Several leading citizens have been praising outgoing President George Maxwell Richards for his exemplary tenure as President and, though I am only a following citizen, I felt I should do the same.
From the very start of his occupation of President's House, Max was hailed as a "people's President" and, during his stay, he proved this by letting the dwelling collapse. Of course, maintenance was not Max's responsibility but the State's, which is exactly how the average Trinbagonian thinks when it comes to public property, such as the Now-not-so-Magnificent Seven buildings, PTSC buses, and politicians' waistlines. And, when the roof caved in, Max demonstrated the national carefree ethos by continuing to play mas.
Moreover, even though he did so in bands where the costumes cost one month's salary for an average employee, he was spending taxpayers' dollars to support de culture. So, mindful that the ordinary citizen, bewitched by his charisma as a people's President, might try to emulate him too closely, Max, in his 2006 Republic Day message, chided extravagant consumers, saying, "Let us not be complacent, then look for every opportunity to act the part of the victim." He himself had the previous year spent $1.5 million on official entertainment and $2 million on overseas travel and expenses, yet never complained.
But it was when it came to appointing members of the Integrity Commission that Max truly demonstrated his true calibre. When one board had to resign because it had failed to follow the principle of natural justice in pursuing a case against then-government minister Keith Rowley, Max, showing he had a deep understanding of the society, replaced it with persons with whom he was personally acquainted. One of the appointees wasn't even eligible because he held posts on other State bodies, which meant Max was showing that persons of integrity were already in important positions and/or that the job of President was not for the faint of heart, since attending cocktail parties kept him so busy that he didn't even have time to read the legislation under which he made appointments.
Max would later emphasise this point when he signed Section 34 into law on August 31, which was one of his busiest work nights, given that Independence celebrations require so many toasts.
But where Max really proved his mettle was in putting a man of God as the chairman of that commission. After he had been in the post for just a week, it was revealed that Roman Catholic priest Henry Charles had plagiarised some of the newspaper columns he wrote for the Trinidad Guardian. It was also reported that Charles, who had a PhD in ethics, had told Max there might be a plagiarism issue and Max dismissed the concern by saying, "That happens all the time." This would have provided great comfort to students, executives of State companies and commission of enquiry commissioners.
Unfortunately, the general public didn't understand the lesson Max was trying to teach, and it was only after Charles's death a few weeks ago that former deputy Central Bank governor Terrence Farrell wrote an article explaining that Charles was so bright that he had no need to plagiarise, and it was only carelessness which had caused him to do so at least three times, word for word.
So that entire IC board then had to resign after being in office for only a few weeks, which fortuitously provided Max with another opportunity to display his moral leadership. Having gone on vacation when the brouhaha broke, Max refused to give in to demands that he return to deal with the issue, hence demonstrating the importance to citizens of not letting the stress of work lead to cancer, strokes or heart attacks which, as you know, are leading causes of death. Max thus saved many citizens' lives.
When he did finally return, he gave an address in which he pointed out to the nation that "the matters surrounding the Integrity Commission, which have occasioned negative fallout, have given us the opportunity to see that democracy is alive in Trinidad and Tobago". Despite this proof that his actions were only designed to deepen the nation's democracy, some ignorant persons, including myself, actually argued that Max should resign, but he said, "I will not allow the situation to be so manipulated as to result in yielding to pressure fuelled by lack of deep consideration of all the issues pertinent to resignation."
Which is why people, such as Jack Warner and Ashworth Jack and other jacks, now give far more consideration before refusing to resign. Max also refused to apologise and, having been found by the courts to have failed to follow the principle of natural justice when he fired Nizam Mohammed, has displayed the virtue of consistency by refusing to apologise for that, too.
Max will therefore be a hard act to follow; and I would strongly advise the country's new President to not even try.