Friday, January 19, 2018

Head of state selectionprocess due for review


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Now that it's all over bar the secret voting for a finally named candidate in Justice Anthony Carmona, the process of electing a President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has advertised itself as crying out for reform toward realising today's expectations of transparency.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar last week appeared to voice regret that the public get to play no part in an exercise restricted to the electoral college, comprising members of both houses of Parliament. The President of the Republic, the head of state, occupies a hybrid stature as neither entirely ceremonial nor credibly executive.

The President is titled commander in chief of the T&T armed forces, takes the salute and inspects the troops. Unlike, say, the US President, however, the T&T head of state is not empowered to deploy the troops, except on the say-so of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister.

Yet the T&T presidency amounts to more than a big figurehead. The head of state retains singular authority, after consultation, to appoint Independent Senators, the Chief Justice, and members of the Service Commissions and of the Integrity Commission.

In the build-up of anticipation over last weekend, names of various prominent citizens were thrust into the spotlight of speculation. The Opposition PNM proffered the name of Caribbean Court of Justice member Rolston Nelson. It did so, apparently without making sure Justice Nelson had agreed to have his name go forward.

Such game-playing with the head of state election appears unseemly at best. With Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar's announcement of the majority party's choice yesterday, fears should have been dispelled that the next President would be any pliant protege of the People's Partnership.

Justice Carmona's image is one identifiable as neither a trump card from up the Prime Minister's sleeve nor an ace in the virtual back pocket of the People's Partnership. With a respected record over three decades of legal and judicial practice, Santa Flora-born Justice Carmona has also made his mark internationally. He served as a prosecutor with the International Court of Justice, and of which he was later appointed a judge.

The process of selection, though troubling, did produce in Justice Carmona a candidate for future President immediately deserving of public approbation and trust.

The office of President is obviously thought to require a lawyer. But no lesser legal luminary than Sir Ellis Clarke recommended that the President be adequately provided with his own legal counsel.

Recommendations of other presidents since should be made public, and should those found to be positively doable should be acted upon by the Government to the end of enabling the most effective discharge of the most exalted responsibilities of State.