We must respect the institutions responsible for our governance, two of which includes the House of Representatives and the Senate, collectively the Parliament. Today we will deal specifically with the Senate, an appointed not an elected body. Because these Senators are appointed and not directly elected by the people, it adds another dimension to the current and future debates of the Constitution Reform currently underway in the legislative process.
At the time of our Independence in 1962, we basically copied the Westminster/Whitehall system and our Senate is modeled after the British House of Lords. Fifty-two years later we are operating under the same system despite the evolution of the country and the slow changes in the wider political culture. The Prime Minister appoints Government Senators, the Opposition Leader appoints Opposition Senators, and the President appoints Independent Senators. That is how the Senate operates.
Some government Senators are Members of the Cabinet and this blurs the lines between the “separation of powers” but this concept does not truly exist in Westminster Parliamentary models, because the cabinet functions as the “executive”. In light of this, we will first address the three measures, which require only one Independent Senators as well as full support from the Government Senator to become law.
In all reality this history of Trinidad and Tobago is hanging in the balance of this one independent senator.
While we respect the law as it currently operates with regards to the Senate, this undue pressure highlights the need that our Senators should and welcome further initiatives that moves us closer to an elected Senate, as these ideas emerged out of the national consultations and the report produced by the by Commission.
We don’t know how the Independent Senators will vote, but we are sure that they have paid attention to the debate. We value “independent” thought but they will have to cast a vote; while some might abstain, but abstaining in the Senate might be more an act of being coward instead of being courageous. It is in this space where the need for a Senate elected by the people of Trinidad and Tobago must be realized. Independent Senators are necessary in a Senate that is totally appointed, but not necessary in Senate that is elected by the people.
In our Senate, we can say that our Independent Senators represent the voice of reason on the surface, while those appointed by the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader are expected to tow party lines. Independent Senators should have a wider perspective and a futuristic vision for the country and it is for this very reason why we should urge their support for this bill.
Regardless of how they vote some will be vilified, but this vilification will only be for a short duration – the larger question is who will stand on the right side of history because we are at a pivotal turning point and their vote on this bill will be remembered when their bones lie dry in the very ground or their ashes scattered about sacred shores.
Due to the fact that the all Senators are appointed, we must take that into consideration, one a vote of this nature. These measures, whether you agree with them or not came after national consultations. We knew it was coming but the shallow and reactionary political culture that some subscribe to in Trinidad and Tobago that creates mass public hysteria and bacchanal while adding nothing but noise prevents mass public civic education that will drive the development of the country.
Will the Independent Senators allow the status quo to remain?
While we continue to appeal for their independent thought in the Senate we urge them to look forward and consider the strength of the arguments presented for and against the bills.
Who will be the one to vote for the bill?
Who will abstain?
Who will vote no?
If nothing else, our nation is learning. We are learning about civic participation. Civic participation is more important to national development than political indoctrination.