Guarding Our Laws

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 26, 2017

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeIn 2011, shortly after the People’s Partnership was installed as a government, the GOPIO asked me to give a lecture on multiculturalism. I emphasized that Trinidad and Tobago will never reach its full potential unless all of us—black, white, Indian and African, protestant and Hindu—accepted our past as our national patrimony. Therefore, I was pleased when, Kamla Persad Bissessar, in her response to Faris Al-Rawi’s attempt to do away with the three-fifths requirement for the passage of certain legislation, recognized that our Independence constitution “was evolutionary and was the result of hard fought negotiations at Marlborough House by our forefathers.”

I am not indifferent to the millions of dollars Kamla’s administration spent on lawyers or unaware that her statement may be a rhetorical ploy. However, it is an important concession of her awareness of the collective history we share as a people.

On the other hand, I was disturbed when our attorney general, the guardian of our law, signaled he was looking for ways to circumvent our constitution, particularly as it has to do with the protections offered to citizens by the three-fifths majority necessary for the passage of certain legislation.

As I read the AG’s comment I thought of our legal giants: Charles Warner, Maxwell Philip, Alexander Anderson and Vincent Brown of the 19th century; H. O. B. Wooding, Ellis Clarke, Tajmool Hosein and Michael de la Bastide of the 20th century. These legal luminaries did not only know the law but immersed themselves in the evolution of our legal history.

In this context, I couldn’t help but think of Charles Reis, A History of the Constitution or Government of Trinidad(1929); Hewan Craig, The Legislative Council of Trinidad and Tobago (1950); and H. O. B. Wooding’s “The Constitutional History of Trinidad and Tobago” (1960).

Wooding reminded us that the constitution of a country “is a history of people, of the influences to which they have been subject, the activities in which they have been engaged, the conditions in which they have dwelt, of their hopes and aspirations, their toils and triumphs.”

He also outlined the provisions of the Cedula of Population (1783); The Treaty of Capitulation (1797); the “Council of Advice” (1803) and “The Council of Government (1831). Then he jumps to 1925 when the island gained its elected element in the Legislative Legislature; the provisions of the appointment of the Moyne Commission (1937); and the introduction of adult suffrage in 1946, which increased the number of Trinbagonians who were eligible to vote.

Constitutional reforms in 1954 changed the composition of the Executive Council. It called for the introduction of “a Chief Minister, two ex-officio members and seven elected members.” This change led led to birth of the PNM, the emergence of Dr. Williams, and the seeds of our present constitution.

In 1960 when Williams and Capildeo deliberated on our Independence Constitution it became necessary to protect the minority elements of the society, a point that was important to Capildeo.

Since then, things have change. Whereas, the Indians constituted the minority in 1960, today they are the majority. It is the Africans who need all the protection they can get under our present constitution.

Needless to say, the protection of the rights of the minority is the most salient aspect of any democratic constitution. This is why Williams went out his way to accommodate Capildeo’s entreaties.

Al-Rawi has cautioned that it is “irresponsible of the Opposition to offer a legal view on proposed legislation which has not yet been published.” However, it is entirely appropriate for citizens to be on the alert for any threat that purports to erode the constitutional guidelines upon which their fundamental freedoms depends.

Our constitution is too important a document to leave in the hands of lawyers. In his recently released documentary, “I am Not Your Negro,” James Baldwin asserts: “History is not the past. History is the present. We carry our history with us. To think otherwise is criminal.”

One cannot listen to Al-Rawi utterances in good conscience and not be concerned about the unintended consequences of his actions, no matter how well meaning he might be. Neither can we forgive anyone, particularly our AG, for not being aware of our constitutional history.

Kamla may have embraced the contributions of our forefathers for many reasons. It is important that we hold her to her words and encourage our citizens to acquaint themselves with the contents of this life-giving document. Our lives depend upon it. It is criminal to think otherwise.

5 Responses to “Guarding Our Laws”


  • *Our constitution is too important a document to leave in the hands of lawyers. In his recently released documentary, “I am Not Your Negro,” James Baldwin asserts: “History is not the past. History is the present. We carry our history with us. To think otherwise is criminal.”*

    Thanks Professor.. Now, can we look at UWI once an for all… and fix this thing… Sir Hugh Wooding would not be allowed to study law there today..

    *TWO graduates of the dentistry programme at The University of the West Indies (The UWI) Mona campus in Jamaica are calling for Government intervention to treat with what they say is discrimination by officials at The UWI St Augustine School of Dentistry.*

    http://www.trinidadexpress.com/20170225/news/graduates-claim-discrimination-at-dentistry-school

  • Marlborough house marked the beginning of our nation’s democracy as the laws that would govern us was negotiated. It was a significant moment for a young an embryonic democracy. Built in was the safeguards of governance.

    It was agreed back then that some laws would require a 3/5ths special majority to be enacted as the laws of the day. This was a very important safeguards to ensure that the government does not become a law unto themselves and abandon the true spirit of democracy. Power can have a deliterious effect on the government of the day. George Bush said today that power could be corrosive and as such we need free thinkers in our society to keep politicians in check. Without free thinkers and a strong partisanship press the embers of dictatorship can easily be ignited. Because a government given a “pass” on the things that matter will always seek more power.

    We saw this in the FATCA legislation where the minister of finance would have been given “carte blanch” to the private information of citizens when it was none of his business. The Opposition came under tremendous pressure for several months to agree to the government demands but held out until citizens rights were protected and important changes of the law was made finally receiving 100% support from both sides. That in itself is remarkable.

    The government does not make laws for itself but for the citizenry. Therefore the attempt by the current AG Faris AlRawi to abrogate the 3/5ths majority vote is quite disturbing. It is departure from the founding fathers Malborough accord.

    One must note that Keith Rowley opposed almost every law that the government of the day sought to pass. As an example the creation of a DNA lab was vehemently opposed aided and abetted by a PNM friendly press. Today it is being revisited. It could have been far advanced in data collection and quite certainly assist in solving many crimes committed against women today such as rape. The song Keith Rowley as Opposition leader sang at the time was the fear of contamination.

    Malborough house and the decisions taken there cannot be ignored by the current AG. He must find a way of working with this strong Opposition. Or else we will become a dictatorship.

  • One would tend to think that tinkering with the nation’s constitution especially by the AG is a lack of respect. There lies some parallels with POTUS attack on some journalists at established media houses, literally attacking democracy at it’s core for an informed public.

    The foresight of the negotiators at Marlborough House for our independence is at least one of the contributors for the stability of our nation. Although both Williams and Capildeo the architects of our constitution witnessed one revolution 1970 the other being 1990. Williams (69) died in 1981, come to think of it Capildeo (50) died the same year of the 1970 revolution.

    https://globalvoices.org/2017/02/28/the-face-of-resistance-are-you-listening-podcast/

  • http://www.trinidadexpress.com/

    “A senior police officer told the Express that residents have information but are afraid to come forward.
    More than 20 people have been interviewed by homicide detectives but they are not suspects in the killings…”

    Ain’t this something people? First they blame dem alleged, ultra savage Africans , for committing all the crimes in La Trinity.
    Realizing how stupid they look ,for so doing, they move on to blame Dr Keith ,& his Red & Ready gang Government ,for failing to have a plan , much less, tackle escalating crimes-even though Under Siparia Queen, Mama Karma Besaysow UNC dominant,Setting Sun PP, the situation was just as revolting/precarious, even as her , & that clueless regime ,slept at the wheels, all of 5 years.
    Not satisfied, they likewise lay blame on all dem Trini Born Deportees, then transitioned to attacking our Afro Caribbean cousins,& even desperate Latin immigrants, for the majority of T&T present day crime woes. Go figure!
    Fast forward to 2017, & even our much cherished ,national Carnival festival , took much of the blame, with even a few unpatriotic, country hating bozos ,demanding it’s erradication forthwith.
    Nope. Don’t eliminate White Massa Privy Council, in favor of our T&T based regional CCJ , or end Child marriages, and better yet, go after White color badits, but end carnival, and introduce Proportional Representation, as a 1st step towards Constitutional Reforms.

    Thank goodness, that this couple decomposed body was found,& the evidence would indicate, that their deaths had nada to do with Carnival,since they had died long before Chalkust won his Monarch crown .
    Here we go again,another high profile ,media popular murder,that has forced our already exasperated ,much maligned ,Law Enforcement blokes ,to work overime,in efforts to quickly solve same.
    In Tobago there was a German expat couple ,hacked to death ,as all sorts of opaque theories were trotted out .
    We had legal luminary Dana Setahal ,gunned down like a common thug ,execution style in her vehicle ,before she could reach for her 9Mm Glock,in her glove compartment.
    We then had an allegedly innocent ,religious Santa Cruz ,young lady, murdered on the 2nd floor of a downtown business,all because she had the gumption,to ignore 150 other bathrooms ,& opted instead ,for one located in an IAM store , located on Charlotte street POS.
    Finally this,millionaires murdered in their home,and the placed is ramshacked to make same look like a robbery.
    I hope you are seeing a trend here people- staged murders,where the intent is always to mislead our seemingly gullible Cops,& yet ,they still fall for it.
    Oh yeah, it’s gang related, they dismissively proclaim. Ok,it must be a robbery, others now add. Oh ,&by de way, surprise, surprise, some folks knows something,but refuse to offer information. Yep, beyond hilarious, that it ain’t even funny anymore.

    http://www.guardian.co.tt/news/2017-02-27/kaiso-bard-got-it-wrong%E2%80%94sat

    They pretend to care about ending crimes, but yet prefer to leave their fates in the hands of closet monsters,professing to be leaders, who ‘gets their rocks off,’ defending criminality.
    Yeah T&T , some deaths are brutal, & instantanious.
    Others are slow, yet equally destructive-as they killl the Souls of our nation’s innocent angels, while hiding behind opaque culture, & phony “Rights. ”
    There is work yet to be done people.
    Let’s make it happen .

  • Kamla Persad Bissessar is quoted to have said, in defence of Sat Maharaj, at the 100 anniversary of the ending of indenturism
    “His name will be recorded in the annals of the history of Trinidad and Tobago as he who never faltered in defence of his faith, his community and his country,” That statement is only 75% true. Kamla like Sat Maharaj, sees any differences of opinion with regards to behavior that does not appear to be in step with a building of national priorities as an insult, if those opinions are not instep with what they deem “Indian” or “hindu” culture. Her statement was in response to Sat’s criticisms of the change in the marriage act now before the parliament. Sat wants the hindu practice of old men marrying young girl children to remain as a “hindu culture”. And by her statement in support of Sat, she appears to be saying that that is OK, as long as it can be seen and accepted as “hindu practice”. Most everyone knows that Sat speaks in defence of his people, his community and his faith BUT most would be jhard pressed to find an instance where Sat spoke in defence of this country (Trinidad and Tobago). Unless of course she means “his people” in Trinidad and Tobago. Sat Maharaj is NOT Eric Williams, Uriah Butler, Hugh Wooding, Michael De La Bastide or Raffique Shah. Sat is a bigot whose “contributions” is keeping Trinidad and Tobago “separate”. This is a man who received an education with the christian church supported educational system. Yet when he gains power from his hindu vantage point, he seeks to deny those he considers “not his type” from attending his schools. Is that the signature of someone who defends “his country”?.

    Kamla herself is very famous for stating that she is not in support of a Caribbean Court of Justice, because from her vantage point she did not see an Indian candidate sitting on the Court.
    One cannot get any more racist than that. If everything we do and see is thought of in racial terms, it will be difficult to move forward as a country when leaders, such as Sat, insist on inducing cultural behavior (even when it is not in step with current norms), into the future norms of the country. As contrived, practiced, envisioned, perceived, conceptualized and enacted, Child Marriage should NEVER be accepted in this country as a way forward the family structure. Whether hindu, muslim, orisha, baptiste, catholic or Anglican, it should not be a a practice to be encouraged in the culture of Trinidad and
    Tobago. Chalkie is correct, 74 should never go into 14.

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