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MP Rambachan responds to Guardian editorial “Genuine debate on marriage act please”

Dear Editor,

I write in response to your Editorial of Monday March 6th entitled, “Genuine Debate on Marriage Act Please.” Like in the FATCA debate again the onus of responsibility is being placed on the Opposition who are being made out to be some kind of villain in terms of the passing of the Marriage Bill. The media has not even grudgingly acknowledged that it was the insistence of the Opposition that led to a JSC and to an amended bill which is in the interest of the nation as a whole. The media has not taken note of the delay occasioned in the FATCA debate because of the intransigence of the Government in appointing a JSC, though through their legal advisor, the USA was informed that a JSC will be appointed.

Now in the case of the Marriage Bill, the tone of your editorial is unfortunate in that it makes the assumption that the Opposition is not going to support the Bill. Every speaker on the side of the opposition both in and out of Parliament has said categorically that we support the legal age for consent to be 18 years old. That is not in dispute. We are concerned however about the position articulated by the group of NGO’s who want a fallback position and who have requested this based upon the reality of what exists in the society.

The Hindu community in particular has been targeted as being in opposition to the change when this is far from the truth. The attack by Chalkdust under the guise of poetic license was not an attack solely on Sat Maharaj but on the generality of the Hindu Community as being in favour of child marriages, thereby stereotyping Hindus. The various Hindu groups have also categorically declared their support for the age of 18.

In your editorial you made reference to the UNC appointing two temporary Senators to “give credence through its temporary Senatorial appointments of apologists for child marriage.” The UNC had made it abundantly clear that these appointments were made for these groups to give voice to their position and further that the positions of these groups were not to be taken as the official position of the UNC. The UNC has in the past as in the case of the Gambling Bill appointed persons outside of the UNC to sit in the Senate specific to the debate. As far back as the 1980’s Basdeo Panday had appointed Karl Hudson Phillips to debate the Land Tenants Bill. This approach of the UNC is not new, neither specific to the Marriage Act.

The UNC is not bowing to public opinion in terms of its support for age 18. When this matter first arose, the leader of the Opposition and members of the UNC in Parliament clearly stated their support for age 18.

What the Guardian should be concerned about is the unilateral removal of the need for a three fifths majority on Bills coming to parliament including the Marriage Act. Worse yet the media has not questioned the AG on his statement that the removal of a three fifths majority was due to his speculation that he may not get support in the lower house and that this was a tactic. To have an AG, who is the custodian of the Constitution passing legislation by tactics (unilaterally removing the need for a three fifths majority and instead using a simple majority) and not as a result of convincing the house by reasoned arguments is a dangerous precedent since the AG has also signaled his intention to do so with other legislation.

What is even worse is that the colleagues of the AG including independent senators agree with this approach as evidenced in the way they voted in the Senate. To date the AG has not told the Parliament nor the public who advised him that the three fifths majority was unnecessary. This is a threat to our democracy and while the passing of laws as the AG intends to can and will be challenged in a court of law, it will be far better for the benefit of the public and the public purse that this approach be condemned by the “third estate.” It appears that you are condemning the opposition for challenging the AG on what the UNC clearly sees as an attack on our democracy and the undermining of the constitution. You have not as a responsible media declared your position on the passing of laws by tactics.

On a personal note, we have come a long way in this country in terms of respecting each other and promoting a healthy democracy amidst diversity. It will be a pity if the Hindu Community is made out to be villains as well as denied the equal opportunity to contribute to national debate on matters like these. Any attempt to put pressure on one community while ignoring the responsibility of all is itself undemocratic and unfair. The UNC again has stated that it supports the age of legal consent to be 18, but will like to find out from the AG the source of his advice that the special majority is not required. As well, we live in a country where the NGO’s play an important role in providing support systems for those who fall through the cracks. It is only fair and just that they not be ignored.
With thanks,

Dr. Surujrattan Rambachan
Member of Parliament

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