PM: Contribute to constitutional reform

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at a PNM political meeting at Tropical Angel Harps panyard, Enterprise, Chaguanas. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

THE Prime Minister has called on everyone in the country, including the Opposition UNC, to make their respective contribution to constitutional reform.

Dr Rowley made this call while addressing a PNM public meeting at Tropical Angel Harps panyard, Enterprise, Chaguanas on March 8.

He announced the creation of a national consultation on constitutional reform at a news conference on January 18.

Rowley believed it was an appropriate time to evaluate, amend and generally upgrade the Constitution, as many people had called for it.

“What Cabinet approved was an advisory committee to formulate the terms of reference and to make recommendations to Cabinet within three months of its appointment for the promoting and convening of a national constitutional conference and consultation in June of 2024, taking into consideration the diverse nature of our national society, its historical evolution, and the progress made in nationhood since attaining independence and republican status, and matters related thereto.”

He said the committee should incorporate and outline the parameters of the subject matter for national debate and the engagement of the widest cross-section of persons and bodies representing the citizenry, including the diaspora.

“These are not people being asked to craft a constitution. They are simply being asked to facilitate and advance a national discourse on the subject and to be the sounding board, the post office, into which any and all interested parties, agencies (and) organisations will want to put their views to this facility advisory committee.”

He said the committee members will get the support and resources to hold open consultations and collate and draft a working document for a constitutional conference in June, when proposed amendments will be discussed.

Rowley told PNM supporters he had received a letter earlier in the day from the committee’s chairman, former speaker of the House of Representatives Barendra Sinanan, SC, asking him to provide the committee with his comments on constitutional reform.

“They (committee) are functioning. You will get your copy (letter) too.”

In a a WhatsApp response to questions from Newsday on February 16, Sinanan said, “We (the committee) must submit our report by June in order to facilitate a national consultation/conference in that same month.

“Our main mandate is to obtain proposals and ideas from the widest cross-section of the population and to distill same into terms of reference for the national consultation in June.”

Since its appointment, the committee has been hard at work, Sinanan said: “We have been doing a lot of work in the background before going public, which we would be doing shortly.”

The committee, he continued, has reviewed all work done in the past identifying people and entities from whom it can request proposals for defining the parameters for the national consultation.

While the window for the committee to complete its work is short, Sinanan was confident it will fulfil its mandate in the time allocated.

“I do have members who are up to the task, very capable and public-spirited.”

Rowley told his audience, “I, as prime minister, I will put in my comments. My party will put in its comments.”

He said other individuals and groups, including the UNC, will have a chance to submit their comments.

“Every comment will be treated with respect, and then we as a people will decide what we do after that.”

Rowley expected the national conversation on constitutional reform to last six months.

He did not want any single comment, including his own, to dominate it, but said he hoped that arising from the basket of comments from all stakeholders, the way forward will be determined.

“I hope something useful comes out of it.”