Friday, September 01, 2006

More on the Trinidad Draft Constitution

From Sheldon Waithe to Trinidad Express

Draft Constitution is autocratic


The much vaunted new Constitution has now been presented in draft format to the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago. Unsurprisingly, this draft has not garnered the interest of the public for a document that is so crucial to the future of our nation. As members of this same disenchanted public continue to add to their list of complaints about the mismanagement of the nation, one asks how can the public complain about the running of the country but then not take a vested interest in the mechanics behind the running of the country.

Though the draft paper has only recently been presented (the ‘white paper’), there is, with a general election looming on the horizon, the impetus for this draft to take the next step towards implementation as soon as possible (some expectations state a ‘green paper’ document before the end of 2006). Without the public interest, perusal and involvement it is all too possible that this 159 page document can be passed as the new Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago in relatively quick time, a document it has to be stressed, that will determine the manner in which we are governed. Yet the interest for this all-encompassing draft remains dormant.

The judiciary and Parliament itself has suffered the fate of ambiguous laws, drafts etc. that has restricted their ability to perform in the best interests of the nation, now we are confronted by a draft that contradicts the very purpose for which it was enacted, to restrict the considerable power that the political leader of T&T wields, in the hope of a more democratic process.

A look at the draft shows the favouring of the ‘Executive President’ model as we meander along the road to full Americanism in media, behaviour, thought, deed and now, governance. What this means is that we the public, will put all the power into one individual as this President will be leader of his political party, Head of the government and the Head of State. If you think that the presiding PM currently makes whimsical decisions without much opposition or regard for public opinion, what do you think will happen with a Constitution that grants almost total political power to an individual? Though the favoured practice of late is for our President to steer clear of all things Party-related, surely we all recognise the folly of eradicating the system of a separate Government and State.

Other points for major concern regarding the proposed Constitution would be the appointment of the Chief Justice by this President. Given the current situation between Mr. Manning and Mr. Sharma, one does not need to highlight the potential issue of a President choosing a leader of the judiciary that favours his/her desires. Effectively, this could lead to a President deciding upon which laws he will adhere to and which ones he will ignore. This type of system will even dwarf the burgeoning autocratic leadership that is raring its head in T&T.

Though there are many more points to be raised from this draft such as the eradication of the Cabinet sharing responsibility (and therefore accountability) for government decisions, the PM has stated that there are more aspects that will reveal themselves as further examination of the document continues. However it is hardly likely that there will be any proposed solutions to outweigh the massive empowerment that the post of Executive President will produce.

It is quite confusing that Sir Ellis Clarke, the man that stated (in 2005 I believe) that the office of Prime Minister in Trinidad and Tobago holds too much power hence the need for a new Constitution, then produces a document that does the opposite to his observation. Though we are continually reminded that this is the first draft and it is now to be debated in Parliament, the general direction of this draft should give cause for concern to a public that already feel helpless when their government makes decisions in a dictatorial manner.

It is equally baffling that the purveyors of our news, the quality media, have not provided much comment or more importantly a breakdown of the major points of this draft. Not everyone has the access or will go to the Parliament website to look at the draft ( One would have thought that the importance of such a document would entail a daily/weekly series dedicated to empowering the people of T&T with the knowledge of this draft along with comment and potential repercussions, be they positive or negative. It is part of the obligation of the media to enact this.

If copy can be given to the berating comments of members of the Opposition and the Government, surely this qualifies as a higher priority in the echelon of worthy news. I trust that my mild criticism will not deter you from the points listed above.

This draft has silently entered the door of Parliament but some of its intentions are quite loud and clear despite its infancy. The importance of this document means that the people of this nation need to understand its affect upon their rights and freedom and be involved in its development, otherwise like the majority of similar projects, we will continue to be distracted by other things and when the changes take place that leave us even more helpless and disenchanted we will wonder how and why we arrived there. The governance of a nation is important enough to garner your attention and your continued involvement, don’t you think? Get involved."

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