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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Fundamental disagreement on the means to resolve the immediate problem of how to allow 53 people facing the Magistrates’ Court to “get justice”, effective and speedy, characterised the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. In the related matter of arriving at common ground to unravel the potential constitutional crisis facing the judiciary over the role of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, in relation to the promotion and subsequent demotion of Marcia Ayers-Caesar to and from the High Court, the leaders ended up in very dissimilar positions.

Marking the scorecard of the success or failure of the meeting is largely dependent on those outcomes, as it was clear that those were the issues that prompted Prime Minister Rowley to call for the meeting; his government not having the constitutionally required majority to pass legislation to heal what is considered by many to be a breach.

What is more, in their post-meeting statements, the leaders did not say how the ground between the Opposition’s position of wanting a tribunal to find the truth of the matter, and the Government’s stated desire to pass legislation to achieve a resolution is to be narrowed. Prime Minister Rowley would not venture beyond his legal limitations; Mrs Persad-Bissessar (SC) assured of the rightness of her view that the tribunal must be established to allow everything to come out in the wash.

Agreement by both leaders to have legislation in place to control the financing of the campaigns of political parties intending to contest the 2020 general election was the most definitive decision taken. Moreover, that the process outlined to arrive at the legislation includes widespread and intensive public consultations is a positive.

However, identifying one item out of many needed to achieve fundamental reform of the 1976 Republican Constitution, and this after over 25 years of examples of the need for change, is an obviously inadequate response.

What this facile agreement does is to raise questions about the sincerity of the leaders to advance the process of electoral reform, or their inability to perceive of the need for a transformed Constitution to measure up to the peculiarities of an independent T&T.

Just on the basis of the other constitutional-type changes the leaders have agreed are necessary, eg, the Service Commissions, the Integrity Commission, the conduct of the Parliament, and I add, electing a Speaker and a president of the Senate, an executive president, a re-fashioned electoral system are companion pieces to the legislation to prevent corporate sponsors from making off with the Treasury.

In a related matter, neither leader can take any credit for having to hold a special meeting to agree to establish a new system to hire a Commissioner of Police; it is almost five years after the UNC/PP government unceremoniously threw out the then commissioner.

On countering crime, and showing an understanding of what is needed to begin to change the approach to economic growth and development, the meeting produced nothing more than glib phrases.

The common sense approach of bringing to Parliament the numerous reports on the dialogue and proposals to allow Tobago the required and acceptable measure of internal self-government seems to have been the Prime Minister saying to his Tobago base that “I have not forgotten you.”

As noted in the reportage after the meeting, none of the leaders provided anything of the substance that may have accompanied the proposals put forward on either side.

The cynic would conclude that there was little substance to what was said. Prime Minister Rowley gave something of a half commitment to make the notes taken by his note-taker at the meeting available to the media. If he converts such a promise to full transparency by making the notes available to the population via the media, we shall be in a position to make a judgment as to whether there was substance on the table between him and the Leader of the Opposition.

Those inadequacies apart, and up to the time of writing, it appears as if the leaders overcame the built-up animosity between them sufficiently to hold what has been described as a meeting of cordiality in the national interest without major fallout effects.

TV6 reporter Kejan Hayes asked a pertinent question of PM Rowley towards the end of the news conference: “Are you confident that the promises made today are going to be followed through with, or do you fear that once she goes back to her base everything will be thrown out and you’re back at square one?

“If that happens I would be disappointed. At this minute I trust the assurances given by my colleague. I know she runs a team who will not just accept what the Government has said but will rigorously examine it for more than one reason. At the end of the day, I believe that the vast majority of the people of T&T, including the politicians, want the best for the people of T&T.”

We have not heard if Mrs Persad-Bissessar would be similarly “disappointed” if the PNM hierarchy were to place their own spin on the outcome of the meeting. Conclusion: Little of what we have been told amounts to real achievement. Even so, the expected political gamesmanship that is routinely practiced by politicians and their parties could destroy the “goodwill” that seemed to have emerged out of the meeting between the two. Stay tuned.


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