Opposition still to  vote “No”
August 28, 2009
Opposition still to vote “No”

Even though sixty-five pages of amendments have been made to the draft Constitution bill, the Leader of the Opposition says he is still not satisfied and intends to urge citizens to vote “No” when the referendum is held.{{more}}

Speaking on his party’s New Times radio programme on Monday, August 24th, President of the New Democratic Party (NDP) Arnhim Eustace said that despite the estimated hundreds of changes to the bill, he is of the opinion that the constitution reform process has failed, as it has not reduced the excessive powers of the prime minister, which was one of the main reasons for embarking on the process in the first place.

“What kind of constitution you have there?” Eustace quipped.

He said that his party presented alternative suggestions to deal with the Prime Minister’s “excessive powers”, but their proposal was rejected by the Committee of the Whole House, which is presently meeting to make amendments to the bill.

Eustace said the NDP proposed that the President be elected by the people and be given certain powers which the Prime Minister now has. Included among these powers, Eustace said, is the power to appoint the Chairman of the Public Service Commission and Permanent Secretaries.

The Opposition Leader said he is also still not satisfied with the treatment of property rights in the bill and how property will be valued when acquired by government. He also still calls for limits to be placed on how long a Prime Minister may serve, and he still does not agree with increasing the number of parliamentarians from 21 to 27.

Since June 17th, 2009, the Select Committee of the Whole House, which comprises members of parliament, has been meeting with the drafters of the Constitution bill. So far there have been eleven meetings.

Eustace said that because of the many changes which have been made to the bill, he is skeptical that parliamentarians will have enough time to properly digest the new version of the bill before it has its second reading on September 1st.

“There is a document done by the Chairman of the drafting Committee proposing certain amendments to the bill and the schedule…. That document alone… is 65 pages long. It does not have 65 amendments. There are several amendments on each page,” Eustace disclosed.

He said that the parliamentary stenographers have “been having long nights putting in all those changes, and some of those changes changed since.”

He suggested that if there is to be any extension or delay in the Constitution Reform process, it has to come before the second reading of the bill, scheduled for September 1st.

“Any extension has to come now… Basically (it is) the end of it after the second reading,” Eustace asserted. He said that the present constitution states that there should be no less than 90 days between the first and second reading of the bill, so the second reading can be put off to allow for parliamentarians and others to study the new version carefully. He, however, said once the second reading takes place and the bill is debated, the bill will immediately be read a third time by title and passed.

Eustace also questioned where the funds to be used by Government to campaign for a “Yes” vote will come. “I don’t know whether there is going to be a special warrant to do that …. I have to go back now to the budget for 2009 to see where the provision is made for financing the campaign for the referendum.”

He added: “We (the NDP) are trying to raise our own funds for that.”

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has stated that the Central Government will finance the campaign for the “Yes” vote because “it relates to state policy.”