Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 29th 2014 Contents A5
Friday, August 29, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
Opposition Senator Fitzgerald
Hinds yesterday criticised police
attempts to repress Tuesday s
protest outside the Parliament, say-
ing citizens were now losing their
Contributing to debate on the
Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014
in the absence of Senator Camille
Robinson-Regis, who was out of the
country, he said the Government was
seeking to disempower citizens.
Hinds said demonstrators had all
rights to express their opinions on
the controversial legislation.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan
interjected with "wajang" and
"hooliganism" as he objected to
Hinds stance on the protest.
He asked if Hinds wanted to pro-
tect and promote the behaviour dis-
played outside the Parliament, where
government senators were jeered on
their way to the debate.
Ramlogan said he was one of those
who was booed by the People s
National Movement (PNM) support-
ers as he shook hands with United
National Congress (UNC) support-
ers.For a few minutes, the
debate descended into an exchange
of banter, with Hinds saying: "I
will not be distracted by a jokey
Using the struggles of South Africa
during apartheid and Mahatma
Gandhi s defiance in India against
British colonial rule, Hinds asked
whether T&T was becoming a
He said: "The people of this coun-
try have a right to express their views
emotively on this matter if they wish.
"I told you people have fought,
died and bled for their constitution
and their rights and the people of
T&T are no different once they con-
fine themselves to the law.
"Even Mahatma Gandhi, by civil
disobedience, refused to accept the
laws of British colonialism in India
and others in South Africa refused
to accept an unjust law. The people
are entitled to express themselves
and this is not a banana republic.
"Imagine the people are outside
the Parliament expressing themselves
democratically as they must and
there were barriers put for them.
"The next thing I read in the news-
papers is that the police were doing
their work and the demonstrators
were expressing their constitutional
selves, following the laws of the
police, all of a sudden the police got
instructions from somebody.
"I heard the Commissioner of
Police saying he gave no such
instructions, that it must have come
from the senior officer on the scene
of the Parliament.
"The question is where did he get
those instructions from to go all of
a sudden and start to push the people
away where they were all along and
a little scrimmage and issue broke
Speaking afterwards, Local Gov-
ernment Minister Marlene Coudray
said Hinds contribution was a con-
tinuation of the intimidatory tactics
of the PNM.
She said while she was accustomed
to the PNM s actions, some of her
other colleagues were disturbed at
being booed while entering and leav-
She said it was a shame that after
52 years of Independence, there were
people who still attempted to con-
tinue a divide-and-rule policy in
order to gain control of the popu-
Hinds defends protesters' rights
As the debate began on
Tuesday, hundreds of people
protesting the bill gathered near
the entrance to Parliament and
booed several government
ministers as they made their way
to the debate.
While protesters sang and
played drums, officers from the
Guard and Emergency Branch
pushed back the barriers placed
around the front the building,
sending protesters onto busy
Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain.
Those supporting the UNC
were urged to assemble near the
Breakfast Shed as they awaited
the arrival of Prime Minister
Kamla Persad-Bissessar and
As the protest grew, riot police
rushed into the crowd, pushing
down an elderly woman and
carting off at least three men.
The men were placed in a bus but
were released later.
In the weekly police press
briefing, public information officer
Supt Joanne Archie said
protesters were moved to avoid
confrontation with pro-
She said police only moved
protesters who were obstructing
the pavement outside the
Independent Senator Anthony
Vieira says the Constitution
(Amendment) Bill 2014, which pro-
poses a system of runoff elections,
two-term limit for the prime min-
ister and a system of recall for non-
performing MPs, should be
Vieira, who was the last Inde-
pendent Senator to contribute to
yesterday s debate on the legislation,
which was presented by Prime Min-
ister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on
Tuesday, said it was one of the most
controversial pieces of legislation in
the nation s history.
Debate went into a third consec-
utive day yesterday as senators used
the maximum allotted time---one
hour---to speak in favour or against
it. Vieira said he had to pray about
what he was going to say in the
debate as his vote would be based
on his conscience and would not be
in favour or against any political
"But what is also without doubt
is that whichever way I vote, some-
body is not going to be happy about
it," he said.
Vieira said he wondered whether
that was the point in which the seeds
were sown "for lines of division are
deepened," or will it be the time
when the nation will rise above the
He said while the proposals were
simple, "they did not lend them-
selves to knee-jerk reaction," as "the
devil is in the details."
In agreeing that only a simple
majority was needed for the bill to
be approved, Vieira said there was
a significant difference between what
the letter of the law allowed and
what the spirit of the law requires.
For the law to be legitimate, Vieira
said, there should be overall support
According to Vieira, the legislation
forced citizens to consider whether
the runoff measure was intended to
favour the PP Government in the
next general election or whether it
would positively or negatively influ-
ence the electoral system.
Dealing with fixed terms for prime
ministers, he said at first glance the
measure "seems eminently reason-
able and something right-thinking
people would want to support."
However, he said, while term limits
could weed out ineffective leaders,
it could also force out effective lead-
ers.On the recall proposal for MPs,
Vieira said one must be concerned
about whether it had the propensity
to undermine the principle of elect-
ing good MPs or whether it might
lead to abuses by well organised spe-
cial interest groups.
He said it must be determined
whether the measure would make
MPs accountable or whether they
would be emasculated.
He also said the legislation did
not provide any rights of appeal to
the recalled MP. He suggested that
the recalled MP should be allowed
to contest a by-election.
He also told legislators the measure
could lead to power being handed
"to those with resources and influ-
ence or those driven be personal
He said the runoff system could
lead to further political instability in
the country during the 15-day period
for the holding of the fresh election.
Based on the 2007 election results,
Vieira said there would have been
14 runoffs in the country.
"Can you imagine the logistics
involved if the EBC has to conduct
14 runoffs next year?" He insisted
that he "cannot support the runoff
"The runoff system will exclude
minority interests and will lead to a
fragmentation of our political party
"I am inclined to believe that it
will not solve voters rights problems
and I am inclined to believe it will
not lead to fair and accurate repre-
sentation of all parties or of a fair
representation for all."
He stressed he was of the view
that the proposed runoff system "is
ultimately undemocratic because it
is a winner-take-all system."
"If the proposed legislation is
intended to overcome these
inequities, then it is not the answer."
He said proportional representa-
tion was a more appropriate matter
"Let the electorate decide between
good and bad rather than between
bad and less bad."
He said if 45 per cent of the pop-
ulation was against the bill that was
a significant enough number for the
legislation not to be passed.
Vieira on reform bill:
Most controversial law in T&T history
National Security Minister Gary Griffith speaks to a woman in the public gallery at the sitting of the Senate
yesterday. PHOTO MARYANN AUGUSTE
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