Friday, December 15, 2017

Value of finesse in T&T’s public affairs?

Express editorial logo474

Mark Fraser

 It is especially welcome that no shadow will be cast over proceedings on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014, arising from participation of Senate president Timothy Hamel Smith. Debate on the amendment, already so hotly disputed, should not suffer from any possibly delegitimating discredit arising from the fitness of Mr Hamel Smith to preside over it in the Upper House.

?Suddenly, it seemed, had come potential challenges to the assurance Mr Hamel-Smith could be regarded as impartially presiding over the debate. Like the House Speaker, the Senate president is customarily selected by the ruling party. 

Mr Hamel-Smith was identifiably an active member of the Congress of the People (COP), a constituent entity of the People’s Partnership administration. But it is conventional to assume that, upon becoming Senate president, he would normally set aside his political preferences, in favour of being seen to be impartial in the chair. 

A leaked e-mail called this assumption into question. In consequence, Mr Hamel-Smith, who did not disavow the content, faced sudden demands that he recuse himself. He at first appeared to hang tough.

It is to the credit of all concerned, and to the benefit of Senate pro­-ceed­ings and of the general preservation of an adequate tone of decency in public affairs, that a face-saving way out has been found. 

By proceeding on a pre-arranged trip abroad for the duration of the debate, Mr Hamel-Smith will facilitate this outcome. The Senate president’s timely self-removal from the scene should ensure that questions of his fitness to preside do not sidetrack the all-important constitutional discussions.

This is the background against which the country should now assess the proposal by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to nominate for national awards this month two exceptionally high-profile individuals. Without warning, discussion or, as it turned out, consultation, Ms Persad-Bissessar proclaimed her intent to recommend Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday for the highest national award, the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Messrs Manning and Panday, two surviving former prime ministers, make for outstanding choices as recipients of T&T’s highest honour. Such awards bear special significance, coming with the sponsorship of a   successor who had strongly and successfully opposed both former leaders. 

Unhappily, for T&T, Mr Manning declined the honour, citing Ms Persad-Bissessar’s record of political opposition to him, and evincing still-surviving feelings of bitterness. Before making a big show of offering it, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar should certainly have privately explored Mr Manning’s willingness to accept the national award. For such awards, as far as possible, should certainly not be dragged in the mud of political pulling and tugging.

Finesse, such as shown by Mr Hamel-Smith, was evidently lacking in the Prime Minister’s national-award proposal. Official T&T, it has now been proved, will learn such approaches only the hard way.