Saturday, December 16, 2017

Our prime ministers wield too much power


DISAPPOINTED: Kamla Persad-Bissessar

Mark Fraser

“She should be magnanimous in victory.” This is the online Oxford Dictionary example of how the word “magnanimous” is used. The meaning of “magnanimous”, according to this dictionary is: “Generous or forgiving, especially towards a rival or less powerful person”.

So this is what the Prime Minister intended to convey when she issued a written statement in response to the news that former prime minister Patrick Manning had declined to accept her “offer of this nation’s highest award, the Order of Trinidad and Tobago (ORTT)”. She was disappointed because “It was meant to be a gesture of magnanimity”! How could he decline to accept this “generous and forgiving” gift from her!

Patrick Manning, for his part, in declining to accept the Prime Minister’s offer of the award, pointed out that “Under PNM administrations, a committee considers these distinguished national awards, with the Chief Justice as chairman and subject to the imprimatur of the Prime Minister.” Imprimatur?!

The Oxford Dictionary explains “imprimatur” as follows:


1 An official licence issued by the Roman Catholic Church to print an ecclesiastical or religious book: the imprimatur for this edition was granted by Cardinal O’Casey

1.1 A person’s authoritative approval: e.g the original LP enjoyed the imprimatur of the composer

Origin: mid 17th century: from Latin, ‘let it be printed’, from the verb imprimere”.

So there we have it, under existing law, our current Prime Minister sees the offer of a national award, and in this case the nation’s highest, as being within her personal power to grant. She can be “magnanimous” with our national awards to whomsoever she pleases.

Not to be outdone, our long-serving former prime minister, Patrick Manning, as though speaking ex-cathedra, points out that under his administration, he, within the law, had to give his “imprimatur” — not simply his approval or agreement, but his “imprimatur”!

So the former and current prime ministers are at one on this matter of national awards, in accordance with existing law. Decisions on national awards are definitively within the personal preserve of the sitting prime minister — to be dispensed as the prime minister so decides — or not. This, in my view, is one case in which the old English proverbial expression is appropriate: “The law is an ass.”

Ashton S Brereton

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