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Doing it wrong way on hanging

Published: 
Thursday, March 3, 2011

Notwithstanding the shouting, condemnation and ascription of blame on both sides, it must be said that perhaps the Opposition and Government did not reach far enough across the aisle of the Parliament chamber, and outside of it, to cooperate in the negotiations necessary to have advanced the Constitution Amendment Bill in the House. What is more, the acid name-calling after the deed was done, or perhaps undone, does not make for enhanced relations when there is almost a full term left for cooperation in the national interest to pass legislation not only to fight crime but a broad range of matters. Having cooperated in the early part of the debate on the categorisation of murders, with the Government acceding to the call by the Opposition to eliminate the categories, murder being murder, the two sides got stuck over whether the amendments should be in a separate piece of legislation or whether the attempt should be proceeded with to amend the Constitution. Attorney General Anand Ramlogan quoted advice from the Privy Council and from at least three senior attorneys, including two former Attorneys  General, Fenton Ramsahoye (Guyana) and Russell Martineau, and president of the Law Association, Martin Daly, that the changes should be made in the Constitution. The argument from all three of the attorneys and the Privy Council was to the effect that whereas an ordinary piece of legislation could be successfully  challenged in court, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the courts to go against what would have been enshrined in the Constitution.

From the Opposition side the argument was to the effect that a constitutional amendment would have given the Privy Council the go-ahead to step in and abolish the death penalty completely. It surely should have been possible for the two sides to have continued their discussions outside of the chamber to achieve harmony of purpose before the vote was taken on the bill. In this respect, it must be said that, up to now, Leader of the Opposition, Dr Keith Rowley, has shown himself open to meeting and discussing issues with the Government to allow legislation that reflects consensus and the national interest. The question is why were the previous attempts to gain a consensus not reflected on this occasion? Why did the Government not go the extra mile in discussing matters informally before bringing the bill to the  House for a vote?There must also be questions over the approach by Attorney General Ramlogan on Monday, the final day of the debate. He was all antagonism and it seemed as though he was spoiling for a fight. He would probably say that by then the deed had been done and there was little chance of compromise so he may as well have gone for the jugular. That may have scored political points, but it left little room for compromise at the 11th hour.

Although inexperienced at the parliamentary level, Mr Ramlogan should certainly have been wise enough to realise that you cannot go out of your  way to insult and discredit MPs from the other side and then expect them to suddenly turn around and support your point of view. On the part of the PNM, it surely would have been fitting for the Leader of the Opposition to have participated vigorously in the debate. He could  have led the way and set down what were the specific requirements the PNM would require if it were to support the bill.  Having made the commitment publicly, the negotiators could then have retreated behind closed doors to work out what would have satisfied both  sides. As to what happens from here, the two sides have six months in front of them to engage in private discussions and points of compromise inclusive of getting the best possible legal advice before returning with legislation.

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