The latest document proposes not only a “presidential system of Government” in Manning’s own words, but also seems to severely curtail the independence of the Parliament, Cabinet, Judiciary, Office of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), and Permanent Secretaries in the Public Service.
Manning repeatedly denied authorship of the document and told the audience that the document was not his idea and had originated from the previous public consultations on the first Draft Constitution, although he made subsequent noises to the convention which suggested otherwise.
As he read out the proposals, he seemed to depart from his script to try to rouse members to support the document. “My dear friends, how it sounds to you?,” he said to elicit loud cheers from some persons present. “You like it? You like the process? Isn’t Trinidad and Tobago moving forward at a fast rate? The PNM is the only party with a vision for the development of the country”.
Manning said the document — which would be presented in one month’s time — was a product of an ongoing roundtable of academics and Ministers chaired by Manning and meeting at Whitehall, presumably reviewing the results of the previous public consultations on his first Draft Constitution.
“You cannot have constitutional arrangements or any approach to arrive at those arrangements that do not take the elected representatives of the people into account.”
He claimed the document did not represent any consensus or the Government’s views, but had emerged from the roundtable’s discussion and would assist in the debate on new constitutional arrangements to govern TT.
He denied the proposal was for an executive presidency, where Government Ministers were merely advisors to the Head of Government, but said it was rather a presidential system, where alongside the President, he would like to see the power of Cabinet being enshrined in a TT National Constitution.
Scoffing at allegations he was seeking to be Executive President, he said: “All those who feel it is the be-all and end-all of my existence, I am sorry to disappoint you”.
Manning said Cabinet should include only six elected MPs, while the bulk should be appointees from outside Parliament.
He said now there are too few Government backbenchers to sit on parliamentary committees, but a presidential system would free MPs of ministerial duty to instead sit on committees. The working paper, he said, sought to have five parliamentary committees be enshrined in the Constitution — on energy, foreign affairs, and one each akin to the Public Accounts Committee, Public Accounts (Enterprises) Committee, and a Joint Select Committee.
“It is a working document. It’s nobody’s proposals, not the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, not the roundtable. I don’t want anyone to say it is Manning’s proposing.” He got loud claps when he said what was sought was a “Trinidad and Tobago Model”
He said the document proposed that local government would help citizens’ voice be heard, as each corporation would nominate a person to sit in the Senate whose proposed 12 new Senators could shift the balance of power in Parliament. If the Government lost a local election, he said, this could act in Parliament as a check on the Government. “So you understand why we want to delay the local government elections,” he said, adding that the current system is dysfunctional. He said the document is suggesting that in contrast to their current non-political nature, Permanent Secretaries should be appointed from outside of the Public Service. “So as a Government changes, they can appoint anyone.”
Manning said the working paper proposes that the DPP no longer be fully independent of the Attorney-General. He said the document says the DPP could still be independent on criminal matters, but not on matters involving official secrets, terrorism or state to state relations. “The DPP must have the approval of the Attorney-General before he acts,” he said, refering to the three cases, and again insisting this was not a proposal made by him.
While saying the independence of the Judiciary is sacrosanct to the PNM, he also said if the Judiciary demanded $50 million in funding to spend as they saw fit and the Government granted that, this situation would amount to the existence of a State within a State.
Manning said the document proposed that while the Juduiciary continues to do its own judicial functions, a Ministry of Justice be set up to carry out the Judiciary’s administrative functions. “It is a proposal; It is not from Manning. Do you find it interesting?”.
He said there would now be a protracted consultations the working paper, after which the Government would lay a Green Paper in Parliament as its statement of intent. More consultations would result in the Green Paper being refined into a White Paper of Government policy. Manning hit the Opposition as being uninterested in anything uplifting to the people of TT.
“If we get the support of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, we will not need Opposition support,” he said cryptically.
He called the Opposition a “total, complete and abject waste of time” and the worst Opposition he had seen in his 38 years in Parliament. He tried to rouse the audience’s disdain of the Opposition and use it to “sell” the working paper to the crowd.
Manning promised a series of special conventions to bring the party up to date and solicit their views.
Otherwise Manning said he would never stay in politics for a day longer than necessary, saying he would know the time to leave before anyone else.