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Regime change alone solves nothing

...constitutional reform a necessity
Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Another round of open conflict in the House of Representatives last Friday over contentious and yet to be substantiated near allegations once again brings into focus the use of Parliamentary Privilege to score political points in a way that would not have been possible but for the shield of protection given to MPs when speaking inside the Chamber.

Three weeks ago, government MP Vernella Alleyne-Toppin slandered in the most malevolent and deliberate manner Leader of the Opposition Keith Rowley by referring to him as the child of a rapist who had carried the trait of his father into his generation; not the sliver of evidence submitted in support of the allegation: “No police ent see …..” Mighty Cypher.

Last Friday, the said Rowley launched a broadside contention against finance minister Larry Howai to the effect that when he was CEO of First Citizens Bank he engaged in insider trading. Rowley said he was quoting from a document submitted by a Barbados Queen’s Counsel. However, there was no signature on the document to prove its authenticity. In response, the minister and his colleagues labelled the document fraudulent.

What was amazing and amusing is that the Government MPs worked themselves into a ladder of sweat charging that he Rowley was making unsubstantiated allegations; these being the same MPs who sat quietly through the Alleyne-Toppin piece of slanderous fiction and only struck some vague form of apology when the massive public criticism was inflicted on the Tobago-East MP: “She went too far; however Rowley still has questions to answer.”

To compound that bit of hypocritical theatre, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar with righteous indignation called on the Speaker, someone she placed in the chair, to refer the matter to the Privileges Committee of which he the Speaker is the chairperson. Mark says he will contemplate the call. It will be interesting to see how he carries out what sounded like an instruction from his political leader and prime minister.

Does he dare say to his leader that no prima facie case has been made? Or will he call on Rowley to apologise in the manner of Alleyne-Toppin? And what would Rowley, who said he was merely asking for Howai to provide answers to the questions raised, do? How does he respond to such a demand from the Speaker, if it comes?

If not satisfied with Rowley’s response, does Speaker Mark then have the Committee impose sanctions to remove Rowley from the House? And what of the course of action to be adopted by the rest of the PNM team? Thankfully though, the continuing abuse of the Parliament cannot go on beyond the compulsory dissolution in June. 

The question being asked in this column though is would we the citizens of T&T be able to model anew the national Parliament after a couple decades of gross abuse and willful distortion? And this column makes the point for yet another time that it is the citizens of T&T who will have to drive the creation and establishment of a Parliament to meet the historical, cultural and social needs of the society. 

The politicians will never willingly remove any of the unworkable constitutional advantages enjoyed when in government; they only scream when those advantages are being exercised by the party in power against them.

Our Parliament was created in the post-colonial period when the only model we had was Westminster. Then our scholars and law makers could only follow the British constitutional model and quote Burke, Rousseau and other European thinkers; many of them still do a couple generations later. 

And while it is understandable the fixation with 18th and 19th century European political thought, there is no denying that such constructs made absolute sense in the period for those societies and many still have much insight to give in political organisation of today. 

However, wholesale adoption and tinkering with those constitutional arrangements and social thought indicate that society’s evolution has gone nowhere. 

If Dr Williams had to make constitutional concessions to the British in the lead up to 1962, by 1976 and the Republican Constitution, he and the People’s National Movement were intent on subserving their interest in a polity which did not include the reality of a political awakening of Indo-Trinidad south of the Caroni River.

Prime Minister Williams threw out the draft of the Wooding Commission saying that the proposals in regard to a form of Proportional Representation were designed “to break-up the PNM majorities.”

Since then there has been the Hyatali Commission and several others. The last one chaired by a government minister; another anomaly of a game-player deciding on the rules of the game. That one culminated in Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar and her cabinet inserting the “run off” clause, a matter not discussed at any of the consultations, as the main legislative change to be made.

I return to this issue of the malfunctioning of the Parliament to illustrate the point of the absolute necessity for constitutional change; regime change solves nothing if the incoming party does not make constitutional reconstruction the first priority.


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