October 07, 2001
By Raffique Shah
SENIOR attorney Clive Phelps believes that his colleagues are wrong when they say that President Arthur Robinson can act to remove Prime Minister Basdeo Panday only if a successful vote of no confidence in the Government is carried in Parliament. He said that "an occasion" for the appointment of a new Prime Minister has arisen, and if there were any doubts, these were cleared up in what transpired in Parliament on Friday last.
Speaking with the Sunday Express, Phelps, who has more than 30 years experience as an attorney (he runs his own company in Port of Spain), said most of his colleagues "cannot think outside of the four corners of the Constitution". "No constitution caters for every difficulty that a society will encounter," he added. "When interpreting a constitution, a liberal construction must be given to it. The term 'when the occasion arises' is wide. It is not limited to the holding of a general election or the death of a sitting Prime Minister. The President must take into consideration the fact that this country can sink into a state of anarchy, so he is entitled to act to preempt such breakdown."
As for dissolving the House on a vote of no confidence in the government and calling an election, Phelps asked: "Can this country face an election in this volatile situation? It might do us more harm than good. There is the question of the voters' list that is under suspicion by a large segment of the population. And worst of all, there was that spectacle we witnessed in parliament last Friday. With the Speaker walking out of the Chamber without properly counting the votes before adjourning the House, surely we are in deep political crisis."
Phelps said it was time for the President to exercise his judgement, and he must do this "sooner rather than later". "The Constitution has entrapped attorneys. They are all too colonial, they cannot think outside of it. Political events are overreaching the confines of the Constitution. I am firmly against a restrictive interpretation of the Constitution. It is imperative that Mr Robinson acts speedily to ensure that we do not sink into the mire of lawlessness. In times of crisis, he must use his judgement, and if there are people who disagree with his actions, then let them take him to court."
Phelps referred to the precedent in Nigeria where the Governor General removed a Premier. "While our laws are not identical, I strongly feel the President has nothing to fear by removing the minority government we now have and installing another that has a majority. The new government can then seek to rectify some of the issues that are perceived as impediments to holding free and fair elections. The important thing is for President Robinson to know that there are attorneys here who see beyond the narrow confines of a constitution that was never intended to impede democracy."
Copyright © Raffique Shah