The Pope, who is otherwise blessed with infallibility, maintains at the Vatican a cassocked check-staff bureaucracy called the “Roman Curia”. Admonition for such centuries-old best practice made a quiet and rare entry into T&T public affairs.
It came from the Latinate learned pen of Karl Hudson-Phillips, whose September 26 circular letter said President Anthony Carmona had acted “per incuriam” in making two nominations to the Police Service Commission. Those two selections showed the President lacked corrective benefit of the knowledge, experience, and judgment of anything here resembling a “Curia”, the Queen’s Counsel suggested.
Unadvised about the constitutional fine print, the head of state had erred, it appeared, “per incuriam”. To the extended list of “issues” already engaging public vexation, Mr Hudson-Phillips was freshly appending a charge of prosecutably careless unconcern on the part of the President.
Mr Carmona, a learned jurist, can hardly be regarded as legally helpless. What he appears to lack is the dedicated “help” that should accrue to a presidency which, after 37 years, remains only optimistically an institution in the making.
For that long, T&T has had a President. Typically, he has been a retiree accomplished in some other calling. Ceremonially exalted, the President is time and again seen exclusively to have gritty, consequential, state functions to perform.
On leaving President’s House, Sir Ellis Clarke, distinguished to the level of “legal luminary”, recommended for the head of state a dedicated (senior) counsel. That the President not act as a lawyer in his own cause should strike everyone as elementary. The President evidently operates, however, without service of counsel measuring up in professional rank and reach to a Karl Hudson-Phillips.
Beyond a general counsel’s office, the President should be entitled to such administrative resources as would amount to a ministry or department, headed by a permanent secretary type. I for one have been troubled, even sometimes appalled, by ill-considered speech allowed to fall from the lips of then-incumbent Arthur NR Robinson and, in particular, George Maxwell Richards.
Yet communication, in addresses or by written releases, marks only one output subject to quality control by a President’s House bureaucracy. The head of state should demonstrably have command of, and be supported by, the services of policy wonks, as the Americans describe them, whose output is better than lightweight.
As the Robinson term proved, the President can be called to epochal decision-making. In a self-respecting T&T, the head of state cannot be hung out to dry, taking the blame for keynote decisions and statements, yet deprived of the benefit of best advice.
In keeping with earlier ruminations in this space, I am troubled by doubts about the ample objective availability of qualified “help” for the T&T President. He happens to be just one urgently needful arm of the state.
Here is a concern, given rise to by evidence of thinness on the ground for local capacity and expertise. It is a concern that is regularly left unspoken, even as signs show of vacancies in worrying number and at critical levels.
Surfing want ads last week, I noted Caribbean Airlines vacancies for chief executive officer, chief financial officer, and vice-president for commercial and customer experience. Plus, that of NIB executive director.
Top people, that reminded me, are simply not readily in place to fill vacancies in critical and high-profile state or state-owned bodies. Nor was the President’s Office one of those advertising for chief-executive types; nor yet is it identified as one for which such a need is felt.
Last week also, Ronald Ramkissoon appeared to be lamenting the absence of decisive leadership even to intervene effectively in T&T crime-ridden contexts. Little, it seems, provides against the jeopardy of “per incuriam”.
“Who is to do this?” Dr Ramkissoon pointedly asked in a commentary that also observed: “There is much to be said about those who refuse to offer themselves to lead.”
The belief is fanciful, I conclude, that T&T abounds in people with expertise and capacity, plus willingness to “serve” or to “lead”. The catchment area shrinks even further when Integrity Act conditionalities, newly canvassed for tougher amendments, are supposed to apply.
Nor is the President’s Office furnished with head-hunting facilities accomplished in attracting and short-listing candidates for appointments. Mr Hudson-Phillips cited bottom-line constitutional requirements for qualifications and experience in law, finance, sociology and management. Against which, he argued, the President’s nominations fell short.
Recalling last year’s Section 34 experience, those nominations, forwarded for Parliament’s confirmation, had survived consultation scrutiny by the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. The name James Armstrong, one nominee, had gained enough “civil society” acclamation to become title brand of the report upholding the Wayne Kublalsingh segment of the Point Fortin Highway.
Martyrdom-sworn people in the Highway Re-Route Movement take arrest, prosecution and jail as defenders of the faith in the “Armstrong Report”. With Mr Hudson-Phillips poised to sue, however, the Armstrong brand, as commended by President Carmona, will not confer blessings on the work of the beleaguered Police Service Commission.
Where does all this leave the Commission’s purported search for a permanent Police Commissioner? To that ever-evolving story, we must return.