Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 11th 2014 Contents A5
Monday, August 11, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
The Congress of the People
(COP) has taken a decision that
voting on the Constitution
(Amendment) Bill 2014 be
deferred for at least one month
to allow for greater analysis of
The COP s national executive
arrived at the decision yesterday
after extensive deliberations with
members of its national council
at the party s Operations Centre
"Maybe a month would do.
It s a reasonable time frame, I
think," COP leader Prakash
He said taking the bill before
a Joint Select Committee of Par-
liament was one option put for-
The meeting began about
10.30 am and concluded close
to 4 pm and was attended by
party founder Winston Dook-
eran, COP MPs and members.
Ramadhar, addressing the
media after, said "We believe no
legislation should be brought
without the population under-
Asked how the COP will
eventually vote on the bill, he
replied, "The national council
left it up to us to vote."
"What is best for T&T is best
for the COP."
Indicating in which direction
the party may be voting Ramad-
har said constitutional reform
was something the COP had
Ramadhar is chairman of the
Constitution Reform Commis-
sion which has been holding
national consultations nation-
wide on constitutional reform.
"The runoff ballot will enrich
participatory democracy. There
will be two levels of voting now."
He said, on the contrary,
runoff elections will not kill off
third parties. It was a question
of whether the Westminster
political system of first past the
post and the winner takes all
should be left as it is, or be
Asked if he felt Prime Minister
Kamla Persad-Bissessar will
heed the COP s request, Ramad-
har said, "It s really a matter for
the Prime Minister. But when it
comes to giving an ear to matters
of national importance, we ve
been well respected."
Dookeran, who left the meet-
ing before it ended, spoke briefly
with the media, deferring ques-
tions to the political leader.
He said the general consensus
among national council mem-
bers was that debate on the bill
can be started but should not
be concluded just yet.
Rufus Foster, who had con-
tested the leadership post in the
COP s recent elections, said
members totally rejected the
"They felt it should be shelved
until properly analysed."
Foster said Ramadhar, how-
ever, felt the COP should not
waive its right to vote on the
While he spoke to the media,
other COP members became
agitated and said he was giving
An unidentified man in the
COP office shouted, "Prakash
whole executive gone UNC!"
Ramadhar said the issue of
runoff elections was discussed
at the national consultations but
members of the public did not
take constitutional reform seri-
Responding to former prime
minister and UNC leader Basdeo
Panday who said runoff elec-
tions will take the country back
to tribal voting, he said, "The
issue of racial voting is subsid-
He dismissed charges the bill
will incite civil unrest.
"On what basis? The country
has shown itself committed to
law and order."
Suspended COP members
Satu Ramcharan and Rudolph
Hanamji kept up a protest
demonstration outside the office
for the duration of the meeting.
They were joined for a short
while by Kirk Waithe of Fixin
T&T who said the protest would
continue later in the yesterday
evening and today outside Par-
liament. See pages A17 & A18
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said yes-
terday that he never implied that former com-
missioner to the Constitution Reform Commis-
sion Dr Merle Hodge had been paid to remain
In a statement yesterday, Ramlogan accused
Hodge of dereliction of duty.
"At no time did I imply that Commissioners
were paid to be silent or that they were bought
off. The pompous and self-righteous indignation
was therefore unnecessary and uncalled for and
respectfully, misses the mark."
On Friday, during a news conference at his
Cabildo Chambers office, Ramlogan said the mem-
bers of the Constitution Commission were "hand-
somely paid" as he referred to Hodge s position
which called for a postponement of the debate.
In response, Hodge said: "Were we handsomely
paid , Mr AG, for us to be silent on this kind of
dishonesty? Very unfortunate comment, Mr AG,
for it suggests that your government pays pro-
fessionals not for their work, but to buy their
acquiescence. You must know that you will never
be able to buy everybody."
She drew this response from Ramlogan yester-
day: "Dr Hodge was part of a Commission that
submitted a unanimous report to the government
after a year of public consultations and meetings.
If she disagreed with a recommendation, she had
the responsibility and option of doing a minority
report and recording her dissent with reasons. She
Ramlogan further said he found "Dr Hodge s
sudden change of heart to be curious."
In a statement on Saturday, Hodge maintained
the runoff proposal was never part of the public
"The country was entitled to assume that issues
relating to constitutional reform were carefully
discussed, deliberated upon and analysed by all
commissioners before they submitted their rec-
ommendations to the cabinet. They should have
considered public sentiment, the possible reper-
cussions and ramifications, and whether it was
in the best interest of the country," Ramlogan said.
"The runoff provision did not come from the
people, and it was never revealed to the people
before August 4, one week before it was to be
debated in the Parliament," she said.
"It is therefore dishonest to claim that the people
were consulted on this provision, especially as the
government is turning a deaf ear to what the
people are saying about it during that week."
"My concern with the runoff proposal is not
so much where it first appeared; at this point I
don t care. My concern is how the population has
reacted to it. Many people are offended and alarmed
by this particular item, and a democratic govern-
ment would take heed, rather than respond with
bad-john defiance to a week of widespread objec-
As debate begins today on the
(Amendment Bill) 2014, the Move-
ment for Social Justice (MSJ) is call-
ing on Congress of the People (COP)
and Tobago Organisation for the
People (TOP) parliamentarians to
withdraw their support for the bill.
During a press conference held at
the MSJ s headquarters at San Fer-
nando yesterday, MSP political leader
David Abdulah said the UNC cannot
pass the bill, if the COP and TOP
MPs take a collective decision to vote
"This bill runs counter to the policy
of proportional representation and
the presence of a third party in an
election. We are issuing an open letter
to all members of parliament, five
from the COP and two from TOP,
to put country first over their party s
interest and vote against the bill,"
The United National Congress has
19 MPs. The D Abadie/O Meara seat
was declared vacant on August 4,
after the resignation of Anil Roberts
and the Chaguanas West seat is
occupied by Jack Warner, the chair-
man of the Independent Liberal Party.
He added that the UNC did not
have the requisite majority to pass
In the letter Abdulah said the COP
and TOP MPs must consider the
dangerous effects of the bill.
Abdulah also said that the runoff
was never discussed in the public
"At the meeting of July 9, there
was a discussion about this, which
found its way into a document on
13th July marked private and confi-
dential. It was an internal document
and all of a sudden it moved from
private and confidential on August
8 to being an addendum," Abdulah
Saying the runoff ballot must be
open to public consultation, Abdulah
accused Prime Minister Kamla Per-
sad-Bissessar of abusing her office.
He said if the bill is passed in the
Lower House, the MSJ will lobby for
senators to reject the bill in the Sen-
ate. He also said the MSJ will join
other social groups to stop the bill.
Abdulah said two public education
forums will be held on Tuesday in
Port of Spain and Wednesday in San
Fernando to explain to citizens the
dangers of the bill.
Abdulah calls on COP, TOP to withhold decision on bill
delay on vote
Commission member, Dr
Merle Hodge, has said the
runoff ballot was not part of
the People's Partnership
consultations, or the
commission's final report.
Attorney General Anand
Ramlogan responded to her
disclosure by saying the
Ramadhar, asked to
respond to this, said, the
AG's statement was
distasteful and that Hodge
is a well-respected member
of the national community
who is entitled to her view.
COP chairman Carolyn
Seepersad-Bachan said she
also condemned the AG's
"attack" on Hodge.
Leader of Fixin
T&T Kirt Waithe,
supporters in the
Stop The Debate
building in Port-
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