Our “Constitutional Crisis” under the PNM

Keith Rowley and the PNM have driven Trinidad and Tobago into a constitutional crisis. They have disregarded the law, practice and convention of parliamentary democracy in order to do what they want.

What can we do about it?

There may be legal remedies, but what if the government does not listen to the courts, if the courts are silent, or if the constitution is silent?

This is where a constitutional crisis occurs, and a political solution is the only avenue left. This can be dangerous territory, but it is precisely where the PNM have put our country.

The Checklist. convened a panel discussion with former UNC Senator Robin Montano, and legal advisor to the National Executive, Brian Baig, both Attorneys-at-Law. Dr. Kirk Meighoo, who is also a constitutional scholar and author, moderated.

The entire discussion can be viewed here ⇒ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bvj2tUjt7y8

In the course of the discussion, Brian Baig rightly noted with great concern that Keith Rowley and the PNM appear to have disregarded the Constitution as the supreme law of Trinidad and Tobago, feeling they could do whatever they want.

This includes:

  • the Prime Minister perverting the constitutional process for appointing a Police Service Commission,
  • the now fired Attorney-General interfering with the Chief Parliamentary Counsel,
  • the now fired Attorney-General’s removals of the 3/5  legislative majorities required for passing bills that seek to change our fundamental rights and freedoms, and
  • general restrictions on personal freedoms and rights in particular with regard to health regulations.

This is indeed worrying and it demands that the population – in the first instance through the official Opposition – stand up to ensure that the constitution is followed, so that we do not degenerate into an anarchy where only the rule of the strong is followed.

Robin Montano, however, took a wider and longer view. He argued that the problem wasn’t simply violations of existing laws, even though those are serious. Montano argued fundamentally that the constitution itself needs to be changed. 

He forwarded that if someone were asked to write a constitution for Trinidad and Tobago and given a blank sheet of paper, there is no way anybody would write down the Constitution that we have now. 

In fact, this is an indictment on the PNM, in particular Eric Williams and Ellis Clarke, because essentially they did have a blank sheet of paper on which they wrote our present constitution, tearing up our previous (more progressive) constitutions over the objections of virtually all other political players.

Robin Montano maintained that race was the biggest problem facing Trinidad and Tobago, and that an American-type Constitution would solve the problem.

A serious question was raised as to whether Montano’s analysis of race was correct. There was also a strong disagreement with his further claim that both the PNM and UNC have essentially the same policies.

In the end, however, it was agreed that the PNM, in particular, used race in its political strategy, while in government it abused its constitutional power and, in fact, often disregarded the Constitution

Whether Robin Montano’s proposed solution will work is a question that he is open to. Montano was humble and magnanimous enough to concede that there may be other solutions, and perhaps even better solutions. 

But he insisted that we think of the Constitution as a whole, and see how our current constitution systemically allows governments to undermine freedom and the rule of law.

Readers are encouraged to watch the very lively debate which can be found here ⇒ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bvj2tUjt7y8