Sat | Sep 22, 2018

No such thing as an independent senator

Published:Friday | March 27, 2015 | 12:00 AM


It is curious that, in the current debate about senatorial independence, no one is referencing the situation that obtained in the Senate from 1997 to 2002.

In 1997, the PNP got a second consecutive massive parliamentary majority - 50 to 10 after 52 to 8 in 1993. So P.J. Patterson, to his great credit, tried to alleviate this legislative lopsidedness by not choosing the usual 13 government senators, but appointing 11 government senators and two independent senators, Trevor Munroe and Douglas Orane.

This was a clear acknowledgement of the reality that government senators are supposed to vote with the Government, and opposition ones with the opposition.

By designating Professor Munroe and Mr Orane 'independent', Mr Patterson was obviously giving them permission to vote without regard to party line. The 11 whom he designated 'government senators' were clearly not being granted this leeway.


tacit expectation


Mr Patterson further affirmed this stance in 2002. With the PNP parliamentary seat margin now only 34-26, he apparently felt he could not afford the luxury of 'independents'. He named a full slate of 13 government senators, including Munroe, who was now clearly expected to vote with the Government, regardless of his personal opinions.

If all senators are supposed to vote independently regardless of being appointed by the prime minister or opposition leader, why would Mr Patterson have felt the need to designate Prof Munroe and Mr Orane as 'independent' in 1997?

Indeed, since the Con-

stitution makes no mention

of 'independent senators', did Mr Patterson breach the Constitution by so designating Dr Munroe and Mr Orane?

It would be interesting to hear the opinions of our constitutional judges on this.