Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 30th 2014 Contents A5
Saturday, August 30, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
The three Independent senators
who supported the Government s
Constitution (Amendment) Bill
2014 on Thursday night, Dr
Dhanayshar Mahabir, David Small
and Dr Rolph Balgobin, have no
regrets about supporting it.
But at least one of them is dis-
gusted about the ethnicity attacks
that crept in to the debate from exter-
The bill was passed with a vote of
18 senators for and 12 against at 11.09
pm after three days of Senate debate.
It was passed with a major amend-
ment to the runoff proposal, which
will now allow a third candidate a
chance in the runoff poll.
Mahabir, Small and Balgobin voted
for passage though their six other
Independent colleagues---and the
Opposition People s National Move-
ment Senators---voted against the
bill.It was passed in the Lower House
two weeks ago. The bill will now
return to the Lower House for
approval of the Senate s amend-
People s Partnership (PP) House
leader Roodal Moonilal said yesterday
that a date will be worked out in
light of the 2015 Budget---to be deliv-
ered next Monday, plus debate on
that---and completion of the Financial
The three senators support for
the bill earned them the ire of some
Independent Liberal Party (ILP)
chairman Jack Warner yesterday said
"history will be extremely unkind"
to the trio and the Government.
Balgobin and others were abused
by protesters while leaving the Par-
liament on Tuesday and Wednesday
nights, after Balgobin signalled he
might support the bill ahead of the
voting Thursday. Balgobin was also
the subject of fierce verbal attacks
on Wednesday, via a morning radio
talk show, when some callers also
attacked the President for appointing
certain senators to "support the PP
But yesterday, Mahabir said he
didn t envisage any problems or
chaos ensuing on election night as
He said it was a simple formula
which allows a third-place finisher
who comes close to the second-place
finisher to contest any secondary
poll necessary. It will make the third-
place finisher electable, he noted.
To qualify for the secondary poll,
he said the third-place finisher has
to get within five per cent of the sec-
ond place contestant s votes and must
also get 25 per cent of the votes cast.
He said in some places, mainstream
parties could be the third-place fin-
isher, such as the PNM might be in
On criticism of his actions by the
ILP, he said the amendment could
assist third-place finishers such as
Mahabir said that like other Inde-
pendents, he d also had concerns
about the way the bill arose and
didn t like the process. He said the
Constitution Reform Commission s
report, which he got in December,
said nothing of runoff:
"But when the bill came to me I
examined the facts, as opposed to
the hysteria and emotion, and logic
led me to action and I was able to
plug the major gaps with the amend-
ments proposed," he said.
He said he d expected the lawyers
on the Independent and Opposition
benches to ensure equity in the bill,
rather than simply not vote on it.
"But I at least tried to ensure equity
and I m proud of the contribution I
made to the situation and having
voted against the tide. The amend-
ment accepted by the Government
is the fairest that could have been
made in the circumstances," Mahabir
Mahabir said PNM senators Faris
al-Rawi and Fitzgerald Hinds played
to the public galleries in the way they
reacted to the amendments. On
Hinds alleged insinuation at one
point that Mahabir s amendments
were giving voice to the PM s sug-
gestion, Mahabir said he would be
examining Hinds statement, which
he felt was mischievous.
He said he d felt compelled to
object to it, since he felt it was made
for public consumption to tarnish
"And I won t allow anyone to
attack any member of the Independ-
ent bench and get away with it. Peo-
ple must have respect for the bench."
He said it was disappointing that
the Opposition had an opportunity
to send in a constitutional expert to
examine the changes in an informed,
professional way that might have
rectified some issues, but instead
focused on ensuring the bill wasn t
"Everything I said, I had good rea-
sons to say. Nothing was personal.
So when people make comments
about us being traitors or betrayal,
they should give reasons.
"How did we betray T&T? How
is the public undermined by what
we did? They can say I m wrong but
I ll say they re simply inflammatory
He said he hoped that the Gov-
ernment would do the necessary
explanations on the bill.
Independents on runoff bill support
Major gaps now plugged
Independent Senator David
Small said yesterday he had no
qualms about the position he took
in supporting the amended bill.
"I had a responsibility to deal
with the situation on the basis of
all information in front of me and I
felt the basis I took was the one
to go with.
"It wasn't a matter of
agreement or disagreement with
colleagues. My position was
shaped by all the data and
analysis before me, and moreover
what was in the best interest of
Small noted that some of his
Independent colleagues voted
against the bill on the basis of
strong arguments that the
process was flawed where
consultation was concerned.
He said while he also had issues
about the process, he felt if the
Government was going forward
with the bill---and not withdraw it
or otherwise---he should try his
best to ensure the resulting
legislation was best for the public,
rather than not doing anything
about it other than voting against.
"I tried my best to present a
logical argument that people could
follow. This is not something I
"If you have two choices, one
can say the process was flawed
and not support and that's fair.
But I respectfully say, if another
position is available and you have
something (legislation) in front of
you, it's more in the public interest
to ensure that if it does come out,
you have to do what you can to
try to ensure that interest is
Small said he was pleasantly
surprised yesterday to receive a
number of congratulatory phone
calls from citizens on his actions
on the bill.
He said one of them included a
former PNM minister.
Asked about negative comment
on his action, Small said, "This is a
democracy, so nothing will ever be
100 per cent negative or positive."
Deal with issues,
Independent Senator Rolph
Balgobin says the Independents
put a lot of thought into the
amendments, which were a
product of discussions in
Parliament over the three sessions.
He said it didn't matter where it
"I think we improved the bill and
I don't subscribe to the view that it
endangers third parties."
Acknowledging that parties like
the Congress of the People (COP)
might have felt threatened,
Balgobin said one of the COP
leaders tried to engage some
Independents---on setting the
threshold low---but didn't do so
within the chamber.
"But if the threshold was so low
it would have made the runoff
pointless. The bar had to be
intelligent enough that a strong
other party can force itself way
into a runoff, but it cannot be so
low as to replicate the election of
15 days before."
He said the situation would now
persuade mainstream parties to
accommodate other parties.
"To me, what is necessary is for
all parties to stop speaking only for
their own people. I heard a lot of
emotion and political posturing and
I say if you want to govern all the
people, you have to be more open."
Balgobin said in a vibrant,
developing democracy, one couldn't
try to change people's minds by
force and Independent senators
were open to ideas from the public
and whoever they interfaced with.
But he said, "I found some of the
reactions from the public quite
unnecessary and vitriolic. Clearly
these people are politically aligned,
which as an Independent, I'm not."
He said he found it very
interesting that when he voted
against the Government, which he
often did, he was considered
sensible, even wise, but if he voted
against the Opposition, people
reverted to his ethnicity.
"That's offensive and not to be
condoned. I don't think it's
appropriate to masquerade anti-
social behaviour and political
posturing as legitimate citizens'
protests. It's silly and an insult to
anyone's intelligence. These were
attempts to intimidate and it
won't work with me. I'm not
Balgobin said he's received many
calls from people who are senior
decision-makers in T&T and who
said the bill was a good thing.
"I'm not losing any sleep on this
issue and I'll walk the public road
without fear. I remain open to
arguments to change my mind.
But if the best you can do is cuss
and identify me by my ethnicity, I
don't feel I'll be changing my mind
Independent Liberal Party (ILP) chairman Jack Warner respond to questions as political leader Lyndira Oudit, left,
and deputy leader Rekha Ramjit look on during a press conference at the party's Edward Street, Port-of-Spain,
office yesterday. Warner announced that the party had launched a challenge of the Constitution (Amendment)
Bill 2014 in the courts. PHOTO: KRISTIAN DE SILVA
SMALL---BETTER TO ACT THAN NOT
Links Archive August 29th 2014 August 31st 2014 Navigation Previous Page Next Page