Columnist Earl Best watched the end of the Constitution Amendment Bill debate in the Senate on television and was not amused:
The government of the day—and of the night, Section 34 has taught us—is sleeping the sleep of the just; confident that a substantial part of the battle for post-election 2015 power has been won.
The Constitution Amendment Bill is now almost law—“there are powers I have that you don’t know I have,” remember?—and the Constitution may soon be duly amended.
Without the support of at least one, for want of a better word, Independent, the People’s Partnership Government would not have been able to ram the Bill up the democracy’s throats.
In the event, they did enough to, for want of a better word, win the support of three.
But after watching last night’s Senate Committee stage of the debate on the Bill, I have to agree with BC Pires. In today’s Guardian, BC’s column is headlined, “Independent, my foot!” In it, he laments the fact that the style of formal dress we Trinbagonians have chosen for ourselves does not suit us.
I now declare the same to be true of the type of senate for which we have opted. It consists, we are told, of 15 government senators, six opposition and nine independents.
Independent, BC? Independents, my foot!
I have to say I was not pleased with some of what I saw on the TV. I don’t entirely approve of the Opposition’s unsurprising strategy; despite the clear signals sent on Tuesday, no less concerned with their own rather than the country’s post-election fate, Keith Rowley’s spokespeople opted to contribute nothing.
But given a choice between the silence of the PNM sheep and the preening of some of their colleagues on the third bench, I have no doubt which way I would go.
Unlike the deliberately mum PNMites, some people spotted their chance to make a splash and grabbed it with both hands. For me, the performance came close to being the intellectual equivalent of the behaviour now ritually displayed on the Queen’s Park Savannah stage during the annual Parade of the Bands.
When, for instance, well into the night, stand-in senator Fitzgerald Hinds suggested a provocative interpretation of the fact that the Prime Minister’s name appeared above an amendment proposed by someone else, the de facto author took strong objection to the inference and felt compelled to remind the House that he knew what Hinds meant because he was “a reasonably intelligent man.”
I would have used a different adjective.
And vice-president James Lambert’s pique was something to behold when the PNM’s Faris Al-Rawi insisted on getting an answer to his question about “the illogic” of Section 8.
But although I have long formed the impression that the only thing Al-Rawi is ignorant about is how to feign ignorance, he might just have been feigning ignorance. He asked to have the amendment proposed by Senator Dhanayshar Mahabir explained and got a very clear, very detailed response.
Armed with that crystal clear answer, which left no doubt that a candidate could be elected in the second ballot with less than 50 percent, he enquired whether the reason for proposing the original amendment to the Constitution was not precisely to ensure that no MP would be elected with the support of less than half of the votes in his constituency.
The Prime Minister, the Attorney General and the good senator did not splutter and stutter; for all the sense their attempted responses made, they might well have.
One suspects that the television producer was instructed not to let the world see the smirk that must have been painted onto Al-Rawi’s self-satisfied face.
And I feel sure we have not heard the end of that particular issue.
But back to the presiding officer. Mr Lambert, presiding in the absence of the unrecused President, seemed to me to need a little lesson in what precisely the role of the presiding officer is.
Not, mind you, as defined by Government but as defined by the Constitution.
The question arises as to what really is his function? Is he an officer of the government or of the people?
It is a real question because the Constitution stipulates that, in the event of a tie, he must so cast his vote as to maintain the status quo. That seems to me to say that he is a mediator, an arbitrator, an arm not of the law but of Justice.
There was a point at which vice-president Lambert, reckless of the public demand for proper ventilation of all issues, declared almost testily that he had no intention of allowing the session to keep dealing with the same thing over and over.
“Even if,” his tone seemed to me to be saying, though he never quite put it into words, “some of you aren’t smart enough to understand what is being said.”
That reminded me of a 2012 Raffique Shah column, headlined “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.” Here is the relevant excerpt:
Yesterday, veteran trade unionist James Lambert was an “irrevocable fool”. In spite of his years of service in the labour movement, he did not understand the fundamentals of collective bargaining.
Today, the glutton for punishment is forgiven by his abuser, elevated to the rank of senator, and is now described as someone with vast experience and knowledge, a man who can make a great contribution to governance. Today, it seems, the irrevocable has been revoked. Only in Trinidad and Tobago….
Methinks Mr Shah’s 2012 opinion needs no further comment in 2014.
I do, however, have one final comment on this issue. Given the current 15-6-9 composition, the Senate debate on the Bill took all of three days. So in my head I hear the voice of the late Lloyd Best calling long and loud for a “big macco senate.” Had he, dismissed by many as “impractical,” had his way, we would not have had, caeteris paribus, to hear the repeated complaints about the lack of consultation; a senate constituted in the way Best proposed would have given us all, prince or pauper, patrician or plebeian, pasha or peewat, a real voice.
But the session that ended yesterday might well still have been in progress at Christmas!
Do I hear someone saying thank God for small mercies? Not so fast. Before we start sending messages upstairs, consider that this measure, seemingly so sweet in the government’s mouth today, might well prove to be much less so when it hits the government’s behind tomorrow.
Right, Raffique? Right, Rolph? Right, Dhanayshar?