President Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona began his term with a bang, appearing to throw down the gauntlet to the people of Trinidad and Tobago—both to those who govern and those who are governed.
Giving all indication that he would become an activist President, he declared that while he may not have a "magic wand" and was not an "executive president", the office of the presidency was not impotent.
"Under the Westminster form of governance, there are parameters within which I must operate. Powers you think I have, I do not," he said explaining his limitations. But he added pointedly: "Power you think I do not have, I do." That got a roar of approval from the crowd.
The President referred to Section 81 of the Constitution which "mandates the Prime Minister to keep the President fully informed of the general conduct of the Government, and at the President's request, to submit information which respect to any matter relating thereto."
He was delivering his inaugural address at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Mucurapo yesterday. The address was a break with tradition because it seemed to lay out a road map for his presidency which would indicate that Carmona would be an advocate for the people while holding the Government to account.
Clearly a man of strong convictions, whose approach to the presidency is likely to be guided by the strength of those convictions, Carmona said as a judge he unflinchingly lived up to his oath "to do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill-will."
"As President ... my remit is wider and greater, for I have sworn "to preserve the Constitution and the Law" and to devote myself to the "service and well-being of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. This I shall do without compromise or reservation, holding fast to the following fundamentals: integrity, transparency, inclusiveness and reverence to God Almighty".
The crowd once again roared its approval.
While he had sharp remarks for the rulers and the ruled, the President's softer comments came in the form of a plea to help the underprivileged. "Today, our jails house a disproportionate percentage of young males from depressed communities and we need as a society to devise ways and means of addressing this dilemma. ... For too many years, young men from our depressed communities are being murdered. The manchild is in crisis; and we cannot and must not trivialise the sanctity of human life by indifferently dismissing the deaths of these young persons as "gang-related" he said, to applause.
Carmona's demeanour at the lectern seemed to reflect religious fervour at times. "We adopt the offensive philosophical position that they will eventually all be killed, not recognising that every murder is revenged, and revenge is a race that will never end unless this is genuine intervention."
"We are a nation, we, the Parliament of the people, must no longer engage in tired politics on this issue. Waffle abounds. What is needed is a truly collaborative effort among the stakeholders to address the crisis that is crime," Carmona said.
Adopting a posture and tone which at many times was combative, the President did not only remind the Government of its responsibilities and obligations. He extended it to the people.
"Let me make it clear that being responsible and accountable does not only apply to "people in high places", to ministers of government and other elected officials. ... It is the right and duty of our citizenry to demand that, as leaders, they are responsible and accountable in the exercise of their functions. Yet one cannot justly demand that those in authority be disciplined, responsible and accountable, and not invoke the same standards of conduct in our own daily lives," the President stated.
In a speech in which the words "responsibility, accountability, integrity and transparency" were repeated at least seven times like a mantra, the President stressed that being responsible and accountable was a two-way street. He also emphasised that "honour and integrity do matter".
He called on the nation to regenerate itself. "For many many years the ship called the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has left its safe moorings of integrity, accountability, responsibility, transparency and inclusiveness. We are good at sound bites and labelling. We can be excellent wordsmiths. But if we are to establish a better, more progressive, more humane society, real change must be invoked," he said. He called on citizens to demand their pound of flesh, but also to give their pound of flesh in productive endeavour.
Carmona, whose inaugural address was punctuated with applause, ended on a note of opportunism as he pointed out that the young persons engaging in criminal behaviour were capable of acting in a responsible and accountable manner.
He cited the successful Bail Boy Project initiated by the San Fernando Court, the Drug Treatment Court instituted under the wise leadership of Chief Justice Ivor Archie and the Rose Hill RC project under Clyde Harvey whom he described as a "giant".
Full text of President Anthony Carmona's inaugural speech on Page 13 and www.trinidadexpress.com