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Parliament Structure in Trinidad and Tobago

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The Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago, also known as the legislature, is the arm of state entrusted with the responsibility of making laws for good governance, and providing oversight of the Government or Executive. Trinidad and Tobago follows the Westminster System of government, in that Members of the Executive are also members of Parliament and thus attend sittings of the legislature. According to Section 39 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Parliament consists of the President of the Republic, the Senate, and the House of Representatives.                                                          www.ttparliament.org

  • Trinidad and Tobago was developed as a model Crown Colony government and it was not until 1925 a small number of elected representatives were allowed into the unicameral legislature.
  • Dr. Patrick Solomon in his Minority Report on Constitutional Reform in 1948 attacked the continuation of the nominated system. He stated "The problem as regards the nominated members is not whether they lack talent but rather in whose interest they will utilize that talent." He proposed a fully elected single chamber Legislature of 25 members.
  • Dr. Eric Williams presented a petition on constitutional reform during a public meeting at Woodford Square on 19th July, 1955. That petition included the following proposal:
    1. An elected lower house of 18 members with the power to elect a Speaker.
    2. A nominated second chamber of 16 consisting of 6 representatives of special economic interests, 5 representatives of the religious denominations, 2 men or women of distinction in public life and 1 member each from the Office of the Chief Justice (as President of the chamber), the Colonial Secretary and the Attorney General.
  • The Colonial Office decided not to go with Dr. Williams's recommendations of bicameralism. Therefore, the 1956 elections were fought on the basis of a single chamber consisting of 24 elected members, 5 nominated members and 2 officials.
  • In 1961 Trinidad and Tobago was granted a Constitution that conferred full internal self-government. General elections were held on 4th December, 1961 . The legislature that assembled was a bicameral one that consisted of 21 nominated Senators and 30 elected members in the House of Representatives. Of the 21 Senators 12 were appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Premier, 2 by the Governor on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and 7 to represent religious, economic or social interests after consultation by the Governor with persons he consider can speak for those interests. At independence in 1962, the Senate was increased to 24 with the number of Senators appointed on the advice of the Prime minister being 13, the number appointed on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition being 4 and the number appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime minister after the Prime Minister consulted religious, economic or social bodies being 7. . The tenure of office of these Senators was until the dissolution of the Legislature after his appointment (usually 5 years).
  • The Wooding Commission on Constitutional Reform, 1974 proposed the abolition of the Senate in favour of a single House consisting of 36 elected members on the basis of the first-past-the-post system and 36 list members chosen on the basis of the party list system of proportional representation. However, Dr. Williams rejected that proposal.
  • In 1976 Trinidad and Tobago became a Republic with a President replacing the Queen as the Head of State. It retained its bicameral system with a House of Representatives of 36 members and an enlarged Senate consisting 31 Senators. 16 were now appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister, 9 appointed by the President on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and 7 appointed by the President in his discretion from outstanding persons from economic, social or community organisations. The tenure of office of these Senators was until the dissolution of the Legislature after his appointment (usually 5years).
  • In 2007, the number of seats contested for the House of Representatives was increased from 36 to 41. So currently there are 41 Members in the House of Representatives and 31 Senators in the Senate. The tenure of office of these Senators was until the dissolution of the Legislature after his appointment (usually 5 years).
  • Benefits of bi-cameral legislature
    1. Double representation used in the bi-cameral legislature provides a more inclusive and just governance than the mere majority rule, further increasing stability of the country.
    2. The two house governance is more representative of the various interests in the current diverse society. In fact, using the bi-cameral legislature is less prone to control or influence by some powerful minorities.
    3. Through slowing down the process of decision making, the bi-cameral legislature fosters quality results. It creates more chances for thinking about certain decision before the final steps can be taken. This is done through demanding that all steps are approved by the two independent parliaments.
  • Disadvantages of bi-cameral legislature
    1. The disadvantage of governing using the bi-cameral legislature is that it is very costly, with respect to both time and money.
    2. Important bills may also take lots of time before they are passed because of wrangling in either one of the two parliaments.
  • Proportional representation as suggested by the Wooding Commission may increase voter turnout and revive fading interest from the population in politics. There are "safe seats" and "marginal seats" in Trinidad and Tobago. Voters in these "safe seats" stay away from voting as they do not believe their vote will have an impact on the results. They feel that their vote do not count and so they are unconcerned about voting or the candidates contesting their seat. Also the government in power may allocate a lot of resources to "marginal seats" to sway the voting in these seats in their favour for future elections as the results of these "marginal" seats often decide the winner of elections. Proportional representation would encourage the government in power to look after the needs of all constituencies as every voter has a more equal say in electing the government.