This is the third draft presented by Mr Manning, following a first draft laid in the House on Friday August 18, 2006, and a second draft outlined to the PNM Annual Convention on Sunday July 13, 2008.
Like its two predecessors — which themselves provoked a public outcry — this third draft in our view gives too much power to the proposed Executive President.
While the Draft seeks to replace TT’s current Westminster-styled Government with one closer to the US Presidential system, the Draft lacks the checks and balances of either system, such as separate elections for Executive President and the Legislature.
The Draft will allocate virtually all political power in one fell swoop upon the outcome of a single election. The Draft proposes that the leader of the party winning most seats in a general election would become the Executive President as a combined Head of State/Head of Government, who in turn despite his politically partisan nature will then appoint top constitutional officers whose supposed impartiality will surely be queried, such as the Ombudsman, most Senators, and members of the Salaries Review Commission. Should our politicians have all this power?
The Draft violates the constitutional ideal of the separation of powers, by allowing MPs the final say in the selection of a Chief Justice by a veto, and by creating a Ministry of Justice to let the Government administer the Judiciary, despite Mr Manning’s protests that the Ministry won’t interfere in judges’ individual rulings.
This intrusion onto the judiciary has been roundly condemned by leading legal luminaries, such as Kenneth Lalla SC and Desmond Allum SC. The Draft undermines the Public Service by allowing the appointment of permanent secretaries from the private sector. Worryingly, these officers will be contract officers who may be transferred personally by the Executive President. The Draft says the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) must get the approval of the Attorney- General in matters of “official secrets, terrorism and State-to-State relations”.
In line with the Government’s desire to shield its Directors of State Companies, the Draft limits the Integrity in Public Life Act only to Ministers and MPs and “members and holders of such public office as may be prescribed.”
Worryingly, the Draft lets the Executive President appoint 30 Senators — 11 “Independent” Senators which he appoints as Head of State and 19 Government Senators he appoints as Head of Government — while the Opposition has only seven Senators.
The Draft limits the Cabinet to not more than eight parliamentarians, plus the Executive President. So, fewer of his parliamentary colleagues in Cabinet would be a weaker check on his power, so he would become greater than a mere “primus inter pares” (first among equals) as now obtains.
Again in line with Mr Manning’s known intentions, the new Draft worryingly allows the country to politically-integrate with other territories solely by a simple majority vote of parliamentarians.
Mr Manning claims this is a mere discussion paper which represents nobody’s views, and critics may see it as a red herring against anticipated economic contagion, but the Draft could have serious real-life implications. Mr Manning heads a Government that has severely curtailed the country’s current constitutional means of accountability. Local Government elections have been postponed twice and no Joint Select Committee has sat in the past year, while in last year’s general elections 70 percent of Government MPs were fired by Mr Manning.
Do Mr Manning’s benign words in presenting the Draft mask some serious implications for this country’s system of governance?