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Wednesday, August 27, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
for 26TH AUGUST, 2014
Opposition Senator Faris Al-Rawi says debate
on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 has
been reduced to all eyes being on the Inde-
Making his contribution during debate on the
bill in the Upper House yesterday, he said people
were merely waiting to see which of them would
abstain or vote in favour of the bill.
Rehashing the People s National Movement s
arguments about the absence of the proposal
during public consultation, he said two of the
four people who produced the Constitution
Reform Commission (CRC) report following con-
sultations with the public have now distanced
themselves from it.
The two are Carlos Dillon and Dr Merle Hodge.
Hodge has been part of anti-bill protests outside
the Parliament building since she distanced herself
from the controversial runoff aspect of the bill,
saying it was not part of their discussions with
the public. She argued that the bill should be
deferred and the issue be taken back to the pub-
lic.Quoting extensively from a media release Hodge
issued when she broke rank with the CRC, Al-
Rawi recalled she described the runoff ballot as
a postscript which was added to the original
report. He said Hodge noted she did not know
where the runoff aspect came from.
He said Hodge said the postscript was an inter-
nal document, tagged "private and confidential"
and addressed exclusively to the Prime Minis-
ter.He said the consultation process was, as a
result, illegitimate. He said members of the public
were told the final report would have been brought
back to the people.
"That was a wholesome, inveterate untruth,"
Al-Rawi also criticised the coming Constituen-
cy Development Fund, saying it was a most insid-
ious mechanism that will be launched on the
Prime Minister Kamla Per-
sad-Bissessar yesterday said
voting on the controversial
Constitution (Amendment) Bill
2014 would not be delayed and
she was prepared to commit
political suicide for it if it came
The PM further threw out a
bold challenge to the electorate
to vote out the People s Part-
nership in the 2015 general elec-
tion if they did not want the bill.
Her bold stance came even as
protesters, both for and against
the bill, threw jabs at each other
and the anti-bill challengers
clashed with the police.
While the tensions rose on
the outside, Persad-Bissessar in
piloting the bill in the Senate,
said: "For those of the view that
I am committing political sui-
cide, I am prepared to take that
risk. I am not daunted. As a
politician and a prime minister,
my interest is not for my political
survival but for the people.
"If this thing is so bad, well,
vote us out in 2015."
She reiterated that the People s
Partnership (PP) had promised
constitutional reform in its man-
ifesto and intended to fulfil that
promise, saying T&T cannot
continue in the same old political
She asked: "They are saying
have more consultations, delay
the bill. For how long? We have
been talking constitutional
reform for nearly 50 years. The
time has come not to talk the
talk but to walk the talk."
Persad-Bissessar said a prime
minister had never come to the
Senate before to pilot a bill but
in declaring that debate on the
bill will continue, she said the
Government would listen to the
views put forward.
Affirming her belief that the
bill will take power out of politi-
cians hands and put it in the
hands of the people, she said
the existing Westminster system
gave an advantage which the
Opposition People s National
Movement (PNM) did not want
"We are of the view politicians
must not lead from the tower
but from the battlefield," she
She said the Independence
Constitution was drafted more
than 40 years ago and since then
several efforts were made to
reform it. There were six con-
stitution reform commissions
and none of their recommen-
dations were entered into the
statute books, she said.
Addressing concerns over the
bill, she said there were 21 con-
sultations on it throughout the
country and said more people
should have come forward and
expressed their views.
"But we are here. We will lis-
ten and then vote. We are quite
prepared to listen to the debate.
The senators are prepared to
bring their non-partisan views,"
Persad-Bissessar asked what
could be so fundamentally
wrong with the three main pro-
visions in the bill, the right to
recall a non-functioning MP,
fixed term limits for a prime
minister and the runoff ballot.
While the Opposition was
against the bill, she said, Jamaica
and Barbados were welcoming
it. The PM said she knew most
of the fear was over the runoff
"There is the thought by some
that the proposed runoff ballot
could lead to stealing the elec-
"That is a very dangerous
charge," she said. But, she said,
those making the accusation
have yet to describe how that
could be done and demonstrated
how it could benefit the ruling
"How can it be that we said
we are giving the people a
greater say and we will be steal-
ing the election?" she asked.
Allaying fears that the British
Westminster system will be
removed, she said: "We are not
removing the first-past-the-
post system. We are refining it."
She said facing a runoff in an
election would not necessarily
guarantee defeat either, since
the votes could go any way.
She said, on the contrary, the
runoff ballot would not eliminate
third parties but give them a
second chance. The PM said
there have been some 47 political
parties in T&T and few sur-
She also announced that a
Constituency Development Fund
would be announced in the
upcoming budget, in which each
constituency would be given $10
PM challenges public if its against runoff bill:
Vote us out in 2015
PNM and UNC supporters taunt each other
during yesterday's demonstration against
provisions of the Constitution (Amendment)
Bill 2014. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ
Independent Senator Dr Rolph Balgobin last night
left the door open for the Government to get his
support on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014.
He made the comment towards the end of his
contribution on the bill, where he noted that some
aspects of the bill were well intended and could in
fact unite the population.
In winding up his debate, Balgobin said if the Gov-
ernment wanted the one independent vote it needed
to pass the bill, he may be prepared to vote with
them if they were prepared to make some amend-
ments to areas of the bill he had raised issues on.
bill door open
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