OPPOSITION LEADER: Democracy and the rule of law have triumphed
This morning’s judgment delivered by the Privy Council in the case brought by Ravi Balgobin Maharaj who challenged the postponement of Local Government elections is a landmark legal decision, which has significant political effects.
This Government has over the past seven years consistently sought to use its majority in the Parliament to undermine fundamental rights and freedoms and, more recently, to thwart the democratic process in Trinidad and Tobago.
This latest judgment is a vindication of the right of the people to choose their representatives, and also to choose to vote them out, if they offer themselves for re-election.
The overreach of the Rowley government in manipulating the electoral process for Local Government has been unmasked by the highest court in the land. It is comforting to know that we have an independent and world-renowned Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which is far removed from any suggestions of old-boys club familiarity or from the so-called regional elites.
We want the population to remember the effect of this judgment. We want the people to understand that the Parliament cannot take away their right to vote and to participate in our democracy, except by very clear words.
Lord Richards’ words at paragraph 31 are worthy of repeating here:
“The essential characteristic of a representative democracy, whether at a national or local level, is that the representatives are chosen by popular vote. In a modern democracy, such as Trinidad and Tobago, all individuals have the right to participate in the popular vote, subject only to specified conditions and disqualifications. In the case of municipal corporations, the popular vote is direct for the Councillors and indirect, by means of party lists, for Aldermen. It is also an essential element of any democratic form of government, whether at a national or a local level, that the electorate choose their representatives for a limited period. The right to vote out representatives is as important as the right to vote in representatives. At the end of the period for which they were elected, the electorate has the right to decide whether they wish the incumbent representatives to remain in office, assuming they stand for re-election.”
The PNM government has now gone down in the history of this country as attempting, unsuccessfully, to bully the population with its majority in the Parliament. It was clear for all to see that the PNM used the Parliament for naked political purposes – to postpone the Local Government Elections that were due by March this year because they were not ready! That beyond any stretch of the imagination is symptomatic of a Dictatorship – and only those who do not wish to see it will deny it.
We are now left with a mess – created by this PNM government. Were the salaries paid to Councillors and Aldermen after the March cut-off date lawful? Would they have to pay it back?
What about the many decisions made by these Corporations after that date? Are they legal? Will the government now have to come back to the Parliament to validate all of this? What is the cost to the taxpayer arising out of this debacle? Who is to be made accountable?
Lately, members of the Cabinet have been taking the population for fools by playing with words and being deliberately vague and glib with reporters and when answering questions in the Parliament. This latest decision should be a lesson to all of them – general and ambiguous words are not sufficient when it comes to serious matters of governance and democracy.
This judgment should remind all of us that we expect a higher standard from those who make our laws and from those who are accountable for the actions of the State.
They will want to come now and say that the judgment was not unanimous. We expect them to intensify efforts to convince the population that the CCJ should replace the Privy Council. We have seen them infiltrate key areas in our constitutional structure.
Right thinking citizens must take note of the trajectory of Rowley and the PNM – total control of all arms of the State by any means necessary. The UNC will always defend our cherished democracy and the values enshrined in the Preamble to our Constitution.
I offer my heartiest congratulations and thanks to our legal team which was led by our brilliant and creative legal genius former AG Anand Ramlogan SC who led our legal team in the Privy Council, his juniors, Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial and Vishal Siewsaran. I also wish to thank our colleagues in London including Mr Peter Carter KC, Mr Jaamee Hafeez Baig and Mr Adam Riley.
I thank our local government representatives who assisted by way of affidavit evidence in this case including, Chairman of the Couva Tabaquite Corporation, Mr. Henry Awong, Chairman of the Penal Debe Corporation, Dr Allen Sammy, Princess Town Councillor Chris Arshard Hosein and others.
I thank Mr. Ravi Balgobin Maharaj for his quest for justice.
Finally, the United National Congress, consistent with its duty as the Loyal Opposition in the Parliament calls on the Prime Minister, on behalf of the electorate, to immediately fix the date for Local Government Elections and to ensure that such elections are held lawfully and freely.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP
Leader of the Opposition