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posted 12 Aug 2014, 11:13 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 12 Aug 2014, 20:26 ]



“Dey use dey riches and dey power;

make a mockery of the law

an’ have de law protect dem same time”

(Slinger Francisco)


"The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them."

(Karl Marx)

After a thorough discussion on the Constitutional Amendment Bill on Sunday 10th August the executive of the National Workers Union issued the following statement. (The bill was passed in parliament on the morning of 2014/08/12).

All those who have commented, for and against, on the Constitution Amendment Bill, which the ruling UNC has foisted on the country, have wrapped themselves in the cloak of democracy.

Those opposed to the amendments have shouted from the rooftops that they are defending democracy from governmental assault; those in support that they are promoting and deepening democracy and empowering the people. Democracy, therefore, seems to be all things to all men.

This democracy of which they speak seems to be focussed on elections…full stop. It strengthens the concept that once you have periodic elections you are a democracy. T&T must be the leading democratic country in the world. We have had five general elections in ten years and since May 2010 we have had one general election, two local government elections and two bye-elections.

The focus of the constitution reform exercise has not been on how to involve working people in developing and executing policy and exercising control over politicians, but it has focused on tweaking the electoral system to gain advantage for the governing political party.

The only person amidst the noise and haste who has come close to throwing light on the matter is Merle Hodge when she lamented: “…our failure to propose anything that increases the direct input of ordinary citizens into decision-making. We have proposed no structures or mechanisms to achieve this…

Popular participation in the demo­cratic process has not been expanded one jot beyond periodically staining the tip of one of our fingers. ‘More power to the people’? I don’t think so,”

This is the crux of the matter, whether first past the post, proportional representation, mixed system, run-off elections…none of these methods advance the interests of working people and the poor. They are about electing which gang of political hustlers and confidence tricksters will live off the fat of the land, feed at the trough of public funds and ensure that their financiers are well taken care of.

This democracy, which everybody claims to uphold, is always restricted by the narrow limits set by our neo-colonial, crony capitalist economic and political system and is in reality a democracy for the minority, a democracy for the propertied classes, a democracy for the rich, for those who rely on the state to accumulate capital: for party financiers and political investors.

The debate on democracy never enters the realm of industrial democracy; democracy at the workplace, without which all steps forward in expanding rights and freedoms would be baby steps and vulnerable to reversal.

While citizens are caught up in trying to understand the implications of the Constitution Amendment Bill, let us not forget that the infamous Section 34 of The Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Bill was designed to ensure that party financiers would escape jail for their crimes.

How many citizens are aware that on July 18th 2014, a bill was enacted in the House of Representatives called The Securities (Amendment) Bill, 2013? It provides for prosecutions as summary offences and not indictable offences; it provides for $10 million in fines and a jail term of ten years for insider trading, but the perpetrators may pay an administrative fine of $500,000 to avoid facing prosecution. Further, within seven years of the commission of an offence the matter must be brought to court or it becomes time-barred. Like in the case of Section 34 the bill was passed unanimously.

Gang-related offences may land a gang member in jail for life, are indictable offences and have no time limit for prosecution. Party financiers and political investors certainly stand to benefit from this travesty. Investigations in T&T take years and years before they are completed and insider trading is a complex matter that has to be thorough and detailed lest it becomes meat and drink for millionaire lawyers.

How many insider trading prosecutions have there been? None: yet there is no urgency to tackle the question of campaign finance reform. They will not cut off their nose to spite their face. So much for democracy for all!

Owing to the everyday conditions of existence of capitalist exploitation, working people are under so much pressure to carve out a decent, civilised quality of life for themselves and their children that they cannot be “bothered” with democracy or with “politics”.

This, of course, strengthens the interests of the ruling elites. Outside of periods of heightened class struggles the majority of the population is practically debarred from participation in public and political life.

One argument states that we must defend “our constitution”. How did the republican constitution and before it the Independence constitution become “our” constitution? The Independence constitution was ‘negotiated’ by the British imperialists and middle class politicians who hi-jacked the independence movement and have ever since engaged in using the state to feather their nests through corrupt relationships with transnational corporations, local merchant capitalists, party financiers and political investors.

The independence constitution, in essence, saw the continuation of crown colony government with the Prime Minister taking the place of the governor. The republican constitution just tweaked the Independence constitution and allowed the government to stuff the cabinet with unelected senators, thus increasing the power of the Prime Minister.

The term limits on a prime minister, some argue will prevent the rise of petty dictators, but the very structure of the constitution makes a prime minister a dictator, whether she is in power for one day or a hundred years.

The citizens of the country continue to remain alienated from the process of government and are assigned a role as periodic election fodder. When the elections are over they are expected to go about their business and not meddle in affairs of governance until the next election. So those who defend “our” constitution are in fact defending a neo-colonial imposition, the people had no part in shaping.

The government talks about empowering the people, when in reality it’s all about the ruling UNC trying by both hook and crook to avoid defeat at the next general election. Pious declarations about people’s participation and empowerment are just smoke and mirrors to obscure naked partisan greed.

The right of recall as a principle could hardly be criticised, but the process by which the recall is to be implemented makes it practically impossible to recall any member of parliament. The right of recall has been converted into the impossibility of recall. Ruling elites have no interest in power to the people.

Yet they argue that the power of recall will force MP’s to work and represent their constituents in a more dedicated manner. The reality is that the real job of an MP is not to represent the needs of his constituents, but to act as voting fodder for the ruling party to enact laws and adopt policies in parliament. There is no institutional mechanism for MP’s to “represent” constituents, except to be able to beg and plead with Cabinet Ministers and the Prime Minister. This applies to both government and opposition MP’s.

The more they insist they are “empowering” people, the more they centralise power in their own hands. The power of recall of MP’s is in the hands of leaders of political parties: ask Herbert Volney!

A lot of foolishness has been spoken about the runoff guaranteeing a “majority” MP. How ridiculous! Even if a candidate gets more than fifty percent of the vote, she is hardly likely to get more than fifty percent of the electorate.

In a runoff, if it does not have a direct bearing on who forms the government, there is likely to be a reduction in those voting from the first round. Fifty percent of fifty percent is equal to a “majority” MP! Constitutional mathematics in yuh pweffen!

Political parties in T&T are just vote-collecting machines financed by capitalists with deep pockets. Constitutional rights are violated on a routine basis in this country. Those who cannot pay high-priced lawyers are supposed to just grin and bear it.

Before the Constitution Amendment Bill was passed, Trinidad and Tobago was a neo-colonial society, run by transnational corporations, merchant capitalists, narcotraficantes, party financiers, political investors and eat-a-food politicians.

After the constitution Amendment Bill was passed Trinidad and Tobago is still a neo-colonial society, run by transnational corporations, merchant capitalists, narcotraficantes, party financiers, political investors and eat-a-food politicians.

The National Workers Union is well aware that the Constitution is supposed to guarantee freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of speech, but in practice, there are so many constraints placed on these, that they exist only in so far as they do not threaten the interests of those who control the economy and the state. What good is a right that exists only on paper?

Constitutional rights were never “granted’ to working people. They have always been fought for and forced upon the ruling class, particularly by the labour movement over the years, across the globe. Constitutions guarantee nothing! To ensure that constitutional rights are exercised in practice, the people must be so organised and alert and willing to apply pressure from below that governments will find it impossible to trifle with their hard-won rights and freedoms.


Gerry Kangalee (National Education and Research Officer – Cell: 785-7637)