Friday, July 13, 2012


The convention since we became a republic at the opening of Parliament was that the President would preside at the opening and give a speech that was not contraversial, but would deal with issues of the day. There is also a convention that the President is supposed to stay above partisan politics and as such would refrain from directly or indirectly assisting one side of the partisan divide by directly or indirectly criticising the other.

This is why I found the address of President Max Richards at the opening of Parliament this week to be disappointing to say the least. Frankly, I don't agree with the Prime Minister that his comments on corruption were not a thinly veiled attack on newly appointed National Security Minister Jack Warner. Of course they were. But the President in launching such a not so oblique attack on a Government Minister is also indirectly attacking his Government and giving ample fodder for its opponents. I suppose the President or his supporters might want to justify this by saying words to the effect that "he was only speaking the truth" or "well, if the cap fits ..." or some other similar comment.

With respect, that is not the point. First of all, Mr. Warner has not been charged with any offence either locally or abroad. Secondly, while it is clear that FIFA ain't exactly a Temple of Vestal Virgins there is obviously a lot more that needs to come out on all sides before we can come to any fair and reasonable conclusions of his guilt or innocence. But in Trinidad people repeat allegations as fact and if we happen to be against that person we happily accept them as such. I could give you right now a dozen allegations against any of the top PNM big wigs (ranging from Manning to Rowley and everybody in between) that accuse them of every thing from bribery to drugs and just about everything in between. But I will be the first to confess that I have not a shred of justiciable evidence to support any one of these myriad allegations.

The point here is twofold: first of all, a President under our system of government ought to be very, very careful when he makes comments that are critical of either the Opposition or the Government unless he is fair and even handed, e.g., he hits one side for something and then hits the other side equally hard. He needs to stay above the fray at all times. Secondly, a President who is in the position of the current President ought to be very careful in his comments especially in circumstances where he can be accused of being partisan and being critical because his term of office is coming to an end and it is more than likely that he will not be re-appointed. In other words, sour grapes!

If the President had made similar comments during the Manning era (and God knows that such similar comments could have been as justified then as supporters of the President would now defend his present comments) then perhaps one might say that this was in keeping with a certain forthrightness. But this was never the case then. Further, this President also appointed as an independant senator Mr. Michael Annisette who has never made a secret of his preference for the PNM. There are persons who believe (rightly or wrongly) that Mr. Annisette was appointed by the President on the express instruction of Mr. Manning. Now, assuming (though certainly not accepting) that this was true this would be terrible for obvious reasons.

But you see what happens when a President steps out of his crease? The office of the President of Trinidad & Tobago is important. It is deliberately set up to keep the head of state above the partisan fray. When a President puts himself in a position were a fair number of the population may perceive him to be descending into the political arena he effectively demeans his office. One President has already acted unconstitutionally or extra (meaning "outside") constitutionally and that particular act has had serious and very unfortunate ramifications which our society is still having to contend with although it happened many years ago. We need our President to go back to the centre and stay there.

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