Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 14th 2014 Contents GAIL ALEXANDER
Independent Senators yesterday
made it clear they are not taking
on any pressure that may be
brought to bear on them over the
upcoming Senate debate on Gov-
ernment s controversial Constitu-
tion (Amendment) Bill 2014.
Six of the nine Independents
spoke with the T&T Guardian yes-
terday on the situation shaping up
and their respective modus operandi
on bills generally.
That came after a call on the
Opposition People s National Move-
ment s St James platform on Tuesday
for the Independent Senators not to
support the bill.
House leader Dr Roodal Moonilal
expressed concern yesterday about
what he deemed intimidation and
harassment of parliamentarians over
He cited groups of people gathered
outside the Parliament up to 4.30
am on Tuesday who jeered People s
Partnership (PP) MPs as they left
after the debate.
He also cited yesterday s Express
front page picturing all nine Inde-
pendents and asking which one
would vote for the bill.
"As if voting for the bill is a crime.
This is intimidation," Moonilal said,
calling on the PNM and "its agents"
to halt intimidation.
Saying the Independent bench
had a "permanent conscience vote,"
Moonilal said the PNM "shouldn t
put pressure on those members or
have roving supporters harassing
The reform package, which was
passed with amendments in the
Lower House at 4.05 am on Tuesday
after a marathon debate, will be
debated in the Senate on August 26
after being laid in the Upper House
at next Tuesday s session.
It requires the support of at least
one Independent Senator for passage
in the Senate. Government has 16
senators, the Opposition PNM six
and the Independent bench nine.
On possible pressure on the Inde-
pendents, co-ordinator Helen Dray-
ton yesterday said: "I m a strong
advocate of civil society expressing
their views, responsibly, on important
matters, such as proposals on elec-
toral reform and changes to the Con-
"Frankly, I have no problem with
people lobbying me, in a respectful
manner, to support their causes.
They do so all the time. That only
serves to make me reflect and care-
fully research information.
"As an Independent Senator and
therefore a person in public life, I
expect to be lobbied and also crit-
icised for my views and decisions.
Sometimes, people may even ridicule
me for my decisions.
"I m not easily intimidated and I
don t think I could be such that
intimidation would make me change
my views on a matter if I am moved
by my conscience. I took an oath to
bear true faith and allegiance to
T&T and to uphold the Constitution
and to conscientiously and impar-
tially discharge the responsibilities
to the people. That I will do."
No need to savage us
Her colleague, Anthony Vieira,
said: "I don t feel pressure, partly
because I deliberately try to avoid
reading media reports to focus on
bills. I do research based on what s
presented to me.
"I can t say I have been called by
anybody, or been lobbied. I think
people know me better than that,"
Vieira said public debate and cit-
izens engaged on the Constitution
and how it would affect them was
healthy for a young democracy.
"But I also wanted to join with
those who say: You don t want this
to get ugly. I am a mediator and our
approaches are hard on the issue
and soft on the person," he added.
Saying he hoped to see a little
more compassion in the situation,
Vieira said it was one thing to sup-
port one s party but there was no
need to savage another side.
"I haven t yet made up my mind
on this bill. I will examine details,
do research and I will want to hear
how debate goes. Sometimes you
can modify or change a position, I
don t necessarily go in with a fixed
view," he added.
Vieira said having all views forced
people to think.
He added that the Constitution
was a work in progress, not cast in
stone, was still being worked out to
suit its demographic and continued
Mahabir: I will weigh it on merit
Economist Dr Dhanayshar
Mahabir said he expected the Par-
liament had adequate security but
hoped there would be "more light
than heat" on the issue.
"Parliament ought to be treated
like a court. No one should try to
intimidate members, the same way
no one should try to intimidate
judges or court officers entering
those forums to discharge their
"You often get a few influential
people s views impacting on public
opinion, as seen in the recent retire-
ment pension increase legislation.
But I also try to persuade public
opinion," he added.
Mahabir said he was not easily
influenced by Lower House agree-
ments and did not read Lower House
MPs contributions on bills, since
he decided on the basis of material
as it came to him.
"It doesn t mean I am not open
to change but the issue is what is in
the interest of all 41 constituencies?
If the bill s measures were in the
interest of all of them in T&T, then
it will get my approval," he noted.
Mahabir said he had already voted
alone on certain issues when he felt
people were not seeing things he
saw and had voted with the Gov-
ernment on the recent pension hike
bills, where public opinion was
against it but also voted against Gov-
ernment on other bills.
He said: "It all depends on the
merit of the bills. I haven t made up
my mind on this one yet.
"There could be intimidation or
not. For me, the bill will have to
stand or fall in respect of how well
it was drafted...if badly drafted, if it
can be redrafted with amendments,
if it has good intentions, if so are
the instruments for adjustment suit-
"Contributions would have to be
analytical and structured and if at
the end I see it is flawed, I can t
vote. If it s in the public interest, I
will have to support it, or say if it
needs amendment. If it s not, I will
say why I think it s not. "
Roach: We must do best by all
Independent Senator Hugh Ian
Roach said when he dealt with an
issue, he did it on the basis of doing
right by all manner of men and
women in society, reflecting the
majority thinking of all and T&T s
"Independents represent T&T s
conscience and we are called on to
act in its best interest, not PNM,
PP, UNC or any one body. We try
to do the best by all.
"I don t think mature profession-
als comprising the Independents can
be easily intimidated one way or the
other, in or out of the Parliament
"I don t think anyone I know will
bow to any pressure. People will be
independent-minded and serve the
country s best interests," he said.
Small: Democracy at work
Senator David Small, a public
service technocrat, said he saw the
public debate on the bill as democ-
racy at work. He said if some people
called for support or non-support
of the bills from public platforms,
it was their right.
"As long as people don t cross the
line and intrude on anyone s personal
space, I think this is healthy for T&T
and we will weigh all views and come
to conclusions as we have done
before," he added.
Small said he listened to all views,
read everything on an issue and
would take a position in T&T s best
"We will embrace the role with
"I never come to a position very
easily. It requires a lot of reflection
and much thought but I will come
to a concerted, considered position,"
Wheeler: Examine final product
Dr Victor Wheeler said: "I gather
amendments were made to the orig-
inal bill. Sometimes amendments
come in the committee stage so only
when the final product is completed,
then can I say how I will go. Some-
times it isn t guaranteed to come to
a vote either, since we have seen
matters that come to the Senate and
do not go to a vote. So we ll see."
Independent Senators Elton
Prescott, Joy Abdul-Mohan and
Rolph Balgobin were unavailable for
comment. (See Pages A10 and
Thursday, August 14, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
We can't be bullied
Independent Senators on constitution bill:
"I'm not easily intimidated
and I don't think I could be
such that intimidation would
make me change my views on
conscience. I took an oath to
'bear true faith and
allegiance to T&T and to
uphold the Constitution and
to conscientiously and
impartially discharge the
responsibilities to the
people.' That I will do"
"There could be intimidation
or not. For me, the bill will
have to stand or fall in
respect of how well it was
drafted...if badly drafted, if
it can be redrafted with
amendments, if it has good
intentions, if so are the
instruments for adjustment
---Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir
T&T's conscience and we are
called on to act in its best
interest, not PNM, PP, UNC or
any one body. We try to do
the best by all. I don't think
comprising the Independents
can be easily intimidated one
way or the other, in or out of
the Parliament Chamber"
---Hugh Ian Roach
"I gather amendments were
made to the original bill.
come in the committee stage
so only when the final
product is completed, then
Sometimes it isn't
guaranteed to come to a vote
either, since we have seen
matters that come to the
Senate and do not go to a
vote. So we'll see"
---Dr Victor Wheeler
Links Archive August 13th 2014 August 15th 2014 Navigation Previous Page Next Page