Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj. Internal elections were delayed until 2005 and Panday became party chairman while surrendering the leadership to Winston Dookeran who would resign in 2006 and form the COP.
Internal elections were delayed again until 2010 and Kamla Persad-Bissessar would become the leader defeating both Panday and Maharaj.
The inability of the UNC and the COP to form a coalition in the 2007 general election provided an opening for the PNM to win a majority of seats with a minority of votes as the UNC and the COP split each other’s votes.
The creation of a different kind of coalition arrangement for the 2010 general election was concluded in great haste as prime minister Manning called a snap general election for May 24, 2010, that did not work out in his favour.
The coalition between five political parties, namely the UNC, COP, TOP, NJAC and MSJ, created a new philosophy of government by oversized coalition in a situation where the UNC won 21 of the 41 seats and entered government as the dominant entity with its coalition partners.
One of Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s major contributions to the politics of the country has been the sustenance of coalition politics and power sharing. This is further reflected in her attempt to amend the UNC’s constitution to engage in a formalisation of the coalition method within the UNC.
As the UNC celebrates another anniversary, its emergence out of a philosophy of labour unity in the ULF under Panday has led it to a philosophy of wider coalition politics today under Persad-Bissessar.
“The issue of acceding to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ should be the subject of a national referendum.”
This was the specific recommendation of the Constitution Reform Commission in its December 2013 report at page 44.
In his column last week, my colleague columnist Douglas Mendes sought to engage me in a debate about my views on the CCJ as expressed in my column the week before.
In his second to last paragraph, Mendes had this to say:
“Finally, I am puzzled by Dr Ghany’s concluding suggestion that the way to deal with the issue is to call a referendum. The Ramadhar Constitution Commission did not think a referendum was necessary to amend the Constitution to change the way our representatives are elected.”
It is obvious that Mendes missed the specific recommendation of the commission in respect of the CCJ that is cited above. This is further reinforced by the views of prominent individuals who held a forum at Gaston Court, in Chaguanas, last Sunday on the issue of the abolition of the Privy Council.
Former prime ministers Basdeo Panday (T&T) and Sir James Mitchell (St Vincent and the Grenadines) and former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj all formed the view that there should be no change from the Privy Council to the CCJ without a referendum.
This is the only way that the CCJ will become grounded in the political reality of T&T because it will have to earn its political acceptance in a manner that will convey upon it a degree of political legitimacy that will serve as its armour in an environment that is clearly divisive on the issue.
Mendes misunderstood my argument about political trust when I raised the matter of the political attempt to remove former chief justice Sharma. His misunderstanding is captured thus:
“I presume that he means that there is the fear that our politicians will attempt to bring undue pressure on the CCJ, something to which the Privy Council is naturally immune.”
I was not making the argument of political trust on those grounds. What I am talking about is the public perception of local and regional justice as opposed to foreign justice and that it was a Privy Council judge, Lord Mustill, who concluded that there was insufficient evidence to proceed against Sharma. The failure of Sherman Mc Nicholls to testify against Sharma in the criminal matter is a scandal of its own that damaged public trust severely.
It is unfortunate that the local and regional examples of trusting the system of justice where there is political conflict is not a good one. Sir James Mitchell had his own personal story to tell. The Maha Sabha’s difficulties with the State in getting a radio licence and how they got justice from the Privy Council is another story. There would have been no Equal Opportunity Commission today were it not for the Privy Council. The voters in St Kitts-Nevis would have had an uncertain electoral outcome were it not for the Privy Council.
In political matters, there appears to be a greater public trust that one might get “justice” overseas more reliably than you may get it locally. Unfortunately, that is how our societies in the West Indies have evolved and that is the perception issue that needs to be addressed.
The current local “delay” in getting resolution to the allegations of murder and espionage that were made against Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar by Leader of the Opposition, Keith Rowley based on e-mails he read in Parliament in May, 2013, is falling into this domain.
Were it not for the Supreme Court of California and the sworn affidavits of Google Inc that the 31 e-mails that were read out never existed, one wonders what the state of play might have been. People form opinions about trusting foreign justice and they transmit such opinions into the arena of the CCJ whether justified or not. Somehow that is a blind spot for advocates of the CCJ as the final court of appeal.
Simply making a faulty intellectual argument about “completing the cycle of our independence” and expecting people to buy that invites failure.
What makes the “completing the cycle of our independence” argument a faulty one is the fact that there is now a convention that the Chief Justice of the CCJ must become a member of Her Majesty’s Privy Council as seen in the accession of chief justices de la Bastide and Byron to that body.
We are being asked to give up the Privy Council. But our CCJ chief justices are joining the Privy Council and carrying the title “Right Honourable.” This undermines the case for the conversion from the inside. Do not ask West Indian people to buy the case for the CCJ when the link is being kept. The desire to acquire these titles among West Indian judicial and political elites as well as for earning British knighthoods challenges the argument of “completing the cycle of our independence.”
A referendum should not be feared unless the elites are unwilling to trust the people.
The Debates Commission announced last week that it was looking forward to planning a Leaders’ Debate between Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley. This has created some controversy as the political leader of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP), Jack Warner, has queried why he is being left out.
This led to the Debates Commission revealing its criteria for inclusion in the leadership debates. These criteria are that a “party/alliance must demonstrate the potential to form the next government by nominating candidates to at least 50 per cent of the seats (21 seats) to contest the election or have registered a showing of at least 12.5 per cent of decided voters in two nationally recognised, independent opinion polls.”
One is only left to wonder what formula would have been used by the Debates Commission to arrive at these criteria. Where did they get the figure of 12.5 per cent in an opinion poll from? Do they seriously think that a party/alliance with 12.5 per cent support among decided voters in two nationally recognised, independent opinion polls will convert itself into majority support to form a government ?
The Debates Commission has to come better than that. They must demonstrate a level of transparency in demonstrating the methodology that they used to decide on the figure of 12.5 per cent. Additionally, what criteria will they use to decide whether an opinion poll is “independent” or not?
A party/alliance that fields 21 of 41 candidates has a marginal chance of forming the Government, but where did they form the view that a party with 12.5 per cent of opinion poll support could form the Government? They need to do some explaining, especially since they are going to judge the independence of opinion polls.
The key to credibility in opinion polls is the methodology, the sample size, the margin of error, and the demographic data. If a polling organisation has been hired in the past to conduct work for political parties, will that disqualify them from being considered “independent”?
One would have thought that the Debates Commission would have wanted to consider the credibility and/or reputation of a pollster, more so than their independence. All opinion polls strive to be credible and that is where they derive their independence from.
A pollster who is deemed to be “independent” but has a faulty methodology could pass the Debates Commission test. That is not a very good situation and they should revise their terminology and their criteria.
The last time they held a debate, they bent their own rules to allow the MSJ to participate. Now they have come up with new rules that are keeping the ILP out of the fray. Will they once again bend their own rules to accommodate the ILP?
One of the dangers of trying to copy ideas from metropolitan societies is that the hand cannot fit into the glove. The culture of having debates is a good one, but in small societies it is difficult to find anyone who can be trusted by all sides to be an honest broker.
In the THA election debate in January 2013, there was controversy about one leader taking notes during the debate. These are teething problems that have to be worked out.
Perhaps the biggest issue that has to be appreciated is the fact that the Debates Commission cannot be viewed as the only game in town.
There could be other providers who could be considered having regard to the fact that the Debates Commission is a creature of the Chamber of Commerce and may not be policy neutral.
The dual CEO of the Chamber and the Debates Commission, Catherine Kumar, ought to be very careful about making remarks that could convey political preferences or positions. She went into a discourse about fixed dates for election last week. That kind of lobbying ought to be avoided because it can compromise the supposed policy neutrality of the commission.
Of course, when she spoke, one would have to presume that she was speaking on behalf of the commission and advocating a policy position for which the commission was lobbying. Given her dual roles, was this also a policy desire of the Chamber of Commerce?
This particular topic could be the subject of one of the questions in the debate. It is absolutely unwise for any Debates Commission to be publicly demonstrating a public policy preference on any issue.
The Debates Commission wants participants to trust them to organise a fair debate. They should not advocate policy positions. Do they really think that their trust levels will be high if they continue like this? Any moderator that they put forward will be viewed with even more suspicion than might have been the case before the lobbying for fixed election dates was announced.
Between the absence of policy neutrality and the new rules for participation, the Debates Commission is placing itself in a very difficult place to be viewed as a non-partisan debate presenter. That is separate and apart from the partisanship of one of their directors on Good Friday as an activist outside the Parliament.
As the suspension of the MP for Diego Martin West continues to attract attention, it is useful to examine the ways in which different MPs have been suspended over the years in the Parliament of T&T.
Essentially these methods of suspension may be collated into four categories which may be listed as follows:
• Suspension by the Speaker without a motion, a debate, or a vote
• Suspension by the Speaker after a report from the Privileges Committee
• Suspension by the Speaker after a motion, no debate, and a vote.
• Suspension by the Speaker after a motion, a debate, and a vote
The suspension of an MP by the Speaker without a motion, a debate, or a vote took place on Friday, July 28, 1995, when Speaker Occah Seapaul suspended the MP for Diego Martin Central, Kenneth Valley, after an incident that took place four days earlier.
According to the Hansard for July 28, 1995, Speaker Seapaul said, inter alia, the following:
“As a result of the decision in Stockdale v Hansard, the maxim, ‘That whatever matter arises concerning either House of Parliament ought to be examined, discussed and adjudged in that House to which it relates and not elsewhere’ became applicable to matters concerning the internal proceedings of the House and judges have long held that when matters are proceedings of the House, beginning and terminating within its own walls, they are obviously outside the jurisdiction of the courts.” (p 347-348).
In continuing her discourse, she took into consideration an apology that was made by Valley during the proceedings, and then she subsequently concluded as follows:
“In the circumstances, I now order that you, Kenneth Valley, be forthwith suspended from the service of this House for a period of six months [interruption] and you will not return herein or within the precincts hereof until the expiration of six months of today’s date. I now order that you, Kenneth Valley, forthwith leave this honourable House and its precincts.” (p 351).
In respect of the suspension of an MP by the Speaker after a report from the Privileges Committee, there are two examples. These are the suspensions of the MP for Fyzabad, Chandresh Sharma, by Speaker Barendra Sinanan on Friday, May 20, 2005 (see Hansard p 112), and MP for San Fernando East, Patrick Manning, by Speaker Wade Mark on Monday, May 16, 2011 (see Hansard p 159).
In both instances, there were matters that emanated from reports of the Privileges Committee that eventually led to the respective decisions to suspend both MPs.
In respect of the Manning suspension, there had been an earlier motion in the House by Manning on Friday, April 15, 2011, as follows:
“Be it resolved that this honourable House do authorise the committee to allow the member’s legal representatives to address the committee and examine any witnesses before the committee on his behalf.” (Hansard, p 500).
There was a debate on Manning’s motion which was not supported by the Government MPs and on which the PNM MPs divided into either abstention (Marlene Mc Donald, Keith Rowley, Nileung Hypolite, Colm Imbert, and Paula Gopee-Scoon) or support (Patricia Mc Intosh, Fitzgerald Jeffrey, Amery Browne, and Patrick Manning).
An example of a suspension by the Speaker after a motion, no debate, and a vote took place on Friday, March 28, 2008, when Basdeo Panday was suspended by Speaker Barendra Sinanan.
According to the Hansard, the Speaker indicated to the House that he was prepared to use force to have Panday removed from the House after he refused to leave the premises. Hansard records it as follows:
“Mr Speaker: The result of the division is 23 members voted for the suspension of the hon Member for Couva North and 11 members voted against. I will ask the hon Member for Couva North to leave this Chamber and precincts of the House.
Mr Ramnath: “Why you doh get a police to put him out?” [crosstalk]
Mr S Panday: “Yuh dinosaur.” Mr Speaker is a dinosaur.
Mr Speaker: I will suspend the sitting of the House for ten minutes to allow the Member for Couva North—order please—to vacate the chamber and the precincts of this House.
1.59 pm: Sitting suspended.
2.12 pm: Sitting resumed.
[Opposition members remain seated on entry of the Speaker]
Mr Speaker: Hon Members, I wish to draw your attention to the fact that the hon Member for Couva North, Mr Basdeo Panday, has refused to leave the House; to withdraw from the House and its precincts; as such, recourse to force is necessary.
Hon Members: Force! You are a dictator here!
Mr Speaker: It is necessary to remove Mr Panday from the precincts of this Chamber. I, therefore, call on the police to remove the Member for Couva North from this Chamber and the precincts of this House. [Policemen approach Mr Panday]” (pp 145-146).
The Speaker adjourned the House immediately after this.
On Wednesday, May 6, Dr Keith Rowley was suspended by Speaker Wade Mark after a motion, a debate and a vote, which is the fourth category of suspension.
The decision by former deputy chairman Sebastian Ventour to resign his position on the Integrity Commission in expressing his disagreement with the other members of the commission has severely compromised the emailgate affair.
When coupled with the public statements of the Deputy DPP, Ms Joan Honoré-Paul, the reality is that the local investigation of the emailgate affair has been further compromised.
Given the public positions adopted by Ventour and Honoré-Paul, it will be difficult for the public to trust anything further that comes out of the Integrity Commission or the DPP’s office in relation to this affair.
The police, who were considered unworthy to conduct this investigation by Dr Rowley in 2013, say that they are still investigating and that they are “apolitical.”
The only reliable and trusted aspect of this entire episode relates to the court proceedings in the Supreme Court of California where Google Inc confirmed, under oath, through its Custodian of Records, that the emails in question were fakes.
There seems to be a debate going on in this country about “form and substance” in relation to the fake emails. The essence of that debate is that even though the emails are fakes, the story that they tell should be investigated. It would be interesting to see how the prosecuting authorities would handle tendering fake emails into evidence to lead a case against anyone for the narrative contained in the fake documents.
The deeper story here is the reality that the collapse of the credibility of the Integrity Commission itself started with a matter that they mishandled in respect of Dr Rowley himself in February 2009, involving the Landate affair which led to the resignation of the entire commission. That void of credibility has grown since that time with the collapse of another commission appointed by former president Richards in the space of eight days in May 2009. After appointing a new commission in March 2010, the then deputy chairman Gladys Gafoor was suspended by President Richards in February 2012, after refusing the wish of chairman Ken Gordon to recuse herself from hearing the John Jeremie investigation.
After the appointment of a new commission in July 2013, then deputy chairman Sebastian Ventour insisted that it was proper for him to remain a member of the Constitution Commission, while assuming duties on the Integrity Commission.
Ventour had public support from the Law Association President Seenath Jairam and former CCJ president Michael de la Bastide who took the view that he did not have to step down from the Constitution Commission while serving on the Integrity Commission. On the other hand, both Kenneth Lalla and retired justice of appeal Anthony Lucky felt that Ventour should have stepped down from the Constitution Commission.
About a month later, there was a release from the Ministry of Legal Affairs indicating that Ventour had resigned from the Constitution Commission. No reason was given although it can be noted that he had then taken over the emailgate investigation as Ken Gordon had recused himself from it over his controversial secret meeting with Dr Rowley at his home in May 2013, mere days before the fake emails were revealed in Parliament in a motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister.
After that, Ventour resigned his position in February 2014, so that he could be sworn into office as a judge for a day to deliver three outstanding judgments that were pending when he demitted office as a judge. Three weeks later in February 2014, he was re-appointed to the Integrity Commission by the President.
There is no statement about what happened to the emailgate investigation during the period of his resignation and resumption of duty and no media house has asked him.
After Ventour’s return to the commission, Sieunarine Jokhoo, the accountant, resigned in March 2014. He was followed by the appointment and resignation of accountant Joel Edwards in May, and July 2014, respectively. This was followed by the appointment of accountant Pete London in September 2014.
In November 2014, retired justice of appeal Zainool Hosein was appointed chairman of the Integrity Commission by President Carmona. He immediately found himself in a contentious confrontation with the media over his insistence that he would continue to serve as chairman of the Retired Judges’ Association. A few days later, a press release issued from the Retired Judges’ Association revealed that he had resigned from the chairmanship of the association.
Just like Ventour who insisted that he could stay on both the Integrity Commission and the Constitution Commission, and then he resigned from the latter without explanation, so too with chairman Hosein who resigned from the Retired Judges’ Association without explanation.
I wrote a column last November 30, in which I questioned the application judgment by both office holders in adopting the positions that they did to holding their respective dual roles and then resigning from one without any explanation shortly after being so adamant initially.
As we argue over the content of fake documents, our prosecutorial and independent investigative institutions are burning out of control and they have compromised this case beyond repair.
Last Wednesday, the world of football was thrown into chaos as the United States government moved to carry out a global initiative against alleged corruption in Fifa. At a press conference in Brooklyn, New York, the new United States Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, announced the unsealing of a 47-count indictment charging 14 defendants with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies in connection with a 24-year scheme of enrichment on the part of those charged. Among those indicted was Jack Warner who has publicly stated that he is not guilty.
However, in the press release issued by the US Department of Justice, Jack Warner’s sons, Daryll and Daryan, both pleaded guilty at different times in 2013 to different offences. In respect of Daryll Warner, the press release said:
“On July 15, 2013, the defendant Daryll Warner, son of defendant Jack Warner and a former Fifa development officer, waived indictment and pleaded guilty to a two-count information charging him with wire fraud and the structuring of financial transactions.”
In respect of Daryan Warner, the press release said:
“On October 25, 2015, the defendant Daryan Warner waived indictment and pleaded guilty to a three-count information charging him with wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and the structuring of financial transactions. Daryan Warner forfeited over $1.1 million around the time of his plea and has agreed to pay a second forfeiture money judgment at the time of sentencing.”
The dates on which the pleas of guilty were made are highly significant politically in this country. July 15, 2013, was just two weeks before the Chaguanas West by-election, however, there was no statement to that effect in respect of Daryll Warner. The public had no idea that he had confessed to the crimes of wire fraud and structuring of financial transactions.
Leader of the Opposition, Dr Keith Rowley told TV6 reporter Faine Richards on July 4, 2015, when commenting on Jack Warner’s break with the UNC that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend and I am a friendly guy.” However, Daryll pleaded guilty 11 days after Rowley’s “friendly” statement and a more harmonious relationship developed between Rowley and Warner after that in stark contrast to the pre-by-election relationship between them.
The Express ran a front page story on August 23, 2013, that had as its headline ‘DARYLL DUCKS IN’ which highlighted the fact that Daryll was able to travel to Trinidad. According to the Express: “Questioned on whether he or his brother were co-operating witnesses in an investigation by US agencies into world soccer governing body, Fifa, he said it was ‘all allegations’ and he went on to say ‘I have heard I was in jail, that I was under house arrest, that I can’t leave Miami or I can’t travel. But I don’t feel compelled to respond to those things, he said.”
The reality was that he had already pleaded guilty since July 15, and his visit to Trinidad on August 23, was after that guilty plea. The Express report also included his brother Daryan as follows:
“When the Express pointed out that his brother did address those issues with the Express, he replied: ‘My brother has kids and a family so he was compelled to respond. I am a bachelor. I have nothing to hide. I have no problems. I am just enjoying life.’ Asked whether he felt it was the media or the politicians who made an issue of the Warner brothers not being in Trinidad, he quickly replied that it was ‘politics’. ‘What happens here is all gutter politics. It was desperation on the part of the United National Congress (UNC). If they have an issue with Jack, that is their issue. It does not define his children,’ he said.”
As it turned out, Daryan Warner pleaded guilty on October 25, 2013, to charges of wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and the structuring of financial transactions. He also forfeited $1.1 million and agreed to pay a second forfeiture when he is sentenced.
What is interesting about the date on which he pleaded guilty is that it was four days after the local government elections that were held on October 21, 2013, and just ten days before the St Joseph by-election on November 4, 2013. The electorate had no idea that all of this was going on and those who were leading the ILP campaign at the time obviously did not know either.
According to the Express story:
“In February, Warner, who was then national security minister, had challenged anyone who wanted to know his sons’ whereabouts to contact them and had dared the media to publish anything about them. This was at the time of widespread rumours that they had been detained in Miami. In March, Reuters News Agency published a report by Mark Hosenball which stated that Daryan Warner was a ‘co-operating witness’ in an investigation into allegations of corruption in Fifa.”
One does not know the extent to which Daryan Warner “co-operated” with the US authorities in the Fifa investigation ahead of his guilty plea on October 25, 2013.
As the issue of a leaders’ debate continues to attract the attention of the Debates Commission, it appears as though the rules for the debates will be the sticking point.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar made a very public announcement in March this year that she has every intention to engage in a leaders’ debate. That position has not changed.
However, what has changed is the position adopted by PNM leader Dr Keith Rowley. On April 20, the Guardian reported as follows:
“PNM chairman Franklyn Khan announced yesterday that Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley had written to the T&T Debates Commission and agreed to participate in the debates. ‘He has agreed in principle subject to the format and procedural discussions which will take place later on,’ Khan said in a press conference. Khan said Rowley was prepared to debate head-on with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. ‘Obviously you have to debate like with like, you cannot expect us to send our political leader to the debate and you don’t send your leader. There has to be match for match and parity in that debate. In other words, Dr Rowley will not debate Roodal Moonilal. Let us make it abundantly clear, he will only debate with the political leader. ‘CEO of the Debates Commission Catherine Kumar yesterday said both the PNM and the PP had agreed to two debates.’”
However, on May 17 instant, Newsday reported on a press briefing at PNM headquarters as follows:
“During the briefing, Khan also gave an update on the party’s position with respect to the proposed Leaders’ Debate. He said although Rowley had agreed to the debate, in principle, pending the rules of engagement, the party was concerned about the exclusion of certain political parties from the process. ‘We noted that the Debates Commission has certain benchmarks to qualify for the debate, which said you must get 12.5 per cent of the opinion poll support and you must be contesting 21 out of the 41 seats...The PNM does not want to be party to any position that excludes bonafide political parties and bonafide political leaders,’ Khan said.”
That is the critical aspect of this story. It was strange to see the Debates Commission attempting to bully the Prime Minister last week over the issue of the proposed leaders' debates. Her position has not changed. The Debates Commission seemed to be hinting last week that there were fears that the Prime Minister was going to back out of the debates.
Until such time as she actually makes such a comment, it would be foolhardy to speculate otherwise. The Debates Commission must demonstrate a greater sensitivity to the fact that the Prime Minister has a government to run and that spending time to sit down and discuss the format of a party political popularity contest that will have minimal effect on the lives of any citizen could wait until an election date is known.
The Debates Commission has no legal or constitutional right to organise any debate between party leaders. The Code of Political Conduct spoke about participation in a leaders' debate organised by “a Debates Commission,” not “the Debates Commission.”
That particular wording would suggest that there is no monopoly in organising any debate, although the Debates Commission is beginning to operate as if they have a monopoly on holding debates. There may very well be other providers whose criteria are not as politically skewed away from reality as theirs.
To suggest that the only participants to take part in the debates must be political parties that are fielding candidates in 21 constituencies or who can amass 12.5 per cent in an opinion poll is ludicrous. If you get an election that ends in a 20-20 outcome for two major political parties and there is one person from another party who won a seat but did not meet the criteria of the Debates Commission, that person could be appointed Prime Minister and would never have participated in any debate.
Such a situation happened in St Vincent in 1972 when James Mitchell was an independent and the two major parties were evenly divided. Our 17-17-2 and 18-18 situations are not far-fetched in relation to such a political reality.
In a recent appearance on the TV6 programme A Current Affair with Jabari Fraser on May 17, Ronald Harford and Angella Persad from the Debates Commission outlined the basic elements of the debate process.
On the very pertinent question about sponsorship of the debates that was raised by Fraser, there was an obvious dodge to the specific question of private sector sponsors who will donate to political parties and who will simultaneously sponsor the debates.
The Chamber of Commerce and its overlapping management and directors on the Debates Commission cannot evade Fraser’s question so easily.
There will be corporate entities who will help fund political parties and who will also give to the Debates Commission for the debate events.
Jabari Fraser’s question is highly relevant to the wider issue of campaign financing which may now be linked to debate sponsorship. What demands will such dual sponsors make?
Now that the time has arrived for the dissolution of Parliament, it is useful to note that the 10th Republican Parliament is the only one that has gone the full distance from start to finish once it is dissolved on June 17 instant. Having been opened on June 18, 2010, the only other Parliament to go the full distance was the 1971-76 Parliament which assembled on June 18, 1971, after the general election of May 24, 1971.
Interestingly, that Parliament actually met on June 18, 1976, and there was some measure of controversy, at the time, about whether such a sitting ought to have taken place. Both Dr Williams, the prime minister, and the attorney general, Basil Pitt, were of the view that there was no problem and so the House met on that day and transacted parliamentary business.
The phenomenon of calling a general election before a Parliament has entered its fifth year has happened in the 1991-95, 2001, 2002 and the 2007-2010 Parliaments. In 1995 and in 2010, the prime minister, Patrick Manning, decided to call an early general election well ahead of the due date and on both occasions he lost. In 2001, prime minister Basdeo Panday had no choice but to call an early general election after ten months in office owing to the fact that three of his party’s MPs, Ramesh Maharaj, Ralph Maraj and Trevor Sudama switched their support from him to the leader of the Opposition, Patrick Manning.
The 2002 case is a most unique one whereby the general election of December 10, 2001, ended in an 18-18 tie and Patrick Manning was appointed prime minister. Owing to the tied result, the Parliament that was summoned on April 5, 2002, was never able to elect a Speaker. On August 28, 2002, prime minister Manning advised a dissolution and a general election was held on October 7, 2002, with Parliament opening on October 17, 2002.
Needless to say, very little time was left to pass a budget which had to be done by October 31 and Parliament was able to accomplish this inside the time frame for completion of the process. With a September 7 election this year, there is no fear that whoever is elected can complete the budget process which has already started as is customary at this time of year.
What the minister of finance, whoever that is in September, will have to do is to settle on matters of fiscal policy.
Last week, there was a most surprising outburst about the workload for senators from some independent senators. This came like a bolt from the blue and for those who are not au courant with the cycles of parliamentary workloads, it will be useful to provide some statistics about the natural increase in workloads towards the end of a parliamentary term.
The two Parliaments in recent times that have gone into their fifth year would be the 1995-2000 and 2002-2007 Parliaments. The statistics reveal that in the 1995-2000 Parliament, in the final month before dissolution on November 2, 2000, there were ten sittings of the House of Representatives between October 2 and 30, while there were seven sittings of the Senate between October 3 and 31, 2000.
In respect of the 2002-2007 Parliament, the statistics show that in the final month before dissolution on September 28, 2007, there were six sittings of the House of Representatives between September 10 and 28, while there were nine sittings of the Senate between September 3 and 27, 2007.
When compared to the final month before the end of this Parliament, the number of sittings of the Senate between May 12 and June 10 was eight, while the number of sittings of the House of Representatives listed between May 13 and June 12 was nine.
This workload is no different than was the case in the 1995-2000 Parliament controlled by the UNC or the 2002-2007 Parliament controlled by the PNM. So why all the whingeing and whining by some independent senators? If they cannot handle the natural workload that will escalate at the end of any Parliament that goes into a fifth year, then maybe the President should be looking elsewhere for people to sit on the independent benches who can deal with heavy parliamentary workloads in addressing the people’s business. One of the factors that assisted the Government towards the end of this Parliament was the decision by the Opposition PNM to stay away from the House with the exception of May 22, June 5 and June 12.
That certainly allowed the Government the opportunity to press ahead with more legislation in the House because of the increased time available because of the absence of PNM spokesmen. The most glaring let-off for the Government was the inability of any Opposition MP to file any questions for Prime Minister’s Question Time two Fridays ago when both the PNM and the ILP were present. They let the Prime Minister off the hook and one wonders why, as it was the last Prime Minister’s Question Time before the dissolution.
The powers of the Cabinet during the period of any dissolution of Parliament allow the Government to pursue the general direction and control of policy as stated in the Constitution. The only impediment during this period is that it cannot pursue any legislation because Parliament is dissolved.
This has been clearly established over the years and the range of powers is vast. These powers can range from changing the maritime boundaries of the country to the award of contracts. For example, the Ninth Republican Parliament was dissolved at midnight on April 8, 2010, and a general election was held on May 24, 2010. During this period, the Government proceeded to sign a maritime boundary agreement with the government of Grenada on April 21, 2010.
Writing in the Guardian on April 22, 2010, Richard Lord reported as follows on the event:
“And during a question and answer session, after the signing ceremony at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s yesterday, Manning responded saying, he did not understand what the upcoming general election had to do with the agreement. He said discussions leading to the agreement began in 2009, two years after the last election in T&T. ‘Nobody in the normal course (of things) expected elections in Trinidad and Tobago at this time,’ Manning said. He said as a consequence, ‘the negotiations and the agreement had nothing to do with the calling of elections. Under Trinidad and Tobago law, it is the Executive that has the authority to conclude treaties of this nature, and we are merely pursuing it in accordance with the legal requirements of the State,’ he said.”
Manning was rebutting queries from then opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar who had challenged him about the agreement being signed during the period of a dissolution.
Another area that arose during the same interregnum between the dissolution of Parliament and the appointment of a new prime minister, was the selection of the preferred contractor to build the Point Fortin Highway.
According to page 19 of the Armstrong Report that considered the policy decision to build the highway:
“On May 07, 2010, the closing date for this procurement, three proposals were submitted by 1.00 p.m. (from the 29 Request for Proposals issued). The three entities submitting tenders were, in alphabetical order:
1. China Railway Construction Corporation Limited;
2. Construtora OAS Ltd (OAS); and
3. GLF Construction Corporation.
On May 13, 2010, the NIDCO Evaluation Committee submitted its Final Report and recommended OAS as the Preferred Respondent, and so informed OAS by letter dated May 25, 2010.”
On January 28, 2011, MP Colm Imbert said in debate on the adjournment in the Parliament:
“After the general election, the day after, as a matter of fact, on May 25, dealing with this specific project, a letter was sent to
Construtora OAS and they were informed the day after the general election that the National Infrastructure Development Company had chosen OAS as the preferred respondent for the contract for the Point Fortin highway project.” (Hansard, p. 227).
Imbert went further to say: “Mr Speaker, I want to reinforce this. My appointment as Minister of Works and Transport ended at midnight on May 24, 2010, so any letter that went out on May 25, 2010 did not have anything to do with me.” (Hansard, p. 227).
In responding to Imbert, then minister of works and transport, Jack Warner, had this to say: “On May 25, 2010, I was not even the Minister of Works and Transport, but I was a successful candidate, unlike you. [Desk thumping] Mr Speaker, on May 25, 2010, OAS was notified that it was the preferred respondent for the contract and OAS was invited to commence negotiations on June 07, 2010. It is in that letter you have there. Read it! Tell us it is not there! Tell this House it is not in that letter! They were told by NIDCO, the arm of the Ministry, though they had lost the election, they were saying, look on June 07, 2010, you have to begin negotiations.” (Hansard, p. 232).
The issue that arises here is that agencies, such as Nidco, have the power to proceed on public policy matters such as the award of contracts despite the fact that there is a general election in the offing.
Despite the change, Nidco was able to write to Construtora OAS the day after the general election to inform them that they had been chosen to build the Point Fortin highway and that they should start negotiations on June 7, 2010.
Former minister Imbert held the view that his appointment as Minister of Works ended at midnight on May 24, 2010, which is not true. According to section 77(3)(a) of the Constitution, a minister shall vacate office “when any person is appointed or reappointed as Prime Minister.”
According to the T&T Gazette of May 27, 2010, Volume 49 No 64, Kamla Persad-Bissessar was appointed Prime Minister on May 26, 2010. In the circumstances, Imbert was still the responsible minister on May 25, 2010, even though he may have another view.
In recent times, the issue of presidential consultation has been revived as a subject of controversy based on the public spat between Dr Keith Rowley and President Carmona.
Dr Rowley chose to publicly embarrass the President at a Roundtable press conference about the delivery of correspondence to his office. This forced the President to fire back at him about the precise nature of the delivery of the said correspondence to the Office of the Leader of the Opposition.
With the pushback from the President, Rowley used the medium of the TV6 Morning Edition to voice his apology to the President after discovering that the problem was inside his own office and not elsewhere as he had publicly suggested.
What Rowley failed to realise is that the President was still affording him the courtesy of consultation despite the fact that he was not, at that time, serving as Leader of the Opposition seeing that he had been suspended from the service of the House of Representatives from May 6 instant. That suspension ended on June 17 when Parliament was dissolved.
According to the Constitution at Section 83(3)(b), the office of Leader of the Opposition shall become vacant where: “(b) the holder thereof ceases to be a member of the House of Representatives for any cause other than a dissolution of Parliament;….” Owing to the fact that Rowley ceased to hold the position of Leader of the Opposition with effect from May 6, 2015, there was no obligation for the President to consult him on any appointments.
Despite this fact, the President went out of his way to afford him the courtesy of being consulted on a “de facto” basis as Leader of the Opposition as opposed to a “de jure” basis given the powers that are available to him under the Constitution to ignore the Leader of the Opposition in such circumstances.
According to Section 83(6) of the Constitution:
“Where the office of Leader of the Opposition is vacant, whether because there is no member of the House of Representatives so qualified for appointment or because no one qualified for appointment is willing to be appointed, or because the Leader of the Opposition has resigned his office or for any other reason, any provision in this Constitution requiring consultation with the Leader of the Opposition shall, in so far as it requires such consultation, be of no effect.”
President Carmona chose to still afford Rowley the courtesy of a letter, despite his suspension, and to delay the swearing in ceremony of new commissioners for the Integrity Commission out of deference to Dr Rowley.
There is no obligation for the President to listen to either the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition in making any appointment after consultation. Once he writes to both of them, he can then proceed to make his own appointments in his own discretion.
Presidential controversies over consultation have arisen over the years since we became a republic in 1976. In 1987, former prime minister ANR Robinson took former president Ellis Clarke to court over the issue of the re-appointment of James Alva Bain as a member of the Police and Public Service commissions. Robinson alleged that he had not been consulted by Clarke before Clarke made the appointments.
Mr Justice Blackman held that Section 80(2) of the Constitution ousted his jurisdiction to enquire into the matter. Section 80(2) reads as follows:
“Where by this Constitution the President is required to act in accordance with the advice of, or after consultation with, any person or authority, the question whether he has in any case so acted shall not be enquired into in any court.”
Another controversy arose during the period of the 18-18 Parliament in 2002 when Basdeo Panday refused to accept appointment to the office of Leader of the Opposition after he was removed from the office of prime minister on Christmas Eve 2001. In the circumstances, there was no Leader of the Opposition and the provisions of Section 83(3)(b) cited above would have applied to all such appointments during this period.
As it turned out, Michael de la Bastide’s retirement from the position of chief justice during this time (on July 18, 2002) made it necessary to make an appointment to that office. Prior to that date, Basdeo Panday made a public statement that the next “victim” of President ANR Robinson after his (Panday’s) removal from the office of prime minister would have been the denial of Justice of Appeal Satnarine Sharma from being appointed chief justice.
President Robinson announced the appointment of Sharma to the office of chief justice on July 10, 2002, shortly after those comments were made. Clearly, he used Panday’s comments against him and it was construed by many as “consultation.”
There have also been failures of consultation whereby the President got it completely wrong. Such an example can be seen where former president George Maxwell Richards appointed Jeffrey Mc Farlane as deputy chairman of the Integrity Commission in May 2009 when Mc Farlane was clearly and unambiguously ineligible to hold such a position.
President Anthony Carmona filled the vacancies on the Integrity Commission last week and in the process, fired some salvos of his own at his critics by referring to their criticisms of his handling of the Integrity Commission as “rum shop logic.” While the President has developed a propensity for the use of inelegant language not befitting the office of President, he has fixed a major integrity problem on the Integrity Commission.
His two appointees are respected individuals who have taken bold decisions to step forward to serve on a commission that has been plagued with instability since February 2009 when the entire commission resigned after a High Court judge ruled on a judicial review matter involving Dr Keith Rowley.
The fact that there was a collapse of the replacement commission that was appointed by then president Richards in May 2009 only served to confirm that bad presidential judgment can cause tremendous instability on a commission that is supposed to be the moral police of the society.
President Richards faced the resignations of three chairmen during his tenure (John Martin and Father Henry Charles in 2009 and Dr Eric St Cyr in 2011), while he suspended deputy chairman Gladys Gafoor in 2012 following her refusal to recuse herself from the John Jeremie matter at the request of the then chairman Ken Gordon. Carmona took no action against Gordon when the controversy arose about a private meeting at Gordon’s home with the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Keith Rowley, in May 2013 shortly after he had assumed office as President. However, when Gordon’s term ended in October 2014, he was not reappointed by Carmona to the position of chairman.
Controversy followed the new chairman Zainool Hosein on the day of his swearing-in ceremony when he insisted that he would remain as chairman of the Retired Judges’ Association while serving as chairman of the Integrity Commission. That statement was made in a moment of contention with media reporters which was completely avoidable when he challenged their understanding of the English language.
More controversy would come when retired judge Sebastian Ventour would resign over the decision of the quorum of the commission to discontinue the investigation of the controversy called “emailgate.” Ventour himself had drawn fire over his decision to initially remain a member of the Constitution Commission in 2013 while intending to serve as deputy chairman of the Integrity Commission immediately after his swearing-in ceremony in July 2013. He resigned inexplicably from the Constitution Commission after making public statements that he saw no reason to resign in the first place.
Accountant Joel Edwards was appointed by President Carmona to the Integrity Commission in March 2014 following the resignation of accountant Sieunarine Jokhoo from the commission. Edwards would resign in July 2014 and the President would then appoint accountant Pete London to the commission in September 2014.
The President has had his fair share of misadventures with appointments to the commission in the same way that his predecessor president Richards also had his trials and tribulations. There was a revolving door of accountants between July 2013 and September 2014.
Ventour also had his revolving door of appointments when he resigned as deputy chairman in February 2014 to be appointed as a temporary High Court judge for one day so that he could deliver three outstanding judgments from his prior tenure as a judge. Later in the month of February 2014, he was re-appointed to the position of deputy chairman. He then resigned in May 2015 from this position.
All of these revolving door appointments in the positions of accountant and deputy chairman had an impact on the stability of the commission together with a change in the office of chairman in November 2014.
The latest resignations of Ventour and Dr Shelly-Ann Lalchan created the need for these positions to be filled. Dr Rowley took the view that the entire commission should have been disbanded. There was no logical basis for disbanding the rest of the commission seeing that the remaining members had been properly appointed and were quite willing to continue their service.
Rajiv Persad and Angela Young Lai are two good appointments to the commission, and one can only hope that the commission can settle down now and proceed with its work. The President correctly reminded the media that the appointments made after consultation do not have to have the agreement of either the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition, but rather are appointments made at the discretion of the President.
The constitutional requirement to consult can assist the vetting process for the President, but at the end of the day, all of the choices are his and his alone. If he chooses to send a letter to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition three days before he makes an appointment or three weeks before he makes the appointment is a matter of presidential discretion.
His selection of individuals to hold high office does not carry with it any guarantees that they will perform efficiently or that they are up to the task. Time alone will tell.
The emergence of a political group called the “Third Force Movement” convened by Timothy Hamel-Smith has caused a fair amount of public responses much unlike the launch of another party on May 16 called the Youth, Organisations, Unification and Reformation (YOUR) Party led by Dennis Ramdahin, a scientist who has spent some time abroad. The former has been the subject of vitriolic attacks from the PNM, while the latter has not drawn any fire from any of the major political parties.
The fundamental difference between them is that the Third Force represents an obvious political threat to the established political parties insofar as it has the capacity to siphon away a critical mass of votes from them.
Its base is that third component of the electorate that can be identified with the ONR in 1981, the NAR in 1991, and the COP in 2007. There is a statistical basis for the existence of a third force because the data is there to support it.
In 1981, the ONR led by Karl Hudson-Phillips, was the third force that emerged with 91,704 votes (22.2 per cent) and no seats. In 1991, the NAR led by ANR Robinson became the third force with 127,335 votes (24.6 per cent) and two seats in Tobago. In 2007, the COP led by Winston Dookeran emerged as the third force with 148,041 votes (22.64 per cent) and no seats.
As the electorate has grown between 1981 and the present day, so too has the size of the third force. However, in an electoral system such as ours the reality is that their presence has helped to create manufactured majorities (in political science terms a manufactured majority is where a party wins a majority of seats with a minority of votes).
In 1991, the PNM won 21 of 36 seats with 45.1 per cent of the votes, and in 2007 the PNM won 26 of 41 seats with 45.85 per cent of the votes. The presence of three strong parties in 1991 (PNM, UNC and NAR) and in 2007 (PNM, UNC and COP) created an electoral reality whereby the PNM were able to win seat majorities with voter minorities.
With the runoff system not being a factor in this general election, the existing rules apply. In the circumstances, one does not know what the outcome will be in a situation where you have the UNC, the COP, the PNM, the ILP and the Third Force as contestants, not to mention the TOP and the Tobago Forwards in Tobago.
The influence of a third force over the years can also be seen in the steady increase in the number of constituencies where there were outcomes in which several candidates won their seats with less than 50 per cent of the votes cast. In 1981, there were ten such constituencies, in 1991, there were 11, and in 2007 there were 14.
In all those cases, there was a clear impact of the third force on the outcome. It is somewhat surprising that the PNM should be so vitriolic against the Third Force Movement given the fact that traditionally they have been the beneficiaries of strong third parties. That might suggest that their electoral strategy was built around the decline of the COP and no place for those disenchanted COP supporters to go other than the PNM.
The Third Force Movement includes former front line COP members who have stepped forward as political contestants. Their political wish list is alien to the PNM and they have serious differences with the existing COP. In many respects, they are filling the vacuum left by the decline of the COP from its heady days of 148,041 votes in 2007 and its capture of six seats in the 2010 general election which then morphed into a disastrous performance in the 2013 local government election. The UNC has not adopted a hostile posture to the Third Force.
Part of the PNM’s concern about the Third Force Movement is the fact that there is a lingering disenchantment factor in the aftermath of the PNM candidate selection process, particularly in Diego Martin and Arima. There are many people outside of the PNM who have high regard for both Dr Amery Browne and Penny Beckles-Robinson. Had they been chosen as PNM candidates in Diego Martin Central and Arima there might have been a different dynamic in play.
While the PNM has not embarked on a similar level of attack against the ILP (the enemy of my enemy is my friend), the kind of rhetoric being used against the Third Force is alarming. According to Gail Alexander in last Thursday’s Guardian, Fitzgerald Hinds is reported as saying at last Tuesday’s PNM meeting in Morvant:
“I think their symbol should be Hamel-Smith on a cesspit in Westmoorings with a Flit gun killing all the cockroaches...Who do they think they’re fooling?”
The Third Force is going to face more of this as it moves forward as Keith Rowley, Stuart Young and Fitzgerald Hinds will obviously have more to say about the Third Force as the campaign continues. For whatever reason, the PNM views them as a clear and present danger.
The Third Force issued a press release last Wednesday in which it said that “the time frame was too tight to establish the institutional framework for a fully fledged political party in order to contest the general elections of September 7.”
This political reality would have hit them as they went along for their first week of activity. The absence of a political leader and an executive together with the need to establish constituency offices and other organisational paraphernalia presented a major challenge that could not be accomplished in a meaningful way in the four weeks left before nomination day on August 17.
The ONR was launched in 1980 well ahead of the 1981 general election. The NAR was in government from 1986 for a full five-year term before it sought re-election in 1991 in a three-way race after the UNC was formed in 1989. As it turned out, the UNC became the second force and the NAR was relegated to the third force in the 1991 general election. The COP was formed in 2006 well ahead of the 2007 general election.
In all three instances above, there was adequate time to put a party framework together that the electorate could respect and vote for. Their success rate has been very low because our electoral system is very unforgiving when it comes to third forces. They make a big splash that causes a surge for someone else to win. The Third Force would have been on course to make that happen once again in the absence of the withdrawn runoff system.
The best test for the Third Force would lie in the 2016 local government election that will be based on the mixed system of first past-the-post for the councillors and proportional representation using the Hare method for the election of aldermen. That system was introduced in 2013 in time for the local government elections. The PNM won 36 of the 56 positions of aldermen that were available in the 14 corporations in Trinidad owing to the fact that they contested all of the corporations and earned places in many of them even though they lost the contest for seats among the councillors in some cases. The UNC contested only eight out of the 14 corporations and naturally earned less aldermen, while the COP did much worse than their 2010 performance and lost key corporations that they had demanded to contest in the negotiations with the UNC for seat allocation.
The vision of the Third Force for electoral reform based on proportional representation would be a demand that will not be endorsed by the PNM given their stated opposition to this particular reform. It should be accepted by the People’s Partnership given their introduction of the reform for the local government elections.
The immediate challenge for the Third Force is going to be one of credibility given their grand announcement at the Normandie Hotel, the live broadcast of their first meeting on TV6, and their motorcade last weekend. No one saw this withdrawal coming. It was like a bolt from the blue.
The Alliance of Independents was in full damage-control mode on Thursday morning, with Nicole Dyer-Griffith, Gary Griffith and Joe Pires making the round of breakfast television shows on different networks to plead their case that they were apparently duped. There was no consultation with them before the press release was sent out and they had to spin their way out of an imagery of poor judgment for going into an alliance with the Third Force and being embarrassed by the announcement of no contest.
In many respects this resembled the announcement by ANR Robinson, just four days before nomination day, for the May 24, 1971 general election at a meeting in the Queen’s Park Savannah, that the ACDC-DLP coalition would not be taking part in the 1971 general election and would pursue a no-vote campaign instead. Vernon Jamadar was completely blindsided by the announcement, but Robinson had beaten him to the draw.
Robinson had demands for the abolition of voting machines, the granting of equal media time for all political parties, new constituency boundaries to be drawn by an independent Boundaries Commission, and a reduction of the voting age from 21 to 18.
Being in the coalition with Robinson, the DLP was forced out of the election as their credibility was severely damaged by Robinson’s lone ranger action. On nomination day, there were eight seats that were declared unopposed and on election day the PNM won the remaining 28. The Democratic Liberation Party formed by Bhadase Sagan Maraj and the African National Congress of John Broomes were the principal contestants in the remaining seats. The PNM wiped the electoral map clean after the damage had been done to Jamadar by Robinson. Williams ridiculed Robinson and his failed coalition with Jamadar, while Bhadase and Broomes were spent forces.
The Alliance of Independents faces a similar challenge as far as their credibility and judgment are concerned. They have been dealt a severe blow by this withdrawal of the Third Force and they have to decide between survival or slaughter.
As the political climate gets a lot warmer as we approach the end of July, there is now another offer outside of the Debates Commission of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce for the holding of a leaders’ debate. That offer has really emerged out of a change of date made by the Chamber’s Debates Commission when they decided to vacate their earlier offer or decision (depending on which letter you reference) to hold a leaders’ debate on July 30 at the studios of CNMG on Maraval Road.
The public has now learnt that there were two completely different letters sent by the Chamber’s Debates Commission to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s letter said that the Debates Commission had “decided” to hold a leaders’ debate on July 30, while Keith Rowley’s letter said that the commission had “proposed” to hold a debate on July 30.
That one act of incompetence has sucked all of the air of trust out of the political environment that is already very charged.
The Chamber of Commerce that usually upholds very high standards of performance in business and commerce now finds itself having to defend the incompetence of its Debates Commission who tried to pass this error off as a “storm in a tea cup.” It is much more than that and, in fact, it is because of that error that the offer for a broadcast consortium to hold a leaders’ debate on July 30 has emerged.
Indeed, the broadcast consortium offer for the use of the three leading breakfast show hosts on CNC3, TV6 and CNMG, namely Hema Ramkissoon, Fazeer Mohammed and Paul Richards respectively removes the eternal problem of finding a moderator acceptable to all sides.
Both government and opposition members have been on breakfast television with these three hosts in an unscripted manner over the last five years and they just ask questions and get answers without all of this drama about having UWI students doing research to frame questions that will be held by a secret panel for the moderator.
The easier way is to remove the set questions and stop copying the United States or anywhere else for that matter. Just have a homegrown, locally-made debate where the three co-moderators will ask whatever they want just like they do every morning from Monday to Friday. They just have to transfer that approach to prime-time television in the evening for 90 minutes.
All that would be required would be a timekeeper who will also rotate the co-moderators in sequence and request answers in sequence from the leaders. It is not rocket science and it is low in budget and high in credibility and trust. This would be our answer to the development of a debate culture in our society.
The problem with the Chamber’s Debates Commission is that they are trying too hard to copy the American model instead of cultivating a locally-grown one. In the United States, the president, by law, is not a member of the congress and he needs to earn the nomination of his party after a number of primary elections (if he is seeking re-election) and his opponent is not known until after the primary elections in his/her party. The nominating conventions only take place every four years so it is possible that the main contenders for the Democratic and Republican parties may never have debated each other before the presidential debates.
That is very different in this country where we operate a Westminster-Whitehall model in which the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, by law, must belong to the House of Representatives. As a consequence of that, they debate each other on a reasonably frequent basis on various bills and motions and ever since August last year, when the new Standing Orders for the House of Representatives were introduced they face each other directly in Prime Minister’s Question Time at the second sitting every month.
The reality is that they are very accustomed to debating and questioning each other and this has gone on for five years with more frequency since last August. Perhaps, it would be better to simply allow that culture of debate to continue outside of Parliament naturally and not artificially where the American debate model is force fitted into our politics.
Does anyone think that the trio of Ramkissoon, Mohammed and Richards would not make a good team of co-moderators for Persad-Bissessar and Rowley to continue doing what they have been doing as adversaries against each other in our country’s Parliament for the last five years? At the same time, there would be no need to frame questions to be kept by a secret panel to be released on the night in question to the co-moderators. They are individually capable of framing their own questions that they can keep in their heads until debate time. No allegations about leaks and who saw what beforehand, just plain and simple dialogue at night just like they do every single morning with our cup of coffee or tea.
Last Thursday evening, the Caribbean New Media Group was able to host a very informative Leadership Exchange that ought to have been a debate between Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Leader of the Opposition Dr Keith Rowley. Instead it became a high-profile question and answer session for the Prime Minister in the presence of a panel that consisted of well-known media personalities, namely Dr Morgan Job, Ms Isha Wells and Derek Ramsamooj.
This event only took place because of the error of communication committed by the Debates Commission of the Chamber of Commerce who wrote to the Prime Minister confirming July 30 as the date for a leadership debate between herself and Dr Rowley at CNMG. Tragically, they also wrote to Rowley with a proposal, not a confirmation, for the date that they had confirmed with the Prime Minister.
With the venue being booked and the Prime Minister clearing her diary for the event, it was subsequently revealed that Rowley was not given the same correspondence. That embarrassment deprived the country of a leadership debate that would have been very interesting regardless of whenever it was held.
The Debates Commission changed its mind on July 30 after their error was made public and they have now chosen August 20 and 27 for their debates. With trust in their competence running low because of their prior error in such a heated election atmosphere, it is difficult to envisage them being able to have the Prime Minister attending their events.
Thursday night’s encounter was conversational and put the Prime Minister in the spotlight in a way that many people had not seen her. She was able to field questions that ranged from allegations of corruption in her government to what she thinks her legacy would be. In between, she was able to articulate her agenda for a second term which is what most people wanted to hear.
As it turned out, the engagement was credible because the line of questioning was categorised in such a way that she had to address a fairly broad spectrum of headings that permitted a diversity of policy issues to be covered.
As a member of the PNM and a former PNM councillor on the Port-of-Spain City Corporation, I sha Wells was not attending that event to ask the Prime Minister any softball questions, but rather she got straight to the point about matters that she has discussed as a radio talk show host over the last five of her eight years on radio. Her interest in the welfare of citizens in east Port-of-Spain and Laventille shone through and she got access to an opportunity that, in the context of global media, any radio presenter would have embraced as part of their own career development.
Dr Morgan Job needed no introduction to the national community and his core philosophical beliefs were embedded in his line of questioning. He needed to be prompted on one or two occasions about asking his question as he was getting a bit carried away in articulating the preamble to his questions, but we have become accustomed to his passion for articulating his firmly held beliefs.
Derek Ramsamooj blended politics and economics in his line of questioning. He raised the issue of alienation in the society which produced an interesting exchange of views on whether or not there was actual discrimination or perceived discrimination in the society. He elicited from the Prime Minister a personal view about what she thought her legacy would be. Also she had no illusions about what the role of the Opposition should be and was frank about her expectations that they have to make her and her government look bad.
On the whole, CNMG CEO Ken Ali was able to pull off a successful event that would have given his network a ratings bonanza that night. He was obviously caught in the horns of a dilemma after the botched communication from the Debates Commission caused a fiasco. However, he was eventually able to turn that around in a way that brought viewers to C TV and listeners to 91.1 FM that might not otherwise have been the case on a Thursday night in July.
While Dr Rowley has adopted a position that only the Chamber of Commerce’s Debates Commission has a monopoly to organise debates in this country, he missed a golden opportunity to have a debate with the Prime Minister on topic areas where the country would have been able to hear his contrasting view to that of the Prime Minister. It really did not matter if such a debate took place before or after nomination day and it really did not matter who organised it.
Anyway, the event has come and gone. The Prime Minister subjected herself to questioning before the national community. The country was able to hear the Prime Minister, in her own words, speaking about a range of issues that are pertinent to the general election. She came across as measured with a clear vision.
Our democracy is stronger for having had such an event and the country moves forward with the election campaign.
While there is substantial statistical data to justify the search for a Third Force based on the election results of 1981, 1991 and 2007, the reality is that the results of these elections reflected the depth of the opposition to the PNM based on the combined effect of cumulative results for second and third parties that consistently divided themselves over the years in order to challenge their common foe, the PNM.
In December 1974, Dr Eric Williams recognised the future challenge that the PNM would face when he stoutly rejected the recommendation of the Wooding Constitution Commission to introduce a mixed system of proportional representation and first past-the-post. Williams instinctively knew that a PNM future under proportional representation would be bleak as the party would have to enter into coalition-type arrangements in order to survive.
The DNA of the PNM is not designed to accept coalition politics.
As the party of independence and republicanism, it cannot fathom the idea of power-sharing or diminishing its hegemonic status. That is where its real challenge faces them.
They were very opposed to the amendment of the Municipal Corporations Act in 2013 to introduce proportional representation into local government by providing for the election of aldermen by the Hare method of proportional representation as opposed to nomination by political parties who controlled a majority of seats elected by first past-the-post.
In spite of their opposition, the PNM won 36 of the 56 seats nationally that were available for aldermen under proportional representation.
They contested all 14 regional corporations in Trinidad and got 180,000 votes. The UNC only contested eight corporations and got 122,000 votes, the ILP contested all 14 corporations and got just over 100,000 votes.
In many respects, recent opinion polling has shown that most of the 100,000 votes earned by the ILP in 2013 has returned to the People’s Partnership. That reality suggests that this election is turning into a two-entity race.
The People’s Partnership has been turned into a political entity that is based less on party identity than it is based on being a political force. The PNM have clearly identified this as they have attacked the campaign slogan of Kamla 2015 as being an insult to the UNC brand. Their argument is that the UNC is ashamed of their own party.
While PNM strategists are basing their advice on the model of the political party being identified as the vehicle of electoral politics, the People’s Partnership has moved in a different direction. They have become “the other force” and not the second or third force.
By defining a new space in the politics of the country, the suppression of political party identity in favour of coalition identity is the other force that continues to befuddle many who simply do not understand it. That misunderstanding is reflected in the comments of those who cannot understand how a leader can be ahead of their own party or partnership in opinion poll rankings.
For those who understand coalitions and coalition politics, that poses no problems. For those who are wedded to single-party lenses of analysis and nothing else, they cannot understand it and they may even regard it as “mumbo jumbo.”
The reality is that something is happening in our politics that is challenging the traditional force that is based on single-party hegemony and dominance.
The Liberal Party of 1966, the ULF and DAC of 1976, the ONR/ULF/DAC split of 1981, the formation of the NAR in 1986, the NAR/UNC split of 1991, the post-election UNC/NAR coalition of 1995, and the UNC/COP split of 2007, all represent the existence of other forces that previously sought to challenge the PNM on their terms of reference that are based on the single-party model and the first past-the-post system. The pre-election People’s Partnership of 2010 changed that.
What has happened is that a force has emerged in our electoral politics that is not based on the single-party model, but rather on a coalition model under which the leaders engage in accommodative political behaviour to accomplish their goal of providing a model of political participation in which there are other parties alongside a dominant one in the coalition.
Each party retains their own identity and they are able to publicly disagree with one another while keeping their eyes on the sustenance of a power-sharing platform of electoral politics and governance.
In its early stages, it will come under pressure from those who still wish to advance the single political party method of electioneering and governance.
Many doubters are found in the PNM and also the ranks of the People’s Partnership, and they have tried to encourage leaders to go it alone based on the false belief that people will vote for them if they broke away.
The Third Force recognised that challenge almost as soon as they were formed.
Others are still dabbling with ideas of being relevant outside of either the People’s Partnership or the PNM. No political vehicle is perfect but, on September 7, the electorate have a choice of either the single-party model of the PNM or the coalition model of the People’s Partnership.
As the Debates Commission of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce prepares for its first leaders’ debate this week without Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and ILP Political Leader Jack Warner (who indicated his refusal very early), the commission issued a full-page advertisement last week defending itself against allegations of bias against the Prime Minister and unfairness towards her.
In their advertisement, the commission stated, inter alia, as follows:
“The commissioners are committed to political neutrality and are not aligned financially or otherwise to any political party or parties. The TTDC has worked relentlessly to ensure that the process we facilitate will allow all participants to get a fair hearing, as was evidenced in the three previous debates we held in which all major political parties participated.”
It is apparent that the commission was responding to both the Prime Minister and to PNM activist Isha Wells on the issue of a financial link between the Debates Commission and the PNM.
Indeed, it was Wells who spoke of a financial link in her self-defence on radio for her appearance as a panellist on The Leadership Exchange with the Prime Minister on July 30.
The Prime Minister picked up on that comment and made reference to it two Fridays ago when she launched the People’s Partnership manifesto.
That reference put the Debates Commission in a very vulnerable place and the commission had to respond.
Last week, the chamber president, Robert Trestrail, also came out in defence of the chamber’s Debates Commission. His approach was to single out Larry Lalla, the negotiator for the Prime Minister, as well as the Prime Minister herself, for his response. He chose to avoid the comments by Isha Wells, for whatever reason.
However, what was most significant in Trestrail’s statement was the following paragraph:
“The TTDC has admitted to an unfortunate administrative error regarding the date for the debate in the correspondence to the two main parties. The T&T Chamber suggests that all stakeholders accept that a genuine error was made and move forward for the betterment of our electoral process and the benefit of the people of T&T.”
When the two public statements (the TTDC advertisement and the Chamber of Commerce press release) are compared, the following can be seen:
1—The chamber ignored the comment by Isha Wells about financing for the PNM.
2—The TTDC frontally addressed the comment by Isha Wells about financing for the PNM.
3—The TTDC ignored their “administrative error” in the correspondence to both the Prime Minister and to Dr Rowley.
4—The chamber directly addressed the “administrative error” of the TTDC in their correspondence to both parties.
5—Neither the chamber nor the TTDC seemed to appreciate that competence and trust, not neutrality, were the main issues at stake here.
The fact that both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were in dialogue with the TTDC is testimony to the fact that there was trust in the ability of the TTDC to successfully host leaders’ debates for this general election. The TTDC’s “neutrality” was never in question.
That only became an issue after they made what the chamber president prefers to call “an unfortunate administrative error.”
That was further compounded when Isha Wells revealed that a female deputy political leader of the PNM told her that the party was being funded by “friends” in the Debates Commission.
It is very surprising that Trestrail would treat this matter in such a low-key manner. The “unfortunate administrative error” sucked all of the trust out of the political atmosphere surrounding the leaders’ debates.
In a serious private sector, both the CEO and the project manager would have been fired and two new faces injected into the process to restart it on a fresh basis so that trust could have been rebuilt.
If that had been done, there might have been the prospect of a leaders’ debates.
Unfortunately, the Chamber of Commerce is only barking on this issue and not biting instead. The TTDC directors could have taken a firmer stand on this “unfortunate administrative error” which was not your average garden-variety typographical error.
Instead, it was a more serious issue of competence in handling serious political correspondence to a Prime Minister and a Leader of the Opposition from a body that was established for “the sole purpose of strengthening the democratic process by staging debates to assist the electorate in making informed political choices.”
If that was their purpose, then the TTDC ought to have acted decisively to fix the problem. Only firm action on their part could have salvaged the situation several weeks ago.
Instead, they chose to engage in defensive avoidance to try and get around the twin-headed hydra of mistrust and incompetence.
As they tried to cut off one of the heads, another one appeared in the form of campaign finance support for the PNM.
A major conglomerate or a major bank would never have regarded that miscommunication as “an unfortunate administrative error” because heads would definitely have rolled.
The TTDC has only itself to blame for this.