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The power and beauty of our Constitution

By Vincent Lynch

Within the context of the many calls for constitutional reform originating from certain segments of the population, it would be interesting to find out what percentage of the population has read and truly understand the serious implications of the various provisions of this sacred document and the affirmations thereto.

In its preamble the Constitution starts off with: “Whereas the People of Trinidad and Tobago” and continues with an affirmation that the nation “is founded upon principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God, faith in fundamental human rights and freedoms, the position of the family in a society of free men and free institutions, the dignity of the human person and the equal and inalienable right with which members of the human family are endowed by their Creator.”

Continuing the affirmation of the people makes reference to social justice and the manner in which the economic system should be distributed towards serving the common good: there should be adequate livelihood for all, with no inhumane working conditions; there should be advancement on the basis of merit, ability and integrity; a belief in a democratic society in which all persons may, to the extent of their capacity, play some part in the institutions of the national life in an effort to “develop and maintain due respect for lawfully constituted authority”.

In closing, the affirmation states that men and institutions remain free only when founded on respect for moral and spiritual values and the rule of law. We certainly would not forget that reference to moral and spiritual values by our now deceased President, ANR Robinson.

It is also of interest to note that the Constitution makes provisions for Government ministers to take that oath: “I will bear true faith and allegiance …and will uphold the Constitution and the law, that I will conscientiously, impartially and to the best of my ability discharge my duties as…and do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.” Members of Parliament, judges, and other holders of high offices are also required to take sacred oaths on assuming office.

Let us all understand that this affirmation should be applied both individually and collectively at the national level, and individuals when appointed to positions of trust must be true to that additional oath to faithfully do only those things which are in keeping with the remit of the office to which appointed.

Furthermore, it should be obvious that concomitant with the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, there are also responsibilities placed on all individuals included in which is that to observe and uphold the law.

Changing the mindset

In relation to public knowledge and appreciation of the various provisions of the Constitution, some may express the view that such knowledge and appreciation is indeed a requirement for those in the legal profession. One may however take the position that some understanding of the spirit and intention of the Constitution and a commitment to some measure of observance can go a long way in creating a valuable framework towards the goals of some vision of how, as a nation, we would wish to be perceived, be it 20/20, 20/30, or whatever the time frame may be.

We are driven by the things in which we believe and the depth of such belief. Just look at what exists all around us – the crime, the corruption and dishonesty at all levels, man’s inhumanity to man, the decay of such age-old institutions as the Church and the family, and the absence of good and effective leadership.

Who can forget the infamous “day of total policing”, the wanton display of lawlessness on the nation’s highways by certain individuals, and what about the recent passenger pile-up at Piarco Airport? What is also a most distressing situation is the sometimes deplorable behaviour of some honourable representatives of the people in Parliament, the highest decision-making body in the land.

The distress which now stalks our land cannot be blotted out in any one five-year term of office. The required effort must be spread over a much longer period and would require a national effort in the framing and implementation of policies and strategies for direction towards identified segments of the population.

For example, students at pre-school, primary, secondary and tertiary levels should be exposed to properly designed programmes which would effectively impact their thinking and behaviour in a manner which creates a sharp focus on the various aspects of national development.

It was very interesting to hear the responses of junior citizens in relation to their understanding of our Republican status. All pointed to the replacement of the Governor-General by a President as Head of State, which clearly falls short of meaning and significance of that change.

There should also be appropriate programmes for different age groups and/or professional classifications ranging between 18 and 65, all directed towards interfering with and changing the mindset of individuals and groups towards the attainment of progressive national goals.

Vincent Lynch has worked at the managerial level in both public and private sector organisations in Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana. He attends Masses and services at both Santa Rosa, Arima and Mount St Benedict, and considers himself a friend of the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

Next week: Conclusion