Thursday, April 25, 2024

EDITORIAL: Referendum needs public debate


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WITH THE ESTIMATES having been concluded, there is usually a preoccupation with the likely content of the Budget which follows closely on the conclusion of the Estimates.

This year, circumstances have allowed other matters of governance to become major talking points. Shortly after the end of the debate in the Lower House, Prime Minister Stuart announced at a constituency branch meeting that the country would be moving to become a republic.

The change of status from a monarchical system, and with a ceremonial president would be similar to that of our sister nation Trinidad and Tobago.

No hint of this change was given during the week-long debate in the House of Assembly and the country was caught by surprise although the prime minister was able to justify the likely move as the last formal step in the process of complete unshackling of this country from its former colonial status as a colony governed in the main from abroad.

Desirable as some may think such a step would be, a previous decision by the then Arthur administration to go the same route was abandoned after much controversy about the question to be voted on in the proposed referendum to seek public approval for the move. Given that history; one would expect that any new move would come after a period of public discussion, initiated perhaps by a debate in the Parliament.

Any change of constitutional status requires the fullest public debate, even before any Bill is formally introduced.

The Constitution is a document rooted in our history and politics, and it must never become a political football since we all claim ownership of it as the citizens of this country. It matters not how it came to life; we have adopted it as ours and made it our own.

Ironically, this past week an event took place in the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago which would cause right-thinking people to reflect on our system of political governance even beyond the narrow confines of the Constitution.

The personal vilification and downright abuse of Dr Keith Rowley, Leader of the Opposition, which took place after he and his colleagues had walked out of the Chamber has reinforced the idea that politics is a nasty business. But such abuse is against the rules of debate of our parliaments.

Particularly in these new democracies, the high energy flashpoint atmosphere in which we conduct our public debates must not blind us to the fact that political service is honourable service to the nation and that nothing should be said or done by politicians that would detract from the high dignity of being a parliamentarian.

The vigilant upholding of those standards must be a paramount priority and the recent incident in Trinidad should remind us that a wider debate about all aspects of our governance is needed, whether we remain a democratic monarchy or become a republic.

The form of our democracy matters, but the substance of our governance matters more.


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