Uncomfortable facts

Basdeo Panday - AYANNA KINSALE
Basdeo Panday - AYANNA KINSALE

THE EDITOR: The so-called national awards handed out on Republic Day reflect what a blatantly partisan PNM holiday this is.

Even our highest national award formerly presented on Independence Day, the Trinity Cross, did not reflect the true diversity of our country. It had to be changed via a long-drawn-out court battle (finally implemented in 2008), rather than a simple change of PNM government policy to acknowledge citizens’ legitimate concerns for inclusion.

Basdeo Panday was right to have removed Republic Day as a holiday way back in 1996, as we instituted two new holidays. Notably, TT did not even become a republic on September 24. It was August 1. So why celebrate September 24?

Similar to independence under the PNM, there are uncomfortable truths about Republic Day of which more citizens should be aware. These events are within the living memory of at least 200,000 citizens.

1. The Republican Constitution was passed when there was no elected opposition in the Parliament.

2. This was later "rectified" by PNM members JRF Richardson and Horace Charles crossing the floor and creating an "opposition" (which did not survive to the 1976 election).

3. Former chief justice Hugh Wooding was appointed to lead the constitutional reform discussions. They produced a radically different, very progressive constitution for TT. It included a single-chamber national assembly replacing the Parliament, ending of the unelected Senate, a president elected by members of the national assembly and local government, proportional representation, and many other innovations.

Had this been implemented it would have taken us significantly away from one-man rule, maximum leadership and our colonial crown colony system which Eric Williams reinstituted in 1961.

4. Instead, Williams lambasted the Wooding Commission for nine hours in Parliament, among other things saying it was a "dagger aimed at the heart of the PNM."

5. In its place, Williams pushed forth a republican Constitution which was almost exactly like the Independence Constitution, with the governor general replaced by a largely ceremonial president elected by the Parliament.

6. One of the only differences in the new republican Constitution was that the prime minister had more power over the Cabinet. This was because the republican Constitution removed the previous limitation that only two (appointed) senators could be cabinet ministers. Now any number could be ministers, and dismissed from Parliament altogether at will.

5. This unilateral bulldozing of the republican Constitution through Parliament was similar to the passing of the Independence Constitution, when the Opposition DLP and even John Broome's African National Congress (ANC) walked out of the Queen's Hall conference in protest, as the PNM ignored their inputs and concerns and pushed through their own constitution.

7. The PNM’s republican Constitution was proclaimed on August 1. However, the Republic Day holiday was set for the seemingly arbitrary date of September 24 (the day the Parliament sat).

8. September 24, 1976, it so happens, was also the 20th anniversary of the PNM's coming to power. As a result of this choice, the whole country inadvertently celebrates the first day the PNM won a general election (narrowly, without a legislative majority, in 1956), rather than the day the country became a republic. However, it is called Republic Day.

9. The Republic Day holiday was removed in 1996 by the Basdeo Panday administration to make way for Shouter Baptist Liberation Day (a holiday which the PNM opposed, incidentally).

10. However, when Patrick Manning returned to power in 2001, he reinstated the September 24 Republic Day holiday.

Not many citizens understand that Republic Day celebrates the dismissal of the progressive Wooding constitution and commemorates the date of the PNM election victory in 1956, rather than the day we became a republic (under a unilaterally-imposed PNM constitution).

We need a true understanding of our history, and our holidays, to reflect TT as a whole, and not just the PNM.




"Uncomfortable facts"

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