Sunday, 5 May 2013


National Consultation on Constitutional Reform: Recommendations

The following is the Catholic commission for Social Justice for the archdiocese of Port of Spain May 1st letter to the Minister of Legal Affairs (Trinidad and Tobago Government)  listing recommendations for Constitutional Reform. The recommendations, made on behalf of the Archdiocese, were approved by Archbishop Joseph Harris.

1 May 2013
Hon Prakash Ramadhar, Minister of Legal Affairs
The Registrar General’s Department
2nd Floor, Registration House, 72-74 South Quay

The Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ)
Justice Desk, Archbishop’s House,
27 Maraval Road, Port of Spain                                                        
Tel: 1-868-622-6680 or 299 8945. E-Mail:  Fax: 1-868-622-8372                    

Hon. Minister,

Re: Constitutional Reform

Please find hereunder some recommendations from The Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ)

1.      Keeping God in our Constitution

The framers of T&T’s 1976 Constitution rightly understood that the “People of Trinidad and Tobago”
-          acknowledged the supremacy of God;
-          recognized the fact that our rights are bestowed upon us by our Creator;
-          recognized that men/women and institutions “remain free only when freedom is founded upon
           respect for moral and spiritual values and the rule of law.”

Since 1976 our people continue to support the principles outlined in the Preamble of our Constitution. In fact today, in the midst of all our social ills, more and more people are turning to God for deliverance from e.g. crime and violence, poverty and social exclusion and so on.

While CCSJ accepts that in our fledgling democracy there are a few who wish to take God out of our Constitution, and they are within their right to make this request, it is an indisputable fact that T&T is populated by people of various faiths all of whom will wish to keep God in our Constitution.The Catholic Church is the largest faith community in our country and, on behalf of the Catholic Church, CCSJ urges the Commission to keep “God” in our Constitution. People of faith will continue to stand strong in the face of moral relativism and the negative aspects of secularism which threaten to overwhelm us.

Our cry is: “Not on our watch!” No, we will not capitulate. God bless our nation!

2. We recommend that a provision for the fundamental “right to life from conception” be entrenched in
“(a) the right of the individual to life from conception, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law…”

3. We support the Separation of Powers – separation of the Legislature from the Executive, but urge the Commission to consider mechanisms that will allow for each to function effectively and efficiently.

4. The role of an elected Member of Parliament should be a full-time occupation. If this recommendation is accepted, it will need to be linked to the remuneration package for MPs as they should be adequately compensated for taking on the role on a full-time basis. They can then more effectively serve their constituents, sit on various Committees, and fulfill their duty as legislators.

5. As far as possible, Government Ministers who, with the PM, would form the Executive, should not be Members of Parliament. This will allow MPs more time to respond to the needs of their constituents and for Ministers of Government to ensure that they can fulfil their ministerial portfolios; that their respective Ministries are being run effectively and efficiently; and that they have time to carry out their Cabinet responsibilities. If the PM wishes to identify an MP from his/her team to serve as a Minister, then that individual should be required to resign his/her position as MP and that position should be filled through a by-election. Consideration should be given to ensuring that Ministers who are nominated without having faced the electorate are approved by a special Committee e.g.  of Independent Senators? We recognise the concerns of those who may say that such individuals have not faced the electorate. However, checks and balances could be included in the Constitution e.g. re how they are approved. This will also allow the country to harness the expertise of particular individuals.

6.  We believe that the time has come for TT to consider the introduction of some form of Proportional Representation – either as part of electoral reform or, as part of Constitutional Reform – which would be more sensible. Our Westminster first-past-the-post system of election is not fair and just.  We suggest that the Commission looks again at the Wooding Constitution Commission’s 1974 report in which that Commission recommended a mixed system of first past-the-post and proportional representation. And, as Dr Hamid Ghany has said (TT Guardian 20.1.13):

“If there is a decision in favour of adopting proportional representation, then there will have to be some determination as regards which version would be pursued. Would there be a preference for the “largest remainder” systems of the Hare, Droop or Imperiali methods or would the preference be for the “highest average” systems of the d’Hondt, St Lague or modified St Lague methods?”
7.      The Commission should consider constitutional mechanisms and a framework designed to tackle corruption e.g. in relation to campaign accounts and political financing.

8.      The power of recall: The Constitution should allow for the recall of MPs by their constituents between elections – if found guilty of serious wrongdoing he/she should be asked to stand down and a by-election should be held. The conditions under which ‘recall’ will be triggered will need to be included e.g. in the UK a Draft Bill on this issue suggests that 10% of an MP’s constituents would have to sign a petition requesting a recall for a by-election to happen and that this will only apply to cases where the MP is sent to jail for a year or less, or if the House of Commons decide that an MP’s behaviour justifies it.

9.      CCSJ asks that the deficiencies in our Parliamentary Committee system be examined with a view to improving the way in which they operate. Either we increase the number of MPs who are available to sit on these Committees and/or we allow for non-MPs who are experts in various fields to be co-opted onto these Committees as necessary. As has been suggested in the 2012 report on “Activities on strengthening Parliamentary Practices in T&T”, perhaps, as others have also recommended, we could use more Independent Senators as Chairs of such Committees to reduce partisanship.

10.  Catholics believe in the principle of “subsidiarity”. Constitutional Reform, which is being considered at the same time as Local Government Reform, should examine ways of implementing this principle. The gross inequities in the funding of certain Regional Authorities by Central Government highlight the need for a review of arrangements that are currently made for Local Government. We ask the Commission to explore ways of including in the Constitution provisions that would promote a more just and equitable relationship between Central and Local Government.

Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority… Functions of government… should be as local as possible. If a complex function is carried out at a local level just as effectively as on the national level, the local level should be the one to carry out the specified function. The principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person.” .

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about this principle:
“1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”7
1884 God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.
1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.”

11.  We believe that there should be a term-limit for anyone to hold the office of Prime Minister. We suggest that no person should hold office as PM for more than 2 terms (whether these terms are consecutive or not).

12.  In the interest of justice for all political parties/individuals, the date of General Elections should be fixed. In a situation in which a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister is passed and Parliament is dissolved, the Constitution should specify how long after this an election should be held.

Leela Ramdeen, Chair of The Catholic Commission for Social Justice, on behalf of members of the Commission.

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