Manning’s second bid for presidency

By Sean Douglas
Monday, July 14 2008

Patrick ManningPRIME Minister Patrick Manning, despite his strenuous denials, could well make a second bid to become TT’s Executive President after he presented the 42nd PNM Annual Convention at Chaguaramas with extracts of a “working paper” that looked suspiciously like a second version of his Draft Constitution which provoked a public outcry in 2006.

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.,82476.html

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5 thoughts on “Manning’s second bid for presidency”

  1. The constitutional changes that are proposed by Mr Manning are very frightening. An independent Judiciary is important to a free country. This document must be studied in detail by every Trinidadian and Tobagonian. Venezuelans did not pay attention and look at their position now. Dictators are not created overnight. Mr Manning has shown his true colors by speaking of the Opposition in such derogatory terms. Trinidadians do not want a Dictatorship so the Prime Minister had better find a way to deal with the Opposition.He has been in Government a long time so he should stop crying like a big baby and get down to governing the country for the benefit of all the people.

  2. The proposal to establish a Justice Ministry with a minister of Justice is nothing new. It is common practice in most democracies and does not threaten the independence of the Judiciary.

  3. I must admit that the novel discussions, and or proposals of the government to initiate constitutional reform geared towards eradicating the position of the PM and introduce some form of new age Presidency is quite commendable. I like most of the nation would of course need some time to absorb the details and perhaps assess future implications, but this idea should be given some consideration.
    Yes we know as the critics might rightly assume, the PM is up to some ploy and that might well be so. However hats off to these new efforts for a nation that really wants to take regional leadership and finally eliminate another old mantle/vestige of colonialism.
    Take a look at the time line continuum. First we got rid of the senseless wigs favored in the past by our lawyers and judges. That was followed by our discarding some obscure Cock on the Red House roof. In true democratic fashion, we put the Catholics in their place and changed the name of our highest honor award from Trinity Cross. It is now finally the correct moment I agree to shake up this old style Parliamentary political system. I say shame on the few that are attempting to convince us that our politicians are not accountable to the people. I am eagerly anticipating the day when every street and highway is renamed to a local hero from both dominant ethnic and racial majority in the country. That will finally indicate to those neo colonialists a thing or two. I might however be getting ahead of my self and should just quit while I am ahead, but you get my drift.
    What I am most ecstatic about is the fact that Mr. Basdeo P and the Opposition might just bite into this, enthusiastically jump on board behind the government on this matter of vital interest to the nation. In true non partisan spirit they can show support, as they too have been very disgusted with the prevailing ancient British ‘first past the post’ political anomaly that inhibited a political leader from bringing his personal expensive laptop computer to the House of Parliament to catch up on more pressing global affairs, while the nation’s business are being debated by lesser mortals. I love it, 21 st Century here we come, with sweet T&T at the helm of a democratic revolution.

  4. Mongrel in the house

    By Denis Solomon
    Wednesday, July 23rd 2008

    The smug accompanying comments intended to perfume the proposals emerging from the Prime Minister’s Constitutional “round table” have totally failed to disguise the cloacal stink of that misbegotten product.

    “No executive president”, forsooth! First of all, the opprobrium that has surrounded this innocent term is itself a sign of the public bamboozlement that has characterised all discussion of constitutional matters in this country. The core meaning of “executive president” is simply that the head of the executive is also the head of state. It carries no connotation of excessive power for the incumbent. Any powers he or she exercises come not from the title but from the relation of the executive with the other arms of Government – the judiciary and above all the legislature. But Trinbagonians are the easiest people to fool with terminology. Even the Constitution Reform Forum, which contains many more intelligent individuals than the Round Table, was moved some years ago to announce that it was against an executive presidency.

    Now the Round Table, riding the wave of this manufactured public disquiet, produces a mongrel arrangement that both creates what amounts to an executive president and preserves for him or her all the influence over the legislature that was the cause of the crisis in the first place.
    Full Article :

  5. The Barbados Nation’s political correspondent ALBERT BRANDFORD writes:

    IT IS BECOMING increasingly clear that Prime Minister Patrick Manning is on a journey to leave a legacy not only on the political landscape of Trinidad and Tobago but across CARICOM.

    He is already known for toying with political constructs that seek to isolate sub-regions in CARICOM, such as the Manning Initiative which, to this day, does not have a compelling purpose.

    But the biggest of Manning’s ideas has come in the form of a working paper – not yet government policy – that strives to improve the governance structure of Trinidad and Tobago, perhaps inspired by the 18-18 tie in the 2001 general election.

    The proposed reforms of the constitution, however, do not indicate in any way how they would resolve such an occurrence in the future.

    The essence of Manning’s proposed reforms is to make the executive president the head of both the government and the state, giving what is now an all-powerful prime minister even greater powers of governance and control.

    While upgrading the status of the prime minister, the proposed new draft constitution devastates the contribution of other elected members of the House of Representatives, both in terms of quantity and quality in the cabinet.

    In fact, according to Manning: “It is proposed that the cabinet would now AID AND ADVISE [my emphasis] the president on the general direction and control of the government. It would comprise the president, vice-president and up to 25 members, of whom not more than six would be appointed from the House of Representatives and three from the Senate. The rest of the ministers would be appointed from outside of the parliament.”

    Imagine, a leader of a political party in Trinidad and Tobago uses 40 other party members to assist him in securing victory at the polls, but then agrees sufficiently with proposed reforms to bring them to parliament suggesting that at most – not at least – six ministers could be elected Members of Parliament.

    On two scores, Prime Minister Manning’s motives would have to be questioned: first, no other elected MP has to be a minister; and secondly, the number of ministers elected is restricted to six.

    It takes a very special politician, guided by some higher power, to reduce other elected Members of Parliament – from whom he derived his power – to mere statistical objects.
    It must be the case that only elected members of the House of Representatives can cast a secret ballot to determine who becomes the executive president.

    Under the current constitution, the non-executive president is chosen by the Electoral College, a unicameral body consisting of all of the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, convened by the Speaker, as chairman, and who has an original vote.

    It is particularly striking that only the president and the vice-president are guaranteed membership of Manning’s proposed cabinet which has an upper limit of 25 members.
    Since the president and vice-president are to be appointed from the House of Representatives, only four other members from the ruling party can become ministers. That makes the proposals even more ludicrous!

    Political folly
    At the two extremes, ministers appointed from outside of the parliament may make up – at most – 23 out of the possible 25 members of the cabinet, or – at least – 16 out of the possible 25 members.

    These ministers would be all appointed by the president who got his power from the elected members of the House of Representatives!

    In its current state, the governing party in Trinidad and Tobago must have at least 21 members in the Lower House who, under the proposed reforms, would be restricted to offering only “aid and advice” to the cabinet on the general direction and control of the government – a restriction that is also imposed on the cabinet.

    To me, that is political folly in the extreme.
    The only reasonable proposal that prevents the new draft constitution from being seen as the making of an elected dictatorship is one for a term limit for the executive president, a maximum of two terms – ten years at most.
    Otherwise, the Manning proposals smack of a leader trying to secure ultimate political power, more in search of creating a one-man show than entrenching a participatory democracy that broadens the base of leadership.

    Having proposed to emasculate the elected representatives in the Lower House, Manning also wants to see an enlarged and essentially elected Senate for Trinidad and Tobago.
    The following proposed reforms may help to restore a sense of balance with respect to those who voted for having some say in the general direction and control of government.

    The Senate would comprise 49 – up from 31 – members of which 28 would be elected, and based on recommendations from the political parties following a general election, 18 would be assigned seats on the basis of proportional representation.

    The other three senators would be elected by the Tobago House of Assembly.

    More questions than answers
    The existing nine Independent senators would be no more; yet, it appears that the broad principle – apart from the President becoming more powerful – is to involve more non-political practitioners in the decision-making process.
    This identifies a basic inconsistency in the proposed reforms.

    Oddly enough, the Cabinet, which has the responsibility only to “aid and advise” the President on the general direction and control of government, would be the least democratic of the institutions of government.

    It is widely believed that people who get involved in elective politics do so out of self-interest, and so, it is going to be more than interesting to witness a national debate in Trinidad and Tobago on a proposed constitution that reduces the effective participation of the majority of elected Members of Parliament in running the affairs of government.

    Prime Minister Manning is unorthodox, but his desire to change Trinidad and Tobago’s constitution to increase the power of the political leader raises more questions than it provides answers.

    It is being argued by some commentators that that increased power would come at the expense of the judiciary and the parliament – a frightening prospect for any country!

    But perhaps the most frightening aspect of this proposed mischief would be the decimation of the will of the people in the first-past-the-post system used to elect members to the House of Representatives that would have to give way to the will of a political leader, especially in determining the composition of the Cabinet, a body of ministers who traditionally initiate policy and are collectively responsible for the government of the country.

    For the sake of the people of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, may it never happen.

    The rest of us in the region, especially here in Barbados, should watch the developments closely, because politicians are . . . well, politicians.

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