Real deliberation needed


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Category: Trinidad Politics 29 Oct 06


“There is a CD of Boscoe Holder where he sings to his great friend ‘I poured my heart into this song. If you don’t like it, please don’t destroy it, because if you do, you wont just destroy a song, you will be tearing my heart out.’


“My heart didn’t go into the Draft Constitution. It’s a point of view, an attempt to put down ideas into a coherent form. People can knock it about as they see fit. I may strongly oppose some things in the Draft prepared by The Principles of Fairness Committee (Tajmool Hosein and Dr Hamid Ghany,) but it’s well thought out and considered.


“There will be considerable debate and disagreement on many things in both drafts. Out of all this I’m hoping will emerge a document that people will tolerate, or find more or less acceptable.”


Sir Ellis Clarke


When I spoke with Sir Ellis about his Draft constitution (which sent alarm bells clanging in all directions since it proposes an Executive President) he closed the interview with the above lyrical response.


He threw me, I tell you, this 89-year-old luminary, as he deftly diffused my earnest questioning with talk of songs and hearts.


My exchange with Sir Ellis reminded me of a profile on him in The Trinidad Guardian, written in 1962. (I can truthfully say I wasn’t born yet!) The editorial, reproduced on the Internet, described how Ambassador Clarke, then 45, “floored criticism of a Government Bill when he replied: ‘The law, may I point out, cannot prescribe for every twist of the criminal mind.’” The writer described him “not so much the master of the soft answer as of the soft manner.” It’s as true today as it was then.


To debate the Sir Ellis Draft, we have to move out of our usual furtive, racially and politically partisan minds, suspicious conspiracy theories and curb our appetite for the scandalous into a neutral space where we attempt to understand what it means.


Bad word


If we do a headless chicken act, and start shouting and pointing fingers as our usual substitute for real deliberation, I am convinced the Sir Ellis Draft may quietly be slipped through and we will wake up one morning to Executive President Manning or Executive President Dookeran or Executive President Maharaj. The horror. The horror.


I was talking to Sir Ellis specifically on section 109 (1) of his Draft that appears to be a potentially lethal blow to democracy as it appears to give the proposed Executive President absolute power except when consultation is specified by law or constitution.


“In the exercise of his functions under this constitution or any other law, the President shall act in his own deliberate judgment.”


The Draft’s justification for an Executive President is this:


“We became a monarchy in 1962 and because of the nature of a monarchy all the power was vested in the Prime Minister who had unlimited power. The Governor General only acted in accordance with the advice of the PM.


“When we became a Republic in 1976, we diluted the PM’s power by assigning some of it to the President. None of the actual Executive power of the PM was assigned, but the power to make several appointments was given to the President. This has led to a built in tension between President and PM that raises its ugly head when you get a Panday/Robinson 18/18 fracas in 2001.


“When the PM thinks A should be appointed and the President responds coldly, consults with the Leader of the Opposition and appoints J, the PM is not pleased but the President cannot be challenged. You can call it petty if you like. It’s human nature.


“When PM Robinson raised the question of whether I (as President in 1986) had consulted with him about the appointment (I had consulted with the previous PM and signed after Robinson came into power) of Jimmy Bain the court said you cannot inquire into that.


“In 1962 Republic was a bad word. It represented lawlessness. In 2006 Executive President is a bad word.”


Next week. A twist of the Executive President’s power


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur