The dissolution of Parliament now calls forth an early general election which must, in accordance with Section 69 of the Constitution, be held within three months after the dissolution of Parliament or by July 9. But up to yesterday evening there was no word on a date for the election, which will come a full two years before it is due under the Constitution.
While he was expected to do so, Manning made no appearance in Parliament yesterday and broke with tradition by having the Office of the Prime Minister fax a press release announcing the dissolution of Parliament. The release did not announce the election date.
Questioned by reporters last night at Balisier House, Port-of-Spain over the election date, Manning said, “In due course. You all knew it was coming.” On Wednesday, also at Balisier House, Manning was also similarly coy. Asked then for the election date, he said, “I am not at liberty to say that date.”
Under the Constitution, there is no requirement that the Prime Minister announce the election date at the same time as Parliament is dissolved or that he appear in Parliament to do so as he normally does by convention. However there are limits as to how long Manning can hold the election date in his back pocket.
For example, lawyers yesterday said Manning must give the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) 35 days before the chosen date, as election day must be no sooner than 21 days after the date for the nomination of candidates, something which happens 14 days after the writ of election is issued. It means that the elections cannot be held earlier than 35 days from the dissolution of Parliament and the election date must be known at latest by early June. At about 3 pm, the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday issued a faxed press release to media houses announcing that Manning had advised President Richards on the dissolution of Parliament, even while the Senate was sitting for a debate on the establishment of the controversial Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority.
“In accordance with Section 68 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the Honourable Patrick Manning, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, today advised His Excellency, President George Maxwell Richards to dissolve the Parliament of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago with effect from midnight, Thursday, April 8, 2010,” the release stated.
“His Excellency, President George Maxwell Richards TC CMT Phd has issued the relevant proclamation.”
As the release was faxed out, instead of making his way to the Senate, Manning began to make his way to the PNM’s headquarters at Balisier House, Port-of-Spain, as the party’s screening of election candidates, which began on Wednesday, continued. At the same time, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar made her way to the UNC headquarters at Rienzi Complex Couva, for a second day of elections preparations, one day after she instructed the party to begin screening in early May.
The PNM will on Monday take its campaign into high gear and go straight to the UNC constituency of St Augustine, a constituency which also holds symbolic ties to the seatless Congress of the People, being the former seat of COP leader Winston Dookeran.
It is the second time in Manning’s career that he has called an early general election, the last being in 1995, which resulted in the PNM losing government to a UNC/NAR coalition after a tie with the UNC. Manning called that election one year early.
Manning’s dissolution of Parliament effectively put an end to the UNC’s motion of no- confidence which was scheduled to be debated today, the Opposition’s Private Members Day. During debate of that motion, it is reported that Manning would have faced fresh questions over his relationship with former Udecott executive chairman Calder Hart.
In the face of a vote on that motion, which could have exposed him to a rebellion from members within his own party, Manning had planned to have thousands of PNM supporters gather opposite the Parliament at Woodford Square. However, the PNM’s application for permission to do so was rejected by Acting Commissioner of Police James Philbert this week. The dissolution of Parliament also came a mere two days after the Report on Udecott by Professor John Uff was laid in the Senate. That Report revealed what Uff described as an “alarming” state of affairs at Udecott involving gross mismanagement and corruption at the state company under the Manning regime. The Report recommended a police probe of former Udecott executive chairman Calder Hart and the entire Udecott board and resulted in the dismissal of the board.
The decision to call an early general election also comes amidst probes by the police and the Integrity Commission into Manning and into several of his Cabinet members. Manning was last month interviewed by police in relation to an alleged land deal he made with Jamaat leader Yasin Abu Bakr in which Manning was said to have promised State resources in exchange for the Jamaat’s assistance in the PNM’s 2002 general election campaign.
The Manning administration has also continued to face pressure from public servants and their unions over plans to introduce a Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority (TTRA) which would have resulted in the retrenchment of more than 2,000 workers of the Customs and Excise and Board of Inland Revenue departments.
Members of the Public Service Association (PSA) and public servants have been holding lunch-time marches in the capital, Port-of-Spain, since January 29. In fact the Government remained locked in negotiations with the PSA over the issue even as debate on the legislation continued in the Senate this week. Recently, more pressure was mounted on Manning after it emerged that the Integrity Commission is now probing the construction of a church at the Heights of Guanapo, Arima which has been built on former State lands in the name of a woman linked to the Prime Minister. The issue of the church was set to also be a key one for the Opposition during the now stymied no-confidence debate, which was tipped to see fresh questions over reports of the emergence of links between Manning, Udecott and the church arise. The Integrity Commission has also revealed that it has commenced a probe into Manning’s handling of a report of bribery at the Estate Management Business Development Corporation (EMBDC). That report was also sent to members of Manning’s Cabinet, including Finance Minister Karen Nunez Tesheira and Minister of Agriculture Arnold Piggott, all of whom now also fall under probe.
Manning’s Attorney General, John Jeremie, is also being probed by the Integrity Commission for his claim that he once read a confidential Integrity Commission report on a investigation of Diego Martin West MP Dr Keith Rowley. Nunez-Tesheira is also being probed by the Commission over her holding of assets in subsidiaries of CL Financial while she presided over a State bail-out of that company.
Yesterday’s press release was not the first time the dissolution of Parliament was announced outside of the Parliament chamber.
On October 13, 2001, a press release was issued by the Office of the President, then occupied by President Arthur NR Robinson, informing the nation that Parliament was dissolved and the polls would occur two months later. Then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday had four days earlier advised Robinson to dissolve Parliament, but Robinson delayed on issuing a proclamation in order to ensure that the Elections and Boundaries Commission, the body charged with administering elections, was ready.
Under the Constitution, it is for the President to dissolve the Parliament. Section 68 of the Constitution reads, “the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, may at any time prorogue or dissolve Parliament.”
In contrast to what happened in 2001, Richards wasted no time in issuing his proclamation dissolving Parliament yesterday, with Parliament staff saying the proclamation arrived at the Red House before 4 pm, while debate on legislation to establish the TTRA was ongoing.
Up to yesterday the PNM was continuing its preparations for the early polls, with the finishing touches on some of the party’s early promotional materials being worked upon by senior party members.
In fact, up until yesterday afternoon PNM public relations officer (PRO) Senator Jerry Narace was spotted in the Senate vetting print advertisements to promote the PNM’s first major campaign meeting which is to be held on Monday at Hi-Lo car park, St. Augustine. While senators debated the merits of the TTRA, Narace gave his final approval for the advertisement. The advertisement bears the heading, “WE READY NOW! The PNM rolls into St Augustine.”
Also in the Senate, Local Government minister Hazel Manning, wife of Prime Minister Patrick Manning, was spotted going over promotional materials for her husband’s San Fernando East constituency. The material feature a portrait of the entire Manning family, including a beaming Patrick and Hazel and their two sons David and Brian. It was only on March 21 that Howard Cayenne, the Chief Elections Officer of the EBC, urged the population to update their voter information if they have changed their address, noting that it was against the law not to do so.
The EBC’s 2009 elections report, which was only laid in Parliament this year, revealed that for the first time, there are over a million voters, with the latest electors list comprising some 1,012,806 people. Some 104,198 new voters have been added to the 908,608 existing voters to bring the registered electorate across the one million mark. Lawyer and former head of the Public Service Kenneth Lalla SC yesterday noted that it was the Prime Minister’s right to dissolve Parliament without calling the date of the elections.
Even as the dissolution of Parliament had been announced, Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Conrad Enill, was coy on the issue of the General Elections. Asked if there was a date for the elections, Enill said, “the Prime Minister will decide at the appropriate time. Go ask the Prime Minister.”