Dangerous Draft Constitution

Newsday Editorial
Tuesday, January 13 2009

PM Patrick ManningTHE Draft Constitution laid by Prime Minister Patrick Manning at last Friday’s re-opening of the House of Representatives not only alters the mechanics of the Constitution but undermines the most universal tenets of constitutional accountability.

This is the third draft presented by Mr Manning, following a first draft laid in the House on Friday August 18, 2006, and a second draft outlined to the PNM Annual Convention on Sunday July 13, 2008.

Like its two predecessors — which themselves provoked a public outcry — this third draft in our view gives too much power to the proposed Executive President.

While the Draft seeks to replace TT’s current Westminster-styled Government with one closer to the US Presidential system, the Draft lacks the checks and balances of either system, such as separate elections for Executive President and the Legislature.

The Draft will allocate virtually all political power in one fell swoop upon the outcome of a single election. The Draft proposes that the leader of the party winning most seats in a general election would become the Executive President as a combined Head of State/Head of Government, who in turn despite his politically partisan nature will then appoint top constitutional officers whose supposed impartiality will surely be queried, such as the Ombudsman, most Senators, and members of the Salaries Review Commission. Should our politicians have all this power?

The Draft violates the constitutional ideal of the separation of powers, by allowing MPs the final say in the selection of a Chief Justice by a veto, and by creating a Ministry of Justice to let the Government administer the Judiciary, despite Mr Manning’s protests that the Ministry won’t interfere in judges’ individual rulings.

This intrusion onto the judiciary has been roundly condemned by leading legal luminaries, such as Kenneth Lalla SC and Desmond Allum SC. The Draft undermines the Public Service by allowing the appointment of permanent secretaries from the private sector. Worryingly, these officers will be contract officers who may be transferred personally by the Executive President. The Draft says the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) must get the approval of the Attorney- General in matters of “official secrets, terrorism and State-to-State relations”.

In line with the Government’s desire to shield its Directors of State Companies, the Draft limits the Integrity in Public Life Act only to Ministers and MPs and “members and holders of such public office as may be prescribed.”

Worryingly, the Draft lets the Executive President appoint 30 Senators — 11 “Independent” Senators which he appoints as Head of State and 19 Government Senators he appoints as Head of Government — while the Opposition has only seven Senators.

The Draft limits the Cabinet to not more than eight parliamentarians, plus the Executive President. So, fewer of his parliamentary colleagues in Cabinet would be a weaker check on his power, so he would become greater than a mere “primus inter pares” (first among equals) as now obtains.

Again in line with Mr Manning’s known intentions, the new Draft worryingly allows the country to politically-integrate with other territories solely by a simple majority vote of parliamentarians.

Mr Manning claims this is a mere discussion paper which represents nobody’s views, and critics may see it as a red herring against anticipated economic contagion, but the Draft could have serious real-life implications. Mr Manning heads a Government that has severely curtailed the country’s current constitutional means of accountability. Local Government elections have been postponed twice and no Joint Select Committee has sat in the past year, while in last year’s general elections 70 percent of Government MPs were fired by Mr Manning.

Do Mr Manning’s benign words in presenting the Draft mask some serious implications for this country’s system of governance?


10 thoughts on “Dangerous Draft Constitution”

  1. Usually on this board I stay away from issues that deal with the details and operations of TNT government, but this screams arrogance! I can see why Manning would want more control over TNT. Who wouldn’t want to officially be king in paradise? Only then after pandering to U.S., and English officials could he feel like a colonial leader of significance.

    The disturbing thing is the ammounto arrogance one would have to suggest such alterations to the constitution. I mean surly he has taken into account that it may not be he who is the leader of such a system and the person elected may not see things remotly cose to the way he (Manning) sees them. I’m sure that Mr. Manning knew that perhaps there will be somone elected that not even he would have wished on his enemies in TNT who could lead the country into a more disasterous state.

    He must be fooling himself if he thinks that the people of TNT are going to make him the George Bush of TNT not alone the Charles Taylor, Hugo Chavez, etc…

  2. I am confused as to the need for a new constitution. Usually a constitution is only needed when something is being created (a new country). Mr. Manning needs to focus on a new structure of society. Stop giving away Government houses; instead provide the citizens with opportunities to buy land and build their own houses. Begin doing Government’s job of keeping its people safe. start protecting out borders from illegal guns, and drug smuggling. I don’t think we need a new constitution, just a new attitude, and leadership.

  3. This is the PNM’s attempt to deflect the current siege the country is under. As i’ve always maintained, we have a slew of incompetent and brain dead politicians leading the nation. A new breed of leaders is desperately needed to bring the country of it’s currents state. These old farts like panday, deosaran and Manning are destroying our country and they don’t give a damn!

  4. can they please include in the constitution limits on how long someone can be prime minster / president. Two, perhaps three terms max.

  5. I’m Manning the 8th I am,
    Manning the 8th I am, I am,
    I got married to the widow next door,
    She’s been married 7 times before,
    And every one was a Manning (Manning),
    She wouldn’t have a Chevez or a Sam (no Sam)
    I’m her 8th old man I Manning,
    Manning the 8th I am

  6. Clearly the draft constitution lacks in specific and public concern areas such as limits to presidential term and the general right and process of recall.

    As a very small state, the PNM and mr. Manning, is hoping for total dominance of the politics and people by constitutional means, which will give poer to use force of compliance.

    Mr. Manning has already exhibited his intollerance of those opposed or different to his views or party’s. To give virtuall unlimited powers to a President , most likly, and no doubt expecrting, Mr. Manning has the personality to reek havoc and impose a draconian regime on our beautifull islands.

    I will like to see that the president can be impeached. Mr. Manning’s actions seem to suggest that the Prime Minister cannont by brought before the courts (as is the case with the present presidential arrangement).

    We are too small and our leaders minds are too small for the arrangement proposed, unless the enshrined and the spirit is such to promote the rule of law and not selective.

  7. Having a presidential approach to a Republic has it pros and cons, but I believe that the pros outweigh the cons.

    Trinidadians will finally vote for a president as appose to a party: this means that the leaders will have to be selected by the party constituents prior to an election, she has limited time to lead (no more than two-term in office), there are only so many executive orders that she can make and most of all the citizens of Trinidad will hold this person to the highest ethical codes.

    As long as the verbiage of the constitution outlines clearly what is expected of the leader and is approved by the people, I do not have any problem with a presidential approach to the Republic.

  8. having a presidential system is good but the way it is proposed is just bottom line dangerous. i smell dictator

  9. “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both” Ben Franklin.

    The only way we should allow the constitution to be changed is if it puts more power in the peoples hands and removes it from the governments hand.

    Mr Manning please worry less about power and worry more about stopping illegal guns and immigrants from entering and destroying our country.

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