There can be no doubt in the minds of concerned citizens that the social, economic and moral issues arising out of positions adopted by the PNM Government and the Urban Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago (Udecott), specifically with respect to over budget Udecott projects and the Uff Inquiry, demand that the Government be replaced. While the cost overruns and the reported reasons which have been advanced as major contributory factors to these overruns are by themselves disturbing, Government’s reluctance, or is it refusal, to act makes many nationals uncomfortable.
Yet another point of concern has been the Administration’s increasingly clear opposition to the Separation of Powers of the Legislative, Executive and Judicial arms of Government. Briefly, the Legislative arm is invested with the power to make laws, the Executive to implement them and the Judicial to interpret those laws. The Separation of Powers is an important aspect of the Westminster system of Government which Trinidad and Tobago, as a former British colony, inherited at the time it achieved Independence in 1962.
Admittedly, in the UK there is a level of overlapping as the Lord Chancellor is a member of both the Executive, as a Cabinet Minister, and of the Judiciary which, incidentally, he heads. While the Lord Chancellor does, on occasion, sit as a member of the Appellate Committee and has even given dissenting opinions his sitting on the Appellate Committee is increasingly rare.
Meanwhile, in Trinidad and Tobago, a draft Constitution, which has been put forward by the PNM Government for study and comment, has advanced the creation of a Minister of Justice, in essence the Trinbagonian equivalent of a Lord Chancellor.
The fundamental difference, however, between the UK experience and what is being offered here is that while in the UK the process evolved in TT the draft Constitution seeks, tacitly, to impose Executive control of the Judicial arm. This is untenable. Perhaps I should add that even in the UK although there has never been any questionable intervention by the Executive in the independence of the Judiciary, nonetheless there have been moves to reform the system, re the Lord Chancellor. Given the above the draft Constitution’s proposed Ministry of Justice should be regarded as suspect. And with it the motives of Government.
I shift gears. There are sections of the Constitution which need to be amended yet have not been addressed by the draft. I refer to one — Section 77 (1) — which if sensibly amended would limit the power of a Prime Minister to intimidate MPs of a ruling Party. It is imperative that this section be amended as it confers on any office holder of Prime Minister, in the event of a vote of no confidence being passed in the Lower House against him, the power to advise the president to dissolve Parliament. The significance of this lies in the power of a political leader of the PNM to decide which candidates are selected to contest a general election under the Party’s banner.
Section 77 (1) should be redrafted so as to require a PM to resign as is largely done under the Westminster system, and clear the way for another member of the ruling Party to be put forward as PM. This, clearly, would be more in keeping with the democratic process than the absurd proposal for a Minister of Justice.
Earlier I had referred to Government’s handling of Udecott. It is strange that Government could have acted so expeditiously in ordering the Boards of TSTT and PTSC to withdraw motions seeking to have unions representing their workers decertified yet appears impotent to do something with respect to action taken by Udecott. Government’s action re Udecott and by extension the Uff Inquiry and its demonstrated plan, telegraphed by the Draft Constitution, to seek control of the Judiciary, along with other moves, are by themselves signals that concerned nationals should seriously consider the formation of a more citizen conscious political Party.