Nightmares of Bush and Peron


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Category: Trinidad Politics 22 Oct 06


A consultation at the Hilton Trinidad on a draft constitution proposing an “executive president,” sent me racing to interview Sir Ellis and Dr Hamid Ghany with an adrenalin-thumping urgency I haven’t felt since the attempted coup in 1990.


I saw visions of a watered down Parliament and judiciary, led by an unbelievably power-bloated man.


It gave me nightmares of George Bush; worse, Col Peron.


Consider the facts: The Prime Minister presents a draft constitution in Parliament on August 18, 2006, which primarily proposes to combine the power and authority of President and Prime Minister in one person: the Executive President.


Before presenting the salient points of the Sir Ellis draft, the Prime Minister politely expressed his “appreciation” to the Principles of Fairness Committee, “a group of civic-minded citizens” who produced a draft constitution.


This sounded like an incidental vote of thanks for an unsolicited document, but I could be wrong. So there are two constitutional drafts. The Prime Minister was dealing with the Sir Ellis draft.


Amidst the self-congratulatory desk-thumping on extracting a draft constitution from a luminary such as Sir Ellis, the Prime Minister pours plenty ice water on the frothing cauldron, with assurances upon assurances that the draft is just a draft, a “working paper, not government policy” urging nationals to become “thoroughly acquainted” with its contents, so they can “meaningfully contribute to the national dialogue on this fundamental issue.”


The Prime Minister revealed that Cabinet has established a Round Table to evaluate national comments on the Ellis Clarke draft.


End in Tears


Its members include himself as chairman, the AG, the Minister of Legal Affairs, the Minister of Planning and Development, the Minister of Public Administration and Information, Sir Ellis, Tajmool Hosein, QC, Dr Selwyn Ryan, Dr John La Guerre, Dr John Spence and Assemblyman Anselm London.


The Prime Minister did not name the members of the “civic-minded” Principles of Fairness Committee.


They are: Marjorie Thorpe, Archbishop Edward Gilbert, Ken Gordon, Bhoendradatt Tewarie, Tajmool Hosein, Arthur Lok Jack, Dr Hamid Ghany, Patricia Mohammed, Satnarine Maharaj and Noble Khan.


The Prime Minister said his team would, after exhaustive consultation with the nation, prepare a “new draft, which will be published as a Green Paper of the draft government policy by December 31, 2006.”


That soon?


Draft vs Draft. Politicians vs Big Wigs. Public heavyweights vs ordinary people. I can’t see any of these bigshot men (and two women) sitting around on pavements, arms around citizens and in liming corners around the country explaining to people what it means, asking them what they think, and taking notes.


It’s going to end in tears. A battle between the Ellis Clarke Draft vs the Principles of Fairness Committee Draft.


What I do gather from the Sir Ellis draft is that it has given rise to fears that it could create a maximum leader, a dictator even.


That’s not Sir Ellis’ intention at all. I know it. There is no man in Trinidad and Tobago today whose intellect, career, public service and achievements I admire more. Sir Ellis is loaded with honours, including the Trinity Cross, three knighthoods, the Order of the Liberator and an honorary Doctor of Laws.


He was one of the main architects of our 1962 Independence and 1976 constitutions, served as the last Governor General, and the first President of this country.


After speaking with him last week, I have a duty to lay out clearly what he intends by his draft, which I will do in next week’s column in a continuing series on the twin drafts before us.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur