By Gerald V. Paul
A constitutional scholar claims the appointment of 11 senators to the cabinet of the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament by Prime Minister Kamla Bissessar-Persad is borderline unconstitutional, given there has been virtually no debate on the practice.
Prof. Radhakrishnan Persaud, born in Trinidad & Tobago and trained in Canada, questions whether the practice is in keeping with the constitutional conventionss in Westminister-style parliamentary democracies throughout the Commonwealth.
In an interview with The Camera this week, Persaud stressed that this is a pressing matter that must be discussed with the voting population, in light of strengthening of “our democracy. The Senate (the upper house) is an important part of our democracy. Currently, there are 11 cabinet ministers who are senators.”
According to Persaud, “This means that 11 of the most powerful cabinet portfolios in the government of T&T are filled by appointment, rather than elected individuals. Equally significant, the upper chamber’s fundamental purpose is neither administration nor holding government to account but to give Parliament a capacity for second thought – for sober reflection of proposed legislation.”
Delivering his call for action at the recent T&T fifty-second anniversary celebration under his message: Relative Independence and Growth: The Development of a Nation, Persaud revealed that he provided “informal advice” to the late president A.N.R. Robinson about appointing a large number of senators to the country’s cabinet. He remains adamant that such activities are not good for democracy.
“More specifically, I advised him (under a Republic) about the issue during the constitutional crisis of 2000/01 over senate appointments.” He cited expert sources to support the notion that typically only one senator is appointed to cabinet in the Canadian experience, in keeping with the British conception of parliamentary democracy where elected members of the House of Commons provide most of the cabinet members.
Persaud also lamented that there is reluctance on the part of public officials in T&T to embrace the Caribbean Court of Justice as the nation’s final court of appeal. This reluctance suggests that some, if not all, T&T politicians are concerned about the independence and impartiality of the Caribbean Court.
“Ending appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England could very well be a positive step in maturing as a nation – in realizing who we are and what we are capable of as a people in fully governing ourselves.”