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Articles on this Page
- 05/28/16--23:49: _INTEGRITY SHAMBLES
- 06/05/16--00:37: _DANGEROUS PRESIDENT...
- 06/11/16--21:58: _HERITAGE AND STABIL...
- 06/18/16--21:04: _THE HAFEEZ EFFECT
- 06/25/16--21:31: _REMEMBERING RIENZI
- 07/02/16--22:03: _VALIDATING THE RUN-...
- 07/10/16--01:50: _REMEMBERING PATRICK...
- 07/17/16--02:35: _BREXIT MEANS BREXIT
- 07/23/16--20:44: _THE RACE CARD
- 07/30/16--22:51: _EMANCIPATION AND MA...
- 08/06/16--22:23: _PNM, UNC LOOKING TO...
- 08/13/16--23:52: _MAKANDAL DAAGA AND ...
- 08/20/16--21:21: _The challenge
- 08/27/16--21:33: _Future trends in Ca...
- 09/03/16--23:26: _Patriotism and poli...
- 09/10/16--22:44: _CABINET RESHUFFLES
- 09/17/16--20:49: _BUDGET CHALLENGES
- 09/25/16--02:23: _Presidential accoun...
- 10/02/16--01:29: _A crisis of governance
- 10/08/16--20:44: _Government and Oppo...
- 05/28/16--23:49: INTEGRITY SHAMBLES
- 06/05/16--00:37: DANGEROUS PRESIDENTIAL PATHWAYS
- 06/11/16--21:58: HERITAGE AND STABILIZATION FUND USAGE
- 06/18/16--21:04: THE HAFEEZ EFFECT
- 06/25/16--21:31: REMEMBERING RIENZI
- 07/02/16--22:03: VALIDATING THE RUN-OFF SYSTEM
- 07/10/16--01:50: REMEMBERING PATRICK MANNING
- 07/17/16--02:35: BREXIT MEANS BREXIT
- 07/23/16--20:44: THE RACE CARD
- 07/30/16--22:51: EMANCIPATION AND MAGNA CARTA
- 08/06/16--22:23: PNM, UNC LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
- 08/13/16--23:52: MAKANDAL DAAGA AND BLACK POWER
- 08/20/16--21:21: The challenge
- 08/27/16--21:33: Future trends in Caribbean democracies
- 09/03/16--23:26: Patriotism and politics
- 09/10/16--22:44: CABINET RESHUFFLES
- 09/17/16--20:49: BUDGET CHALLENGES
- 09/25/16--02:23: Presidential accountability
- 10/02/16--01:29: A crisis of governance
- 10/08/16--20:44: Government and Opposition consensus
Last week, the Integrity Commission published a Notice in the daily newspapers providing a list of names of people in public life “who have failed to file Declarations of Income, Assets and Liabilities and Statements of Registrable Interests with the Integrity Commission.”
The list of names covers the period 2003–2014 and reveals a wide cross section of people who are drawn from all political persuasions or no identifiable persuasion.
Many of the people named have been cited before in this annual exercise carried out by the Integrity Commission. This is a continuing process and apparently there has been little success in having these people file their declarations and statements with the commission over the 12-year period covered by the revelation of these names.
On the flip side of this, there have been very few prosecutions against people in relation to failure to make certain declarations over the years. Only two Wednesdays ago, former minister of energy in the Panday administration, Finbar Gangar, had the charges laid against him dismissed.
He had been carrying that burden since June 2004, when he was charged under the Integrity in Public Life Act in respect of allegations that he failed to make certain declarations. The best that the State could say when the matter came up for hearing for the umpteenth time was that the prosecution had no evidence to offer against the accused.
According to reporter Derek Achong writing in the Guardian on May 19 instant:
“Former Government Minister Finbar Gangar yesterday was freed of two charges for failing to declare his foreign bank accounts to the Integrity Commission. Magistrate Christine Charles discharged Gangar in the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court after prosecutors from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) indicated that they could offer no evidence against him. State prosecutor Norma Peters explained to Charles her office had evidential issues due to the protracted charges which were laid on Gangar almost 12 years ago.”
Between the list of names of people in public life published last week and the decision of the magistrate in the Finbar Gangar matter the week before, it is very apparent that the entire integrity process in this country is in shambles. The fact that the best that the State could do after 12 years of prosecution is to offer no evidence against the accused says it all.
However, Finbar Gangar is not the only person to be faced with a lengthy prosecutorial process. Former prime minister Basdeo Panday also had his fair share of difficulties with allegations of failure to declare assets and liabilities to the Integrity Commission before he was finally discharged in 2012 by Magistrate Marcia Murray and the subsequent application for judicial review against Murray’s decision by the DPP was dismissed by Justice James Aboud in 2014.
Basdeo Panday was charged on September 18, 2002, in the midst of the 2002 general election campaign. The general election was held on October 7, 2002, and the laying of the charges during that campaign had an impact on the court of public opinion on election day, long before the law courts handled his matter.
The case started before then chief magistrate Sherman Mc Nicholls in 2003 and the case did not actually commence until March 2006, after a constitutional motion by Panday had been dismissed in the interim. On April 24, 2006, Mc Nicholls found Panday guilty of the charges and sentenced him to two years in jail with hefty fines.
Panday appealed the conviction and on March 20, 2007, the Court of Appeal overturned the conviction imposed by Mc Nicholls on the ground of bias by Mc Nicholls against Panday and ordered a retrial. The retrial was opposed by Panday who appealed to the Privy Council and they dismissed his appeal on April 9, 2008.
In a related matter, the State discontinued its prosecution against then chief justice Satnarine Sharma on March 5, 2007, because its star witness Mc Nicholls went into the witness box to give evidence against Sharma and then refused to do so causing the case to collapse.
Meanwhile, the retrial ordered by the Court of Appeal for Panday was listed for July 31, 2007, before Magistrate Ejenny Espinet. Panday sought judicial review of her refusal to recuse herself. Madam Justice Judith Jones overturned Espinet’s decision on November 24, 2009, and referred it to another magistrate.
On June 13, 2011, the second retrial started before Magistrate Marcia Murray and on June 26, 2012, she dismissed the case against Panday on the ground of abuse of process as the Integrity Commission had failed to appoint a tribunal to investigate the allegations against Panday before prosecution.
Instead of an appeal, the DPP proceeded by way of judicial review which was filed on September 21, 2012 and on April 11, 2014, Mr Justice James Aboud refused the grant of any order permitting a continuation of the prosecution against Panday.
After 12 years in the court system, both UNC public officials, Basdeo Panday (2002-2014) and Finbar Gangar (2004-2016), eventually got closure either on the ground of abuse of process or no evidence being offered.
Last week, President Anthony Carmona issued a statement announcing that he had assented to the Strategic Services Agency (Amendment) Bill 2016. The release said in part:
“The assenting to bills can neither be pre-emptive or instanter, often dependent upon His Excellency’s consultation and receipt of legal advice. Accordingly, assenting to bills of this Republic, will continue to be for His Excellency the President, a process of constitutional and legal reflection, analysis and determination vis-a-vis his duties and responsibilities pursuant to section 61(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Section 61(2) states:
“When a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall signify that he assents or withholds his assent.”
This is rewrite of section 44(2) of the 1962 independence Constitution with the words “Governor General” being replaced by “President”.
In effect, the release from President’s House said that the President can make a determination after his self-initiated process of “constitutional and legal reflection, analysis and determination” to withhold assent from any bill if he thinks so.
The Rowley administration has been put on notice by President’s House that the withholding of assent to legislation could lie over the horizon if the President is not satisfied with any bill passed by the Parliament.
That is a dangerous presidential pathway. However, we did not get to this point by chance. In 2000 and 2001, then president Robinson openly defied the advice of then prime minister Basdeo Panday to refuse him the removal of two senators in January 2000. This was followed by a further refusal in December 2000 of his desire to have seven defeated candidates appointed as senators after the 2000 general election.
It was politically convenient back then for some people for such overt presidential defiance to take place. Alongside all of that, there was also Robinson’s tardy response to the request of the Panday administration to appoint a commission of inquiry into the judiciary under the chairmanship of Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
Fast forward to today, and we can realise that the zone of presidential defiance of the Executive has the potential to grow into withholding assent to legislation.
All of this has to be understood as a defiance of Section 80(1) of the Constitution which reads in part as follows:
“In the exercise of his functions under this Constitution or any other law, the President shall act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or a Minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet, except in cases where other provision is made by this Constitution or such other law….”
Section 61(2) cited above, must be read in conjunction with Section 80(1). The President just cannot decide that he wishes to refuse assent to any bill properly passed by Parliament. Until such time as the Constitution is changed to permit the move from a quasi-ceremonial presidency to an executive one, the President must act in accordance with Section 80(1) regardless of whether it is the Rowley administration or any other.
President Carmona may have read commentaries by two senior counsels, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and Fyard Hosein in 2014 when they were commenting on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 that had just been passed with amendments in the Senate.
Writing under the headline Ramesh: President can veto Constitution Bill on September 5, 2014, Newsday reporter Stacy Moore wrote as follows:
“President Anthony Carmona has the powers in his hands to determine whether the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 becomes law by his decision to either giving assent to the bill, or veto it. This was yesterday revealed by former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj who said the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago gives the President the right to veto legislation passed by both Houses of Parliament. Maharaj is of the view that the President must have extensive discussions and consultations with groups and individuals in order to ‘properly exercise his discretion whether he should assent to the Bill, or veto it’. The former attorney general was speaking at the launch of the ‘Democracy Watch’ at a press conference at his office on Irving Street, San Fernando.”
Meanwhile, Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein writing in the Sunday Express of September 14, 2014, under the headline The Limits of Presidential Authority said in part:
“The plain meaning of the Constitution is that the President may withhold his approval of a bill passed by the Parliament. That is not in itself extraordinary. After all, the process of making a statute is not complete unless the President assents. His Excellency exercises an independent law making power, which forms an integral step in the legislative process. To deny the existence of that power is to defy the plain meaning of the Constitution and to deny the true meaning and intent of Parliament.”
In disagreeing with both points of view, it is necessary to point out that our system of government gives political responsibility to the Cabinet and not to the President for the general conduct of the affairs of the State for which Cabinet is accountable to Parliament. The President is not accountable to anyone.
Last week, the exposure of the fact that the Government had dipped into the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF) and no official announcement was made for the information of the general public opened a controversy. In the Senate last Tuesday, an urgent question from Senator Wade Mark to Finance Minister Colm Imbert was greeted with a stock answer that the withdrawal was required for “financing of the service of Trinidad and Tobago for 2016.”
Reporter Clint Chan Tack writing in the Newsday for Wednesday, June 8, under the headline Imbert shows contempt for HSF reported as follows:
“Opposition Senator Wade Mark yesterday accused Finance Minister Colm Imbert of being disrespectful to the population, by giving a ‘non answer’ to an urgent question in the Senate about a withdrawal of $2.5 billion from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF). During his contribution to debate in the Senate on the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property (Amendment) Bill, 2015, Mark digressed to condemn Imbert on his answer to that question earlier in the sitting.”
The current HSF was established in March 2007 with the enactment of the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund Act (No 6 of 2007). Its predecessor was called the Interim Revenue Stabilisation Fund (IRSF) which was established in 2000. All of the proceeds in the IRSF were, in fact, transferred to the HSF in 2007.
What this history demonstrates is that the concern for the protection of the economy of this country has been shared on a bi-partisan basis seeing that the UNC administration of then prime minister Basdeo Panday had launched the IRSF in 2000 and the PNM administration of then prime minister Patrick Manning had established the HSF in 2007 as the replacement for the IRSF and transferred the proceeds from one account to the other.
The manner in which the information about the withdrawal of $2.5 billion from the HSF was made public was most troubling. Express investigative reporter Asha Javeed was able to blow the cover on what would have been an otherwise secret withdrawal in last Sunday’s Express. From there the media followed it and it was ventilated widely.
Indeed, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar questioned why the withdrawal had taken place seeing that the prices of oil and gas had increased in recent times from their earlier collapse. Perhaps, the most troubling aspect of the whole scenario is that the amount withdrawn had far exceeded what Prime Minister Rowley told the nation last December 29 would have been withdrawn.
Back in December, Rowley was talking about a $1 billion withdrawal this year and a $500,000 withdrawal next year. Why was Minister Imbert so impatient with Senator Mark in the Senate last Tuesday when a legitimate urgent question was asked about the withdrawal?
Surely the Government must understand that for a first-time withdrawal from the fund there will be questions. The biggest problem here seems to be an attitude of contempt. The Government has to work on this issue as a communications matter because it is adversely affecting their image which comes across as condescending rather than respectful.
Putting that aside, the answer given by the minister was devoid of any details and would lead any reasonable observer to conclude that the Government was not prepared to submit itself to scrutiny or simply did not know exactly why it withdrew the funds.
Why was there no public announcement from the Ministry of Finance that the funds had been withdrawn? Why was the minister only prepared to give a stock answer to the Senate when asked a specific urgent question? Surely, that would have been the occasion for the minister to come to Parliament with a detailed breakdown of data that would have allowed the general public to get the kind of information that it is entitled to get on such a matter and in the process push back the Opposition.
After the story broke in the Express on Sunday, it was only natural for the minister to expect a question in the Senate on Tuesday. There would have been ample time to prepare a detailed response either from data compiled at the time of the withdrawal or subsequent to that.
According to the 2014 report of the HSF board of directors under the chairmanship of Dr Ralph Henry, there is an interesting sentence which reads as follows in the chairman’s foreword:
“After careful consideration, the board recommended that the fund should not be split formally into two funds at this time—ie, a Heritage Fund and a Stabilisation Fund.” (p 4).
That particular comment is at odds with the Prime Minister’s statement last December to separate the Heritage from the Stabilisation in order to create two funds. This is another issue in the current HSF debate. This begs the question of what was the thinking of the board in 2014 for not delinking Heritage from Stabilisation?
More transparent discussion and scrutiny of the HSF is now required seeing that the first withdrawal has been made and the separation of the fund is on the table.
The revelation last week that former PNM senator Hafeez Ali was caught in a sex video scandal rocked the nation, but only for a few days. After that, the PNM media strategy was to cast Hafeez as a victim who needed help. This proved to be very effective as the mainstream media let it go.
On September 5, 2015, at the PNM’s final rally before the general election, in presenting Hafeez to the crowd as the candidate for Barataria/San Juan he was described by the announcer as “an accounting technician, a commercial pilot, a businessman, an everything man who will make Barataria/San Juan a safe seat for the PNM.”
In fact, Hafeez was so important to the PNM that in discarding the Williams doctrine about never appointing defeated candidates as senators, Prime Minister Rowley included Hafeez among the four defeated PNM candidates who were appointed senators. The other three were Clarence Rambharat (Mayaro), Avinash Singh (Caroni Central) and Sara Budu (Caroni East).
It was clear that there was a Hafeez effect as Barataria/San Juan was once a PNM safe seat and since 1995 when Linda Baboolal lost it to Fuad Khan, it has only ever returned once to the PNM fold. That was in 2007 when Joseph Ross won it in a split vote election between the COP (Jamal Mohammed) and the UNC (Nazemool Mohammed). Fuad Khan returned in 2010 and retained it again in 2015.
As part of the PNM’s strategy to try and regain total control of the East-West corridor, Barataria-San Juan is crucial to that effort as the only other seat that the PNM has had tremendous difficulty winning is the UNC safe seat of St Augustine. They recaptured St Joseph, Tunapuna, La Horquetta/Talparo and Toco/Sangre Grande.
This scandal involving Hafeez Ali will hit the party very hard in the Barataria/San Juan area and so it was not surprising that the party moved swiftly to send a signal with the appointment of the grandson of Kamaluddin Mohammed as a temporary senator for Dennis Moses.
The deeper issue involved in the Hafeez scandal is whether his activities were going on when he was screened in April 2015, or during the general election campaign after nomination day on August 17 or after he was appointed a senator on September 23.
These are questions that must be asked. If this were a UNC senator there would be no doubt that these questions would be asked. That is just how the society is configured.
According to the Government during the SSA Amendment Bill debate, the average citizen does not have any right to privacy. That is exactly the point that Hafeez Ali made when he spoke during that debate on May 10 instant. His colleagues who defended the point about not having privacy are now begging for him to have privacy. What a strange twist.
Listen to Hafeez Ali during the SSA debate: “Again, the point I am making, Madam President, how can we enjoy the right of privacy if we do not have life, (desk thumping) where the criminal activity is taking over the nation?” (Hansard, Senate, May 10, 2016, p 108)
The point that Hafeez Ali was making in defence of his government’s position of no right to privacy was that without life you cannot enjoy privacy. Well, right now one would imagine that he might want to change that particular line because he has both life and no privacy. He of all people would want privacy right now and so too would some of his PNM colleagues who chose to portray him as mentally troubled by talking about him getting “the counseling he need.”
This was the only way the party could have wiggled itself out of a very embarrassing situation. By portraying him as mentally troubled the party could earn some sympathy for him and so let the story simply fade away. That is a very good strategy.
One can only hope that the party will review its screening and vetting processes for candidates and senators in the future, especially when the person is likely to be a defeated candidate who will then be appointed a senator.
The issue of technology was also addressed by Hafeez Ali in his contribution to the debate on the SSA bill as follows:
“The law is trying to enable the agencies, to try to be up-to-date with those technologies, that we will be able to counter the criminal elements in the society. These days, the criminal elements are using the technology and information to create havoc in the society. For example, only yesterday a member from Barataria, he came to me stating that his credit card has been misused by $10,000 for Netflix, purchase of phone cards, clothes, but the banks really do not want to hear about that. He has to pay, but what he is saying, Madam President, he wants to know who did that? And this law will give the legislation the teeth, to be able find out what took place in those kinds of scenarios?”
Was this his own story? Who knows.
Yet another Labour Day celebration has gone by and the OWTU continues to ignore the role of its founding president general, Adrian Cola Rienzi, in its formal proceedings to mark the occasion. What is it about Rienzi that the current leadership of the OWTU will not acknowledge on the same plain with Tubal Uriah Butler?
Rienzi, whose name at birth was Krishna Deonarine, was the intelligentsia behind the labour movement of the 1930s, whereas Butler was the militant. Together they made a formidable team who fought for the rights of workers at a critical stage in our nation’s history.
Indeed, it was Rienzi who epitomised the unity between oil and sugar insofar as he was the founder and first president general, not only of the OWTU, but also the All Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factories Workers Trade Union. He also became the president of the Trade Union Council.
The trade union movement must get its history right if it is to make any credible advances in its struggle for better terms and conditions for its followers. By ignoring the equally valuable work of Rienzi alongside Butler they are short-changing the current generation of workers and rewriting the history of labour in most undignified manner.
The public relations officer of JTUM called on TTUTA to ensure that labour history is taught in schools. In doing so, he said:
“How many schools do anything to teach about our labour history and more so, doing anything about teaching about Tubal Uriah Butler. How many schools?” (Guardian, June 20, 2016, p A3).
Why is Cabrera forgetting to mention Rienzi who is just as important to the labour struggles of yesteryear for school students to learn about?
In many respects, labour will continue to suffer a fate of perpetual struggle with smaller divided numbers because of either their deliberate or ignorant erasure of the role of Adrian Cola Rienzi alongside Butler in the annals of labour history in this country.
It was refreshing to note the forthright statements by President Anthony Carmona who made Rienzi the centrepiece of his recent public comments to commemorate Labour Day.
Many in the OWTU will not even know that the union newspaper, The Vanguard, was in fact the creation of the intellectual mind of Rienzi. If TTUTA is being called upon to ensure that school children are taught about the virtues of Butler in the labour history of this country, then they should ensure that the one-sided recommendations from the JTUM platform are rectified to include Rienzi in that curriculum.
They should also ensure that the history of Rienzi and Butler is properly recorded to show that they were very good friends and that when Butler was hiding from the colonial authorities, it was Rienzi who was fronting for him and that Rienzi knew where he was hiding and protected him in 1937.
It was Rienzi who organised the workers during this period and a meeting took place on July 27, 1937, which led to the creation of the OWTU and Rienzi was chosen by the workers to become their first President-General.
Butler surrendered to the colonial authorities in September 1937 and he was charged with sedition and inciting a riot. It was Rienzi, the barrister, who defended Butler in the courts. Butler was freed of sedition, but was sentenced to two years hard labour for inciting a riot.
In 1938 Rienzi contested a seat on the Legislative Council and was elected. One of his early proposals as a member of the council was to ask the then governor, Sir Hubert Young, for June 19 to be made a public holiday. It did not happen until 1973 when Eric Williams declared it a public holiday.
For the information of all of those who trek every year to Charlie King Junction in Fyzabad to celebrate Labour Day, they need to be told that it was Rienzi who made the first request for such a holiday in the Legislative Council back on June 16, 1939. All of this must be part of the history that has to be taught to schoolchildren should TTUTA embark on a move to ensure that labour history is included in the curriculum of the nation’s schools.
The 1937-39 period is a most important part of the labour history of T&T because of the developments that emerged out of that period, namely the birth of the OWTU and the All-Trinidad Sugar union.
If the labour movement of today is to be true to itself, it will raise the profile of one Adrian Cola Rienzi. This is no sideshow, but in fact it is the real deal. As long as the labour leaders of today continue to persist with a flawed view of their own history they will be doomed to suffer the ignominy of disunity. As it stands now, the labour movement is divided and they must address that. Ask NATUC who had difficulty accessing the Fyzabad event, while the All-Trinidad sugar union had their own event in Couva.
Both Rienzi and Butler must be turning in their graves.
Last Sunday, the Tobago Council elections of the PNM were held for the posts of political leader and chairman. What was most interesting was that the PNM had amended its constitution in April this year to permit the introduction of the one person-one vote system as well as the application of the runoff method to settle inconclusive results for the post of political leader of the Tobago Council in cases where no one earned more than 50 per cent of the votes cast.
I commented on this earlier this year in my Sunday column on April 10 instant. At that time, I highlighted the fact that the PNM had been opposed to the run-off system when it was introduced in a constitution reform bill in the Parliament in August 2014. Back in 2014, there was run-off rage generated by the PNM who led the charge to oppose the measure despite the fact that they had introduced it in 2012 as part of the reform of their party’s constitution.
In 2016, according to Orville London:
“It is possible with six candidates that the winning candidate might get 30 per cent of the vote. And we are saying that a leader with 30 per cent of the electorate is not going to have the credibility to run the Tobago Council and, by extension, to go into an election with any degree of confidence that he or she has support…You must have a leader in whom the majority of people have confidence.” (Express, Monday, April 4, 2016, p 22).
Back in 2014, the process of having a run-off election for MPs who did not earn 50 per cent plus one vote at the polls was deemed to be undemocratic. Fast forward to 2016 and the system has now been blessed and deemed to be a fit and proper way to elect the Tobago leader. What a difference a couple years and a shift from opposition to government can make.
The results of the race for political leader of the PNM Tobago Council were:
Kelvin Charles – 1,289
Tracy Davidson-Celestine – 1,070
Denise Tsoiafatt-Angus – 679
Rennie Dumas – 603
Handel Beckles – 153
Trevor Craig – 66
Cynthia Alfred – 51
That outcome fell more or less in line with the prediction by Orville London back in April. As a consequence, the run-off election to be held today will see Kelvin Charles and Tracy Davidson-Celestine facing off to determine who will become the political leader of the PNM Tobago Council.
In this instance, the period between the two elections is one week. In the constitution reform bill in August 2014, the proposed period was 15 days between elections in those cases where no candidate was able to secure more than 50 per cent of the votes cast.
Today will be a fresh election so that no one will know who will vote for whom. One can presume that those who voted for either Charles or Davidson-Celestine will vote for them again. The key issue to be determined is who will those who voted for Angus, Dumas, Beckles, Craig and Alfred vote for today. Additionally, how many of those who did not come out to vote last Sunday will come out to vote today?
As this is a fresh election, the campaign tactics have to be adjusted to woo other voters who either voted for someone else or did not vote at all last week. As this is the first time that the run-off system is actually going to be tested in the local political process, it will be interesting to see what the actual outcome will be. It is ironic that the party that was so vehemently opposed to the run-off system for the national constitution should implement it for its own constitution.
The underlying importance and value of the run-off system is that it provides a final outcome with a majority winner. In many respects, it is just as if last Sunday was a primary election and today is the general election. Of course, if someone had won more than 50 per cent of the votes cast last Sunday, there would have been no election today.
This run-off election represents a significant culture change for our political process that has been anchored on a British model of plurality outcomes. In arguing against the run-off system then opposition MP Colm Imbert said:
“And the countries that have it like France, they have a presidential system, Mr Speaker, they follow the Napoleonic Code. Their laws are not based on English common law. It is a completely different system. (Interruption) Yes, the entire court system, the judicial system, the administration of justice, they are based on that Napoleonic Code, completely different to our English common law system.” (Hansard, House of Representatives, August 11, 2014, p 336).
Thankfully, one political party was eventually able to accept the reform for its own internal use complete with the culture change after a shift from ignorance to enlightenment. Today, the validation of the run-off system will be completed. Hopefully, majority elections will become part of our political culture.
Patrick Manning was declared elected unopposed on Friday, May 14, 1971, which was Nomination Day, ahead of the general election on May 24. Together with Kamaluddin Mohammed, George Chambers, Errol Mahabir, Wilton Hinds, Dr Maxwell Awon, Victor Campbell and Wilbert Winchester, he would not have to campaign to become the MP for San Fernando East for the first time owing to the decision of the ACDC-DLP coalition to lead a no-vote campaign.
After the PNM won the remaining 28 seats on election day, they formed the government with all 36 seats in the House of Representatives.
Manning was appointed parliamentary secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister. He would have to wait until after the death of Eric Williams to be elevated to a full ministerial portfolio in the Cabinet of George Chambers when he was appointed Minister of Energy and Natural Resources after the November 1981 general election.
As a political survivor, Manning endured the period of internal PNM instability between the sham resignation of Eric Williams as political leader in September 1973 and his death in March 1981. There is good reason to believe that his very public support for Karl Hudson-Phillips as a potential successor to Williams during this period caused him to only earn junior ministerial promotion during Williams’ lifetime.
The two qualities that he demonstrated during this period were bravery and survivability. After Karl Hudson-Phillips and others left the PNM by 1979 to form the ONR, Patrick Manning was not with them. He remained loyal to the PNM.
From his first full ministerial appointment at Cabinet level in 1981, his rise was meteoric. The shambles of the PNM defeat at the hands of the NAR was the occasion when leadership of the party was thrust upon him. After the NAR tsunami of December 1986, President Ellis Clarke formed his own view that Manning should be appointed leader of the Opposition over Morris Marshall and Muriel Donawa-Mc Davidson.
By January 1987, Manning was elected political leader of the PNM at a leadership convention where he defeated Dr Aeneas Wills. His work had just begun and he had to rebuild the party of Dr Williams from scratch.
Between the structural adjustment policies pursued by the NAR administration and the open split in the NAR between ANR Robinson and Basdeo Panday, Manning got much needed assistance in his rebuilding efforts. By the time the 1991 general election came around, he was able to lead the PNM into that election with a slogan that “The Balisier is Blooming Again.” He would win that election with what political scientists call a manufactured majority in which the PNM won a majority of seats (21 of 36) with a minority of votes (44.8 per cent).
His biggest assistance came from the divide between the NAR and the UNC which led to split votes right across Trinidad. As a tactician, Manning was always aware of the fact that future PNM survivability would depend on retaining the first past-the-post system and having two main opposition parties challenge the PNM at all times.
That strategy did not work in 1995 when he called an early general election to avoid a risky by-election in San Fernando West after the resignation of Ralph Maraj from the Parliament in September 1995 over the treatment of his sister Occah Seapaul, the Speaker.
The PNM had lost a critical by-election in Pointe-a-Pierre in 1994 which reduced their majority by one, and with the suspension of Speaker Seapaul in 1995 that majority was further reduced when the Deputy Speaker, Rupert Griffith, was forced into the chair.
The gamble on a general election after three years and ten months in office failed and led to a hung Parliament of 17-17-2. Against a backdrop of his own refusal to join any coalition, the UNC and the NAR formed a coalition government and Manning gave way to Basdeo Panday with the help of ANR Robinson.
Panday would win re-election in 2000, but it would not last for long as Manning was able to cleverly execute his strategy to create a division within the UNC that yielded the support of Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Ralph Maraj and Trevor Sudama.
After an inconclusive general election that ended in an 18-18 tie in December 2001, ANR Robinson, the president, repaid Manning for removing him from power in 1995 by making him the Prime Minister on Christmas Eve.
Manning would actively pursue a policy of facilitating another fracture in the UNC after winning the 2002 general election and he succeeded in having key PNM financiers surreptitiously assist with the creation of the COP between 2006-2007 which helped him to win the 2007 general election.
He tried to move swiftly on this division with a snap election in May 2010 after a leadership change in the UNC in January 2010, but it collapsed on the eve of Nomination Day when the UNC, COP and TOP formed an alliance to contest the election. His gamble failed.
His hallmark was political bravery with a good dose of political insight wrapped with the philosophy of Machiavelli. May he rest in peace.
“I couldn’t be clearer. Brexit means Brexit. And we’re going to make a success of it. There will be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it by the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union, and as Prime Minister I will make sure that we leave the European Union.”
With those words, Theresa May launched her campaign last Monday in Birmingham to become the new leader of the Conservative Party. She had barely uttered the words when her challenger, Andrea Leadsom, made a speech back in London declaring that she was withdrawing from the race on the ground that she felt that even if she won the popular vote among Conservative party members, she might have difficulty uniting the MPs behind her. This was a sobering reality of the challenges to be faced by political parties that have one person-one vote internal elections for leadership positions that may put the eventual office holders at odds with the elected MPs.
Apart from the fact that her realisation of the power of the MPs over the will of the party electorate was real, she completely changed the face of British politics with the twinkling of an eye. Theresa May would become leader of the Conservative party unchallenged by the following day and by virtue of the Conservatives holding an outright majority in the House of Commons, she would become the next Prime Minister the day after that.
On Wednesday David Cameron was taking his final Prime Minister’s Question time in the House of Commons and then it was off to Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation to Her Majesty. As he went out one entrance to the Palace, in drove Theresa May through another, and in a matter of moments she was invited by the Queen to form a new government.
It was perhaps the best example of what the English constitutional philosopher Walter Bagehot in his 1867 work titled The English Constitution described as the dignified and the efficient uses of power.
The dignified was captured in that photograph seen around world with Theresa May curtseying before the Queen in accepting the invitation to form a government and within an hour of that, George Osborne was sacked as Chancellor of the Exchequer and replaced by Phil Hammond, the former foreign secretary. Then enter Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, from the backbenches to become Foreign Secretary. Amber Rudd, the former energy secretary replaced Theresa May as Home Secretary, while Liam Fox and David Davis were taken from the backbenches and made International Trade and EU Exit Secretaries respectively.
That was enough of the efficient use of power for one evening with three Remain campaigners (May, Rudd and Hammond) in senior positions being joined by three Brexit campaigners (Johnson, Fox and Davis) alongside them.
This telegraphed Theresa May’s commitment to negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union alongside uniting the Conservative Party and the country. By the next morning, the reshaping of the Government was ruthless and decisive with more sackings being undertaken. In all there was a total of nine sackings/resignations in an almost complete overhaul of the government.
For the first time in its almost 1,000-year history, a woman was appointed to the position of Lord Chancellor who is also Secretary of State for Justice in the person of Elizabeth Truss replacing Michael Gove who was sacked. Truss like Gove is also not a lawyer.
Many people have speculated that there could be a fresh general election, but that is more difficult to accomplish now than before ever since the enactment of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.
An early general election in the UK is now only possible based on the provisions of section two of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 which provides for two exceptions to the fixed date for a general election that is now established in British law. Either a formal motion can be passed by a two-thirds majority of the total membership of the House of Commons seeking an early general election or a successful motion of no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government passed by the House of Commons by simple majority vote that fails to attract a majority vote of confidence within 14 days of its passage can lead to an early general election.
If the UK gets to have an early general election, either the Remain or the Leave camps could end up claiming that the election is based on seeking a fresh mandate on the issue. Theresa May is certainly not sending any signals that she is thinking about an early general election based on her “Brexit means Brexit” statement. She has converted that to be her mandate and will govern on that basis.
One of the realities of having fixed election dates is that you have a full five-year term of office and while there may be changes in the Office of Prime Minister, there are no changes to the life of Parliament. Theresa May fully expects to serve out the rest of this parliamentary term.
The recent comments on Radio Jaagriti by Mr Satnarayan Maharaj to the effect that the late prime minister Patrick Manning was a racist drew the ire of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. The Leader of the Opposition, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, asked questions about whether the events recounted by Maharaj were true or not, while not agreeing on the race question.
While rejecting the view that Manning was a racist, I recognise that the challenge that has been presented here is the question of the interpretation of political and policy events. That challenge starts with the issue of recognising that in societies like ours political patronage and political actions are often cast in racial terms as a means of describing motive.
This has bedevilled our society both before and after independence. The talk of a racial divide is often confused with what is really a political divide. This has been exacerbated over the last 30 years with the fact that the country’s oldest party, the PNM, has had to rotate power with other parties since 1986.
The emergence of a real two-party system since 1991 with the emergence of the UNC as an opposition and then as a government has changed the political dynamic of the country in such a way as to blur the lines between race and politics. Before the NAR defeated the PNM in 1986, there was never any serious challenge faced by the PNM for its first 30 years of existence (1956-86).
However, its last 30 years (1986-2016) has seen frequent rotations of power in 1986, 1991, 1995, 2001, 2010 and 2015. It is this phenomenon that has created a higher degree of political angst than before about political contests. Prior to 1986 there was never any doubt about who would win elections as it was a foregone conclusion that the PNM alone was dominant.
However, the seeds of political change were always lying below the surface and the electorate was not as racially polarised as some would have us believe. The 1981, 1991, 1995, 2001 and 2007 elections bore testimony to that fact based on the outcomes with third parties having an impact on the results.
The existence of strong third parties in societies where there are supposedly strong bifurcations of voting behaviour tend to undermine the race argument. Their limited success is usually a function of the system of election.
It is often said that race is the engine of politics in plural societies. The creation of anxiety and fear are factors that usually drive political campaigns at the ground level while maintaining multiculturalism above the surface on all sides. The interplay between race, religion and ethnicity can make a lethal cocktail for any society to endure during peak periods of political activity.
Despite all of this, T&T has done quite well comparatively speaking with other developing countries. There is always the presence of something called “the race card” which can be used as a tool of guilt or mobilisation. The deeper issue is the question of socialisation and how people think.
The recent concerns expressed by the Minister of Education about the under-performance of schools in the East-West corridor in relation to schools in central and south Trinidad is one of those markers of advancement which is crucial to the future development of the society.
Educational opportunities are equally available to all and have been increasingly so in the post-independence period, however, it is the other factors of home life, school discipline, commitment of teachers among others that can make the difference. The Minister of Education must be complimented for flagging the issue because in 20 years from now that can make the difference between young professionals and young criminals as sad as that may seem.
Dr Rowley’s response to Maharaj raised the issue of sedition largely because of the reference to race in the commentary by Maharaj. Kamla Persad-Bissessar cautioned him about the use of the term largely because there were issues of interpretation of controversial events. The fact that those kinds of exchanges can take place among political leaders in our society without the attendant violence that such exchanges would bring in other developing countries is a sign of maturity.
There are some by-products emerging from these exchanges as the Guardian reported last Tuesday that former speaker Occah Seapaul indicated that she planned to sue Prime Minister Rowley about his comments on her tenure as Speaker during a period of controversy in July-August 1995.
In general, it is usually difficult to have a civil conversation about issues of race in this society because of a preference for a psychology of avoidance of the subject itself. In raising the issue at the opening of Parliament last year, President Anthony Carmona said: “Why can we not all just get along?” (Hansard, House of Representatives, September 23, 2015, p 9).
Unfortunately, life is not as simple as that. Disagreement is as healthy as consensus in ensuring that rights and freedoms are protected. For us, race is not a crisis, but rather a reality that we have learned to live with peacefully.
As several Commonwealth Caribbean countries celebrate Emancipation Day tomorrow, it is important to locate the significance of the emotions felt on such an occasion, especially in relation to the issue of human rights.
In the British West Indies there was a fundamental dichotomy between the values espoused by the 1215 Magna Carta that was subsequently revised several times, and the construction of slave society. Magna Carta has been celebrated as the foundation stone of many constitutional systems and human rights matrices in a variety of countries. However, in the West Indies, it is apparent that the principles of Magna Carta were not prominent in the history of the region until the preparation of independence constitutions.
The fundamental challenge lay in the failure of British settlers in the British West Indies to apply the principles of Magna Carta to all people in the colonies that were settled, conquered or ceded in the name of the British Crown. Primarily, the laws that were devised to facilitate slavery and the slave trade in the British West Indies regarded African slaves as property and not as people thereby contravening the core principles of Magna Carta.
The attitude of the British imperial courts towards slaves demonstrated the diversion from Magna Carta in the West Indies.
The best example of the racial superiority factor in the approach of British colonial administrators is captured in the following excerpt from the Report by Major E F L Wood who toured the West Indies and British Guiana in 1921-22:
“The whole history of the African population of the West Indies inevitably drives them towards representative institutions fashioned after the British model. Transplanted by the slave trade or other circumstances to foreign soil, losing in the process their social system, language and traditions, and with the exception of some relics of obeah, whatever religion they may have had, they owe everything that they have now, and all that they are, to the British race that first enslaved them, and subsequently to its honour restored to them their freedom. Small wonder if they look for political growth to the only source and pattern that they know, and aspire to share in what has been the peculiarly British gift of representative institutions.” [Report by the Hon Major E F L Wood, MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Colonies) on his visit to the West Indies and British Guiana, December 1921-February 1922, Cmnd. 1679 (1922), p 6].
In framing colonial policy for the British West Indies, this quote from Major Wood (who later became Lord Halifax, the Second World War Foreign Secretary in Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet) highlights the mindset of racial superiority as the basis for engagement.
There were two legal cases that held great significance for the way in which slaves were to be treated during the pre-emancipation period.
The first was the matter of Somerset v Stewart [(1772) 98 ER 499] which established that slavery could not be practiced in England, but left open the issue of whether it could be practiced in other parts of the British Empire by virtue of the ambiguity of the judgment of Lord Mansfield in this regard.
The second was the matter of Gregson v Gilbert [(1783) 3 Doug KB 232] otherwise known as the Zong massacre. In this case an insurance claim involving a slave ship called the Zong was admitted. The insurance claim was for recovery of losses by the shipowners for a loss of cargo when 132 slaves were thrown overboard in order to retain supplies of food and water for those on board. This horrific act was upheld by Lord Mansfield and the owners were later compensated for the loss of the slaves.
The philosophy of regarding African slaves as property and not as people was a core imperial legal philosophy of the pre-emancipation era as highlighted by these two cases.
Even though Emancipation Day would come on August 1, 1834, it is really the advent of human rights in the independence constitutions from 1962 onwards that secure equality and justice for all in the society. Both the Canadian Bill of Rights 1960, in the case of T&T, and the European Convention on Human Rights 1950, in the cases of the other eleven independent countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean, can trace influences from Magna Carta.
In T&T, our constitutional foundation was best captured by Dr Eric Williams at a public meeting on July 19, 1955, in Woodford Square, Port-of-Spain, before he had entered electoral politics, when he 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.”
It is within this model that our human rights provisions were subsequently included for the independence Constitution.
With the UNC opening its new headquarters last Wednesday and the political leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, talking about a building fund, it is now apparent that the two major parties in this country are now moving to secure the next phase of their respective futures.
The PNM being the older of the two having been formed in 1956 by Dr Eric Williams has had a headquarters in Port-of-Spain at Tranquillity Street called “Balisier House.” There is considerable tradition associated with the venue and a history that allows it to have an institutional presence in the minds of thousands of party supporters.
On the other hand, the UNC that was formed out of the fracture inside of the NAR in 1989 by Basdeo Panday had largely operated out of the Rienzi Complex in Couva. This was an arrangement that had its roots in the ULF that was formed in 1975 and continued to exist until its immersion in the NAR in 1986.
There was the original concept of a political party that had trade union roots with Basdeo Panday, Raffique Shah, Joe Young and George Weekes being the leading lights in the ULF. In many respects, the leadership of Basdeo Panday came to epitomise both the ULF and later the UNC.
Political change in terms of leadership and the capture or loss of power brought with it the pains of evolution that many find difficult to accept. For the PNM the death of Eric Williams, its first leader, was a momentous event because there was a certain invincibility about Williams that many associated with the continuous victories of the PNM in general elections. The transfer of power to George Chambers in 1981 and the defeat of the PNM by the NAR in 1986 created major challenges for the party before the UNC was even born.
Indeed, it was the emergence of the UNC in 1989 together with the revival of the PNM under Patrick Manning that created the two-party system that the country never had until the 1991 general election. The NAR faded from the national limelight, first into a regional party in Tobago and subsequently into oblivion after the elevation of ANR Robinson to the presidency and his subsequent retirement from active public life.
In essence, the country has only really had a two-party system since the birth of the UNC and within a period of 21 years, the party was able to capture power three times at general elections in 1995, 2000 and 2010. The ability of the UNC to provide a realistic challenge to the PNM in the post-1991 period has brought a rotation of power that is the hallmark of functioning democracies.
The PNM is now on its fourth leader, while the UNC is only on its third. Unlike the PNM who had its first change of leader by virtue of the death of its founder in 1981, the UNC experienced its first change of leader by the consent of Panday to Winston Dookeran unopposed in 2005. With Dookeran’s resignation as UNC leader in 2006, the first contested change came at the hands of its internal voters in 2010 with the election of Kamla Persad-Bissessar who was re-elected by those voters in 2015.
With a former leader still around nursing the wounds of leadership change in 2010, it is inevitable that Mrs Persad-Bissessar will have many criticisms thrown her way in the aftermath of that leadership contest. Her decision to have leadership elections so soon after losing the general election last year seemed to catch some of her opponents by surprise however, she has so far made every effort to maintain party unity.
Dr Rowley could have had the same challenge as Mrs Persad-Bissessar had Mr Manning not fallen ill in 2012.
In many respects, the All-Trinidad General Workers Union may have done the UNC a huge favour by having a very public termination of their month-to-month rent arrangement at the Rienzi Complex. The sugar industry is now dead and the UNC has grown out of its original moorings. Moving out of the union’s headquarters and finding its own home may be a rite of passage whose time had come.
The PNM is also at a stage where it is taking its development to another level by launching a building fund for the construction of the new Balisier House next door to the current one. The UNC is also talking about a building fund for the construction of its own headquarters which may not necessarily be in Couva.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar spoke of a renaissance for the party last Wednesday in their move which may allow them a certain flexibility for future development that can give the party a sense of purpose during its opposition years.
With both the PNM and the UNC building for the future in very literal terms, there is also an upside to the democracy of the country. That is that democracy is on a good pathway as new party headquarters in concrete and steel, on both sides, may actually cement the future stability of our democracy in a very positive way.
The passing of Makandal Daaga last week permits an opportunity to celebrate his life as well as to reflect upon his contribution to the society. The 1970 Black Power uprising is largely associated with the movement that he led called the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC).
The term “Black Power” appears to have been coined by the Trinidadian-born American civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael who is reported to have used the term on June 17, 1966, at a rally in Mississippi, USA.
In the context of T&T, it represented an affront to the pre-colonial race and class structure that had largely remained intact after the granting of independence.
The fact that nothing of significance had changed with regard to that structure after independence led to a struggle that would place Daaga (who was known as Geddes Granger at the time) firmly at odds with Eric Williams and the PNM.
There is debate about where to locate the first pangs of the movement that would challenge Williams on the issue of Black Power. Some say it was the later reactions against the enactment of the Industrial Stabilisation Act 1965, others contend that the spark came from the sit-in by black students at the Sir George Williams University in Montreal, Canada, in February 1969, another view is that the national bus strike of April 1969 led by the Transport and Industrial Workers Union was the spark.
Whichever it was, the leadership of Daaga and his colleagues allowed a wide range of grievances to earn a forum through which a movement emerged. That forum was NJAC. The biggest battle for the demonstrators in 1970 was how to challenge Williams and the PNM on the issue of black disadvantage and overcome the power structure that supported them.
In 1970, it was the killing of Basil Davis on April 6 that led to an increase in public support for the movement and Davis’ funeral was an event that raised the level of awareness of the cause. Indeed, on April 13, 1970, ANR Robinson resigned from the Cabinet of Dr Williams and the PNM over his support for Black Power.
It was the unconnected Regiment mutiny that led to a full frontal attack on the stability of the Williams regime. The Government was facing a possible collapse which it averted by imposing a state of emergency on April 21, 1970.
Daaga had raised the level of black consciousness in the society through his movement. Their concept of black power was that the Afro and Indo populations of T&T needed to unite because they had been divided by the colonial authorities for political purposes and those divisions were being perpetuated in the post-independence period in order to sustain the pre-colonial power structure.
This was a struggle that Daaga never gave up throughout his life and it is one that is clearly identified with him. Some may argue that because NJAC unsuccessfully contested general elections that they were not relevant, others have argued that their contribution came from their influence over changes to social attitudes towards employment practices and the adjustments that Williams and the PNM had to make after 1970 in changing course for their survival.
Indeed, Williams recognised that he had to change his direction and he called a special convention of the PNM in November 1970. At that convention he was able to have the PNM approve “The Chaguaramas Declaration: The People’s Charter Revised.”
That document gave the PNM an intellectual trajectory that answered many of the cries of the demonstrators in the streets for state control of the economy and the rejection of foreign ownership of the commanding heights of the economy.
There was also an intellectual battle inside of the Black Power movement insofar as divisions existed between some of the key advocates. Writing in his recent book Critical Interventions in Caribbean Politics and Theory (University Press of Mississippi, 2014), Brian Meeks argues as follows about the differences between Lloyd Best and NJAC:
“There were certainly differences between NJAC’s more race-centred positions and Lloyd’s ‘indigenous thought’ approach, but I suggest these were not substantial enough to warrant a distancing of the two trends. Both approaches shared a reflexive hostility to foreign domination; both were rooted in some notion of Caribbean authenticity accompanied by a cultural revolution in values and new approaches to living. Were they related to a clash of ‘doctor’ politicians, in which Lloyd, the senior doctor and indeed teacher of many of the NJAC leadership, would be asked to enter the alliance as a junior partner, in an unacceptable role reversal ? I have no doubt that this is part of the story.” (pp 88-89).
This factor together with the adoption of a substantial portion of the NJAC agenda by Williams and the PNM as their own may have contributed to the survival of the PNM and the decline in public support for NJAC.
Daaga’s work is not finished, but his legacy is there for all to see.
Two Saturdays ago in an interview with Juhel Browne of TV6, Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, leader of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, urged Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to take care of the nation’s Afro community which he described as a sick child. He said the Prime Minister should do this to the exclusion of the others and he made no apologies for saying so.
Last Sunday, Prof Selwyn Cudjoe, writing in the Express, had this to say: “I am concerned about the ineptitude of the present Government and its inability to stimulate our people to dream of a better tomorrow. I wonder if, like the teabag, its desire to inspire our people will only go into gear when the country is in hot water? The ANC’s recent performance should be a warning to the PNM.”
These two commentaries emerged within a day of each other last weekend. On the one hand, Imam Abu Bakr is calling for the Government to adopt a partisan approach to its development of the country, while on the other hand, Selwyn Cudjoe is questioning whether or not the present government has the capacity to undertake the job, partisan or not.
After 54 years of independence during which time the PNM held power for 37 of those years, the call by Abu Bakr must beg the question about what was the PNM doing for all those years that would lead him to say that he makes no apology for the exclusion of the “others” because they are fine and they can look after themselves? How did they get to be fine and could look after themselves?
Prof Cudjoe gave a parting shot to the leadership of the PNM in his column when he raised the issue of the ANC’s recent performance in local government elections in South Africa earlier this month where that party suffered losses in major cities and other areas in South Africa. His message was clearly that a large number of the supporters of the ANC—the party of Nelson Mandela—were prepared to turn their backs on their party and vote for someone else for whatever reason.
Cudjoe also questioned the political philosophy of Faris Al-Rawi and Stuart Young in the PNM and asked rhetorical questions about them. In particular, he opined: “In their absence, Stuart Young is the new poster boy. I know nothing about his or the AG’s political experience or philosophy, but I wonder how do Marlene McDonald, Camille Robinson-Regis, Fitzgerald Hinds, and other PNM stalwarts feel about all of this?”
His selection of those particular parliamentarians is significant and raises the issue of whether or not there is a challenge for Dr Rowley to manage diversity within his government. Given the relative newness of Al-Rawi and Young in PNM politics and their meteoric rise to great prominence at the expense of others who have a longer track record in PNM politics, Cudjoe is clearly challenging Dr Rowley’s bestowal of prominence on Al-Rawi and Young over others.
The reality is that there is some kind of rumbling taking place within the black community about the direction of the current PNM government. Imam Abu Bakr was very blunt about his expectation even if it meant that Dr Rowley has to violate his oath of office which requires him to “do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”
Two Saturdays ago, Harvey Borris and the Black Caucus Movement were in the news with their calls for land distribution in Caroni which is another dimension to the closure of Caroni (1975) Limited and the issue of land tenure in the aftermath. This confluence of events and the demands being made on the Rowley administration by Borris and Bakr point to something deeper. The commentary by Cudjoe suggests that something else is happening inside the PNM.
On April 24, I wrote a column titled Laventille At Last in which I observed that the PNM government had finally decided to take the plight of Laventille seriously after 60 years of continuous political support for the party by the residents of the area. Precious little has been done over all of those years.
In many respects, the Abu Bakr commentary that the “others” are all right and can look after themselves has to be analysed against the backdrop of how a generation of “others” who have had different voting behaviour patterns against the trend of PNM electoral dominance for 37 of the 54 years since independence were able to attain a status of being able to look after themselves without being dependent on state patronage.
It may have been convenient in the past when the UNC held power in 1995-2001 and 2010-2015 to blame an Indian-led government for this, despite its untruthfulness, for electoral purposes. Now that the wheels of power have turned one more time in favour of the PNM, the challenge for preferential treatment for the Afro community is squarely being put before Dr Rowley by Bakr and Borris. How will his government respond?
The decision by Madam Justice Mira Dean-Armorer two Fridays ago in the case of five election petitions brought by the UNC against the EBC and the victorious PNM candidates in St Joseph, Tunapuna, Toco-Sangre Grande, San Fernando West and Moruga-Tableland has provided some direction as to the future of Caribbean democracies.
In her judgment she essentially held that the EBC broke the law when they extended the polling time from 6 pm to 7 pm in Trinidad and that, because of substantial compliance by the EBC in other aspects of their polling day duties, there was no basis to disturb the results in those constituencies.
The debate that has since emerged is one between the recognition of illegality in the discharge of a public function by a public body and the tempering of the effect of that illegality by substantial compliance otherwise in the discharge of that function.
It appears that there was reliance on an Antiguan case of Quinn-Leandro v Jonas  78 WIR 216 which Justice Dean-Armorer cited at paragraph 164 of her judgment in which Rawlins CJ had this to say: “An election court would not invalidate an election on the ground that there was substantial non-compliance with electoral law, pursuant to section 32(4) of the Representation of the People Act, if the breach of elections procedure stipulated by law was trivial. There had to be such a substantial departure from elections procedure stipulated by law that would cause an ordinary person to condemn the election as a sham or travesty. A considerable departure was required. Accordingly, an election court would usually only invalidate an election on that ground if the judge was really satisfied that the breach was serious.”
The thinking in this Antiguan case has now been applied to elections in T&T and what is emerging is the spread of a doctrine of substantial compliance being greater that illegality in the performance of the public duty of conducting an election.
The next time a candidate seeks to challenge the actions of any election authority in another Commonwealth Caribbean jurisdiction, these two precedents may be advanced as a protection for the actions of the election authorities. This makes an appeal so vital in the current case.
There is a fundamental question of law to be determined here which may very well provide a road map for Commonwealth Caribbean democracies about the way in which their elections are to be handled. Are there any consequences at all for a public authority for breaking the law? Are there no consequences for breaking the law if there is substantial compliance with everything else despite the illegality?
In a letter to the editor of the Express last Thursday, Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, who appeared for the PNM in the case, wrote to advocate that there was no politics in the judge’s ruling and to challenge the views expressed by some commentators who said that there was politics in her ruling.
Mendes, in his letter, said inter alia: “ . . . Recently in Antigua, for example, the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal refused to declare an election void even though voting hours were reduced substantially, creating the potential that some electors may have been deprived of the opportunity to vote. On the evidence, the court found that the reduction in voting hours did not affect the result and, given that the voter turnout was high in any event, the will of the electorate had been expressed . . .”
This was a description of the same Quinn-Leandro v Jonas case that the judge relied upon in her judgment. What is emerging in Commonwealth Caribbean jurisprudence is an attitude of elasticity towards illegality on the part of public authorities with regard to elections.
As described by Mendes, the Antiguan case involved a shortening of the polling time which was deemed to be tolerable by the court, while the Trinidadian case involved an extension of the polling time which was also deemed to be tolerable by the local court.
The fundamental issue involved here is whether Caribbean democracies are prepared to accept this kind of judicial elasticity in the holding of their elections regardless of whether it is an extension or a curtailment of the statutory polling hours. What other areas of elasticity exist for illegality to be trumped by substantial compliance ?
Would someone who holds the nationality of the country where he/she is contesting an election be deemed to have been properly elected because there was substantial compliance with election day procedures notwithstanding the fact that he/she may lawfully hold another nationality simultaneously?
Would the court be prepared to tolerate the fact that persons may be turned away from the polls during the period of an extension of time because the presiding officer was not aware that there was an extension?
Would the court be prepared to tolerate a repeat in either Antigua or T&T of these events as long as there is substantial compliance otherwise?
These are fundamental questions for the future of Caribbean democracies that must be answered.
As T&T celebrated its 54th anniversary of independence last Wednesday, it is instructive to note that an inquiring narrative arose just prior to Independence about patriotism.
The fact that such a debate arose in the first place confirms that there are doubts about patriotism in our society. The reality is that we never did anything to get our Independence as it only emerged out of the demise of the Federation of the West Indies in 1962.
The trajectory on which this country was proceeding together with Grenada, Barbados, St Vincent, St Lucia, Dominica, Montserrat, Antigua, St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, and Jamaica between 1958 and 1962 was towards the creation of an independent nation-state that was to be called “The West Indies”.
After the Jamaican referendum of September 1961, in which Jamexit was supported by a majority of the Jamaican electorate, Dr Eric Williams concluded that one from ten would leave zero. This was not a stirring plea for independence for T&T, but rather a post mortem on the effect of the federation.
Between September 1961 and August 1962, our nation was constructed. Arthur Lewis was appointed as the federal negotiator to engage Williams on the subject of saving the federation with a revised plan to keep the remaining nine countries in it with T&T providing 75 per cent of the budget in exchange for 50 per cent of the seats in the revised Federal House of Representatives.
As a final offer from the federal government, that was a deal-breaker. Williams announced in January 1962 that T&T would also withdraw from the Federation and pursue its own independence. All of a sudden at the start of 1962 we moved from negotiating to stay in the Federation to suddenly becoming a nation-state.
Ellis Clarke produced a draft independence constitution in February 1962 for public comment, the Cabinet invited comments on that constitution in March 1962, an independence conference to discuss that constitution was held at Queen’s Hall in April 1962 (at which the opposition walked out on the first day), a joint select committee of the Parliament met for one week (May 9-16, 1962) to approve it, and a constitutional conference was held at Marlborough House in London (May 28- June 8, 1962) to finalise the constitution for independence.
By August 31, 1962, T&T was an independent state. After such a dizzying pace to move from the ashes of federation to the birth of a new nation in a matter of months, is anyone surprised that there are questions about patriotism 54 years later ?
There was never any real opportunity to discuss the independence project, so we simply made it up as we went along. There are still debates today about what constitutes national culture and even a botanical debate about the national flower, the single or the double chaconia.
None of this was debated over any significant period of time, while the anthem was an amended version of Song for Federation that was originally composed by Pat Castagne and for which the revised version won him the national competition for a national anthem for the country.
The fact that all of this was put together so hastily by all who participated in the mad rush to become independent in 1962 is a credit to the competence of those who were in charge of the overall project. However, the byproduct is a debate 54 years later about patriotism.
The politics of the demise of the Federation and the sudden switch to nationhood left many gaps that are still being filled today. The political competition of the 1960s was very one-sided as the PNM was completely dominant and serious two-party politics only emerged after the NAR defeated the PNM in 1986 and the UNC emerged in 1989 as the only political party that could seriously challenge the PNM.
We became a functioning democracy in 1991 when the PNM returned to power if the two-turnover principle of testing democracies is applied as the 1991 general election gave this country its second turnover of power. As far as democracy is concerned, the clock started running in 1991. There have been four more turnovers of power since then so we are only now beginning to come to terms with a critical dimension of nationhood.
The state is no longer a party and a party is no longer the state. That condition existed between 1962 and 1986. As a new generation of voters grew up and became political decision-makers, they were able to demand of political parties different levels of performance that can cause changes to take place.
The persistence of the existing constitutional and electoral arrangements will only make it more difficult for a newer generation of voters to bring about political change by the rotation of power that our majoritarian system requires.
Political divisiveness is a requirement of our system of government for it to work. Alternative systems founded on consensus models of government would suit our society better, but that is easier said than done. However, if ever adopted, the question marks about patriotism may recede.
The announcement by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley that he will be undertaking a Cabinet reshuffle after the 2016-2017 budget has caused many people to start speculating. There was a story in the Guardian last Wednesday that former Cabinet minister Marlene McDonald might be returning to the Cabinet notwithstanding the Integrity Commission investigations that are currently underway. That will attract controversy if implemented.
For Dr Rowley this will be his second Cabinet reshuffle over his first year in office. Indeed, it was the removal of McDonald from the Cabinet in March this year that led to a mini-reshuffle. This impending reshuffle comes on the heels of two divergent opinion polls on the performance of the Rowley administration after one year in office.
The Sunday Guardian poll concluded that respondents were very dissatisfied. The Express poll on Wednesday concluded that respondents narrowly approved the performance of the Government. Whichever way one wants to take it, the bottom line is that the Prime Minister has indicated that there will be a Cabinet reshuffle after the budget.
He is not entirely happy about the way his government has performed over its first year in office. One of the ways that ministerial performance has been addressed over the years by prime ministers is through a Cabinet reshuffle. Both Patrick Manning and Kamla Persad-Bissessar, just like their predecessors, engaged in Cabinet reshuffles or adjustments on a frequent basis during their respective terms of office as Prime Minister.
After his return to power on Christmas Eve 2001 following the famous 18-18 tied general election result, Patrick Manning was re-elected in October 2002 and adjusted his Cabinet in May 2003, November 2003, March 2004, May 2005, January 2006, September 2006 and again after the general election of November 2007 in April 2008 and May 2009.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar made adjustments to her Cabinet in May 2011, June 2011, June 2012, September 2012, April 2013, September 2013, April 2014, July 2014 and February 2015. Generally speaking, Cabinet reshuffles are related to ministerial performance. However, there are other circumstances that have led to Cabinet reshuffles over the years of our post-independence history.
Political crises, political opportunities, resignations, dismissals and alleged scandals can trigger Cabinet reshuffles. During the political crisis created by the Black Power uprising in 1970, the resignation of ANR Robinson from the Eric Williams Cabinet and the subsequent desire to ask Messrs Gerard Montano and John O’Halloran to resign from the Cabinet to change the face of the Government led to the constitution being amended to permit more senators to be appointed ministers. That gave Williams the breathing space that he needed at the time and in 1976, he had senatorial restrictions removed in the Republican Constitution. In 1973, he suffered the resignation of Karl Hudson-Phillips as attorney general which caused a reshuffle. In 1975, he had a major reshuffle when he complained about millstones around his neck.
ANR Robinson faced his own internal political crises in 1987 and 1988 when he asked the entire Cabinet to resign in November 1987 and then re-appointed everyone except John Humphrey. By March 1988, he had a major Cabinet reshuffle to dismiss Basdeo Panday, Kelvin Ramnath, and Trevor Sudama. Those dismissals eventually led to the birth of the UNC in 1989.
Patrick Manning faced his own political crisis in 1995 when he sought the removal of Occah Seapaul as speaker of the House of Representatives. That led to the resignation of her brother, Ralph Maraj, from the Cabinet which eventually led to his resignation as an MP which forced Manning’s hand to call an early general election which he lost. In 1995, in replacing Ralph Maraj as his Foreign minister, he had to act swiftly again after Knowlson Gift, Maraj’s replacement, resigned because of adverse publicity in the press about his personal finances after just ten days on the job.
Basdeo Panday had an opportunity to reshuffle following ANR Robinson’s resignation from the Cabinet in February 1997 to assume the presidency which subsequently led to two MPs being poached from the PNM and then given ministerial portfolios. He also faced his own internal political crisis when he dismissed three ministers in October 2001 over differences of opinion regarding allegations of corruption. Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Ralph Maraj and Trevor Sudama were uncomfortable with Panday’s relationship with a local insurance company. This eventually led to an early general election which he lost by presidential discretion after an 18-18 tie.
Patrick Manning faced another internal crisis when he dismissed Keith Rowley from his Cabinet in April 2008 over differences regarding Udecott. Rowley remained a thorn in his side from the backbenches until Manning called a snap general election in May 2010.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar had her own internal crises in September 2012 (Section 34 controversy), April 2013 (Jack Warner resignation) and February 2015 (Anand Ramlogan resignation). Each of these events required a Cabinet reshuffle outside of her own annual performance appraisals in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
With another Cabinet reshuffle just over the horizon, it would be fair to say that Prime Minister Rowley will look for better performance from his ministers.
Now that the date for the 2016-17 national budget presentation has been announced, it is time for some reflection on the likely challenges facing the Government and the country in the fiscal package that will be unveiled on September 30.
One of the first things that the Minister of Finance must address should be the question of the Government’s cash flow and its revenue-generating prospects. There has been considerable commentary over the last year about shortfalls in revenue and the need to take measures for the country to stay afloat. That kind of narrative has had a depressing impact on the national psyche.
Some argue that this is simply being honest in facing the situation, while others argue that this is having a negative impact on commercial activity. At the end of the day, the minister has to carry out a balancing act of being honest with the population, while at the same time seeking to inspire confidence in the economy so that future investment activity can take place.
There are some policy measures that have gone silent since the last budget and the mid-year review. One of them is the issue of the property tax. Nothing much has been heard about the creation of a Revenue Authority and the imposition of a property tax since last year when the nation was told that they would be required to pay land and building taxes at the existing rates in the interim. An entire year has gone by with no further utterances from the minister.
The imposition of taxation is never a nice prospect and so the population would have breathed a sigh of relief not to have the imposition of any new tax on them. As a result, further inaction by the Government may be a welcome development, but it also speaks to an internal problem about which the Ministry of Finance is not telling the population. The position of the Opposition is very clear on this issue and that is to “Axe the Tax.”
In an election year, the imposition of a property tax is not likely to be the most popular measure that the Government could seek to implement. However, there is a trail of commentary by the Minister of Finance that confirmed that, at minimum, the old tax rates were going to be imposed. The minister will need to be very transparent about this matter.
The issue of foreign exchange continues to be a sore point for members of the public as well as businesses with the banking system. The minister now has full control over the Governor of the Central Bank since the dismissal of Jwala Rambarran last December. With a compliant Central Bank Governor in the chair, the Government has been able to direct and control, and a policy of gradual devaluation has been adopted. This has seen the T&T dollar depreciate in value from about $6.45 to one US dollar when the Government arrived in office one year ago to about $6.75 to one US dollar today.
There are some economists as well as international lending agencies that would prefer to see the dollar continue its slide to about ten dollars to one US dollar. That will have a devastating impact on our economy, despite the argument that it ought to stimulate the manufacturing sector by making our goods cheaper for export.
This is an old debate. There have been devaluations over the years that were implemented before and after the imposition of structural adjustment packages from the IMF in the 1988-90 period. In 1985, prime minister George Chambers implemented a devaluation from $2.40 to $3.60 to one US dollar. During the term of the NAR administration, there was a further devaluation to $4.25 to one US dollar.
When the Patrick Manning administration “floated” the T&T dollar in 1993, it was floated at a rate of $5.75 to one US dollar. The country has managed very well over the last 23 years to only have the TT dollar float away by about one TT dollar. The policy prescription from some economists and the IMF may see our dollar float away from $6.75 to ten dollars. Can our economy handle the shock of such a move?
In other countries where there have been sharp negative adjustments in the rate of exchange there has been social unrest. Can we afford to take that chance? The issue of foreign exchange will be keenly eyed when Colm Imbert speaks on September 30.
The recent controversies that have erupted regarding practices, procedures and expenditure at President’s House does not come as a surprise to me. I have consistently raised matters surrounding the discharge of the President’s public duties over the last two years in this column.
It was clear that once President Carmona assumed office in March 2013, that he set out on a course that could have put him in political and policy difficulties. His famous statement that “powers you think I have I do not and powers you think I do not have I do” placed him on a dangerous path to compete with the politicians for space on the public policy stage where he did not belong.
When we became a Republic (celebrated yesterday) 40 years ago, the intention behind the presidency was to have someone who would function in a quasi-ceremonial office (as opposed to being fully ceremonial). That person would not trespass upon the politically partisan space, while maintaining a discreet distance from political controversy by studiously avoiding comment and/or positions on public policy matters.
As the years went by, from Ellis Clarke to Noor Hassanali, the country seemed to have accomplished that goal until the presidency of ANR Robinson when the politician turned president. What made the Robinson presidency a controversial one was that it emerged out of a political deal which went sour.
Robinson was too close to the Panday premiership to ignore details because he was catapulted from inside the Panday Cabinet into the presidential chair after 15 months in office. It soon became obvious that the political differences between the two were destined to collide and collide they did in 2000 and in 2001.
Robinson introduced the concept of outright presidential defiance of prime ministerial authority in January 2000 when he refused to revoke the appointment of two senators from Tobago on Panday’s advice and again in December 2000 when he refused to appoint seven defeated candidates as senators on Panday’s advice after the general election.
These actions of prime ministerial defiance broadened the elasticity of the presidential remit to a point where the presidency was beginning to resemble an executive one by overriding prime ministerial power with presidential authority. By the time Robinson left office in 2003, the presidency had been reset from its original programming under Clarke and Hassanali.
It was during the term of George Maxwell Richards that the concept of zero presidential accountability was confirmed when he was able to escape the fiasco that he personally created over the exercise of his powers of appointment after consultation in respect of the Integrity Commission in May 2009. The entire commission collapsed in the space of one week after he had made the appointments. He proceeded on vacation leave in the face of the fiasco and addressed it upon his return to office. That entire episode confirmed that the presidency was immune from any kind of accountability and the nation just had to take it.
Enter Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona on March 18, 2013, to succeed George Maxwell Richards. In celebrating Palm Sunday mass on March 24, 2013, Newsday reported on March 25 that Msgr Christian Perreira said: “President Carmona showed us very clearly that he was prepared on the first day of his inauguration to take up that cross when he said it is no longer business as usual. We cannot explain our mediocrity, our indiscipline, our violence by saying that we are Trinidadians and accept that is what will continue. People who do not love, people who are incapable of loving, will say ‘we cannot do better’ and we find comfort in saying ‘I is ah Trini and I don’t do this or don’t do that. I don’t come to work early because I is a Trini’.”
The early remarks of goodwill about President Carmona have been eroded over the years as one controversy after another engulfed the presidency, starting with his omission of the names of Dr and Mrs Rowley from his protocol list at the commencement of his inauguration address and continuing with his housing allowance controversy, then his missing-in-action pre-action protocol letter to comedienne Rachel Price and his numerous public policy pronouncements, and arriving at today’s controversies about expenditure at President’s House.
The weight of the controversies are beginning to get to be too much to bear that range now from the request by the Auditor General’s Office for clarification of certain items of expenditure to the branding of something called Presidential House Wine.
These controversies all need clarification because in between there are allegations of gardening services at houses other than President’s House and staff appointments based on familial ties.
On February 29, President Carmona told an Integrity Commission regional conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel: “The one with the fatal sting in its scorpion tail is the Prevention of Corruption Act, a piece of legislation that I had input in.”
With such an impressive track record of public speeches on the subject of personal and public accountability, the President’s responses to his own accountability will be keenly awaited.
The public contradiction by the Prime Minister of the President’s statement that the latter told him on three prior occasions that he wanted to hold a meeting with the Minister of National Security to discuss security matters has placed this country in a crisis of governance.
When two of the highest offices in the land engage in such a public disagreement that goes to the heart of trust between both offices, we know we have arrived at a place of crisis. This is not a constitutional crisis—at least not yet—but rather one of trust and confidence where the working relationship between both offices has now broken down.
We learnt from the Prime Minister that the last time he met with the President in accordance with the provisions of Section 81 of the Constitution was on August 24. We also learnt from Minister Dillon that on August 26 a request came from President’s House for a meeting on August 30, which was inconvenient for the minister. Minister Dillon further stated that a follow-up request was made from President’s House on September 2 for a meeting on September 5. He advised the press conference that his secretary inquired about the nature of the meeting and she was told it was “security related” and he should bring “his advisor.” Over the weekend of September 3 and 4, Minister Dillon said he advised the Chief of Defence Staff and the acting Commissioner of Police that they should prepare themselves for a meeting with the President on Monday.
On September 5, Minister Dillon went to the Prime Minister’s Office to speak with the Prime Minister in person only to be told he was not there. At around 9.30 am, he then called the Prime Minister, who was in Tobago, to tell him about the meeting.
The Prime Minister said this was the first he was hearing of the meeting and inquired what it was about. He said Minister Dillon told him he did not know and he instructed Minister Dillon to “go and find out.” This is the part of the two accounts that creates challenges. If Minister Dillon’s secretary had already found out on September 2 that the meeting was “security related” and he should bring “his advisor” with him, why would he tell the Prime Minister on September 5 he did not know what the meeting was about?
Additionally, if contact was made with Minister Dillon’s office on August 26 and September 2 by President’s House, why was the Prime Minister not told about all of this at all? Furthermore, why was the Prime Minister not told by Minister Dillon that he had already alerted the Chief of Defence Staff and the Acting Commissioner of Police to prepare themselves to attend a meeting together with him at President’s House?
The Prime Minister said it was only when he opened the newspapers on Sunday, September 11, that he realised both the Chief of Defence Staff and the acting Commissioner of Police had also attended the meeting, as he had not spoken with Minister Dillon after their conversation on September 5 owing to the latter going overseas.
The statements made at the press conference by both the Prime Minister and Minister Dillon have left open more questions than they have provided answers.
Minister Dillon must explain why the Prime Minister was left in the dark about the people who were going to attend the meeting when he knew who the attendees would be on the morning of September 5.
Apart from the crisis of governance that has been created by the conflicting versions of both the President and the Prime Minister, there is an obvious communication problem here.
There is clear evidence that people in the Government—Minister Dillon, his secretary, the Chief of Defence Staff and the acting Commissioner of Police—knew what the meeting was about and who were the likely attendees, based on Minister Dillon’s public statement. The only person who apparently did not know was the Prime Minister, based on his public statement.
The Office of the President had clearly communicated on two occasions with the minister’s office. Based on the President’s statement, he had prior approval from the Prime Minister to do so. Based on the Prime Minister’s statement, the President would have acted on his own volition to do so.
Whichever version one may want to believe, Minister Dillon has a lot to answer as regards his failure to give the Prime Minister the complete picture on the morning of September 5, or even before, when he said to the Prime Minister that he did not know what the meeting was about when he knew there were two prior requests for a meeting and he left the Prime Minister to find out on the following Sunday when he read the newspapers about who else attended the meeting.
At the Queen’s Hall Conference on the Independence Constitution in April 1962, then president of the Bar Association of T&T, Hugh Wooding, advanced a proposal for T&T to adopt the Canadian Bill of Rights 1960 as the model for its chapter on fundamental human rights and freedoms.
The Eric Williams Cabinet accepted the proposal and removed the European Convention on Human Rights 1960 model and replaced it with the Canadian model.
That decision was implemented in the final draft for the Independence Constitution and ushered into our system of government the need for special majority legislation outside of any constitutional amendment if ever Parliament were to consider any legislation that sought to infringe human rights and freedoms.
The size of the majority was smaller than those required for amendment of the Constitution, as it was set at three-fifths of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Essentially, T&T had accepted a version of consensus government that no other Commonwealth Caribbean country would ever adopt.
The relevant ingredients of this constitutional adoption of the Canadian Bill of Rights 1960 model were twofold. Firstly, the government of the day will be required to make an open and transparent confession in any legislation that is deemed to infringe human rights and freedoms that it intends to do so. Secondly, the Parliament is required to arrive at a consensus greater than a simple majority, namely a three-fifths majority, in both Houses before it can be sent to the Head of State for assent.
For the first 30 years of our independence, no such situation ever arose that required both the Government and the Opposition to arrive at a consensus. The electoral outcomes in 1961—which carried over to Independence in 1962—in 1966, in 1971, in 1976, in 1981, and in 1986 gave those parliaments memberships dominated by a single party that exceeded the three-fifths majority threshold.
The 1961-66 Parliament started off with a 20-10 PNM majority, the 1966 Parliament started off with a 24-12 PNM majority, the 1971 Parliament started off with a 36-0 PNM majority, the 1976 Parliament started off with a 24-10-2 PNM majority, the 1981 Parliament started off with a 26-8-2 PNM majority, and the 1986 Parliament started off with a 33-3 NAR majority.
It was not until 1991 that the country got its first Parliament dominated by a government majority that was less than three-fifths, namely a PNM majority of 21-13-2. For the first time in 1992, the then PNM government came face-to-face with a situation that required them to reach out to the Opposition to enact legislation that required a three-fifths majority that they did not have.
That situation arose because on May 19, 1992, Mr Justice Aeneas Wills held that the Maxi-Taxi Act 1979 was unconstitutional, null and void, primarily because it was not enacted by Parliament in 1979 with a certificate that ought to have stated that it would infringe fundamental human rights and freedoms. No such requirement was observed by the government of the day in 1979.
The 1992 Manning administration served notice of appeal, but it had a much larger problem on its hands. It had to enact a new Maxi-Taxi Act in order to regulate a part of the transportation system that suddenly had no legislation to govern it.
For the first time under this particular constitutional requirement, a PNM government would have to reach across the aisle to the Opposition as its 21 MPs were not enough to pass the legislation because with the Speaker coming from outside in a 36-member House which now became 37, they would need the support of 23 MPs.
The bill to re-enact the Maxi-Taxi Act was passed in the Senate on Thursday, May 28, 1992, with the favourable votes of 23 senators which was a mix of those government and independent senators who were present and five abstentions from those opposition senators who were present.
On the following day, the bill was brought to the House of Representatives and the Government commenced by seeking to take it through of all its stages that day. Later in the proceedings, it emerged that if the Government were to agree to an Opposition demand for certain amendments, the Opposition would vote for the bill. The House was subsequently adjourned to 1.30 pm on the next day, Saturday, May 30, at 1.30 pm.
There were obviously discussions overnight between the Government and the Opposition which resulted in the House not commencing its sitting until 6.25 pm on Saturday. The Government had made concessions to the Opposition and there was such overwhelming consensus that the House was actually adjourned by 6.50 pm, with the remaining debate, committee stage and final vote all being taken within that 25-minute time frame. The Opposition abstention in the Senate the day before had turned into a positive vote by all 33 MPs present in favour of the bill with no absentions or negative votes.
The current FATCA legislative process could learn a thing or two from the Maxi-Taxi Act 1992 consensus. It can work.