Monday, December 18, 2017

In defence of the President


'UNFAIR': George Maxwell Richards

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I believe that the current criticisms against President Max Richards stemming from the Section 34 conspiracy are less than fair to him. He is the only holder of his office to be subjected to this level of open attacks; but we should consider the Section 34 debacle in isolation, without reference for the moment to any of his previous actions or utterances.

It could hardly be disputed that apart from the small clique of UNC sycophants, most people remain mystified by the early and selective proclamation of Section 34, and the country has not yet "moved on" as invited to by the PM on another issue; Section 34 will remain on the front burner until 2015 and beyond. Bearing in mind that the parliamentary opposition is an integral part of government, and the PNM today is the opposition, Dr Keith Rowley is entitled to seek answers and clarification on Section 34; and indeed it is his duty to do so on behalf of the people who have not "moved on".

Citing Section 81, Dr Rowley sought the intervention of President Richards who, acting on advice I presume, requested certain answers from the Prime Minister. I can find no error thus far in the actions of either Dr Rowley or the President, but understandably the UNC has sought to demonise Dr Rowley and the PNM, which could be their only weapon for the 2015 elections. The President seeks answers from the Prime Minister under Section 81, and to ignore Dr Rowley he would be failing in his constitutional duty; I cannot therefore share Martin Daly's view that the President has gone "political".

Some who have "moved on" with Kamla quote acting president Hamel-Smith's comments as justification for the PM's silence; but Hamel-Smith's comments were specifically in reply to Dr Rowley's petition following the march on September 18, for the timeline leading to the selective proclamation of Section 34 on the August 31 Independence anniversary. When Mr Hamel-Smith's findings revealed none but Volney to be the sole instigator behind Section 34, Dr Rowley ungraciously accused him of rubber-stamping Kamla's dismissal of Volney as her basis for "moving on".

But the nation's discomfort with Section 34 runs much deeper; Mr Volney is making overtures to get back his Ministry of Justice but a sizeable body of public opinion believes that Section 34 had its genesis when Mr Volney quit the bench overnight to campaign on a UNC platform.

Amongst several respected commentators, Mr Reginald Dumas queries the fact of the President having signed the proclamation notwithstanding the concealed implications of Section 34. Bearing in mind the very limited authority of the President's office, and his constitutional obligation to act on cabinet's advice, I think it unrealistic to expect the President to scrutinise every bill in which he has neither power to insert nor to remove a single comma; and where a bill is passed by both houses of Parliament, with the unanimous votes of all members, any implied blame of the President can only be academic.