"If this issue was a matter that was being ventilated in the way it is now, I would not have involved myself," Acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith said yesterday. He was responding to questions on whether the office of the Acting President had become embroiled in political debate because of advice he tendered as a private attorney.
Hamel-Smith said if he had known that the opinion he gave to AIC Capital Market Brokers on the build/leaseback arrangement to develop an Administrative Centre for Education, Sport and Youth" for the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) in January 2011 would be thrown into the public dispute between the THA and the Central Government over another BOLT project, he would have been more reticent.
The THA and the Government are in contention over another BOLT agreement—the Milshirv project.
Hamel-Smith's opinion did not relate to the Milshirv project but was given on "the capacity of the Tobago House of Assembly to enter into a build/leaseback arrangement to develop an Administrative Centre for Education, Sport and Youth", a project which never came to fruition.
However the opinion examined the legal status of BOLT arrangements and concluded that the THA was legally empowered to enter into such contracts. The opinion was given to the AIC "for its sole benefit and for the purpose of entering into financial arrangements with the THA to provide financing for the construction of the Centre". The document stressed that there was no attorney-client relationship between Hamel-Smith and the THA.
Hamel-Smith said that in order to keep the Presidency out of public contention, he would normally exercise discretion. But he said it was not possible to foretell how events would have unfolded. "I couldn't believe for a moment in doing this (it would become a matter of public dispute)," he said.
"If this issue was a matter being ventilated as it is now, I would not have issued an opinion. When my firm was approached, we might have been approached in 2010 or even 2009, there was nothing that suggested it would become a matter of contention," he said.
Asked what he would do if the matter is raised during any debate in the Senate as it was in the last week, Hamel-Smith who as President of the Senate presides over most debates, said, "where matters come before you and there may be a conflict of interest, you stand down". He however said he had no control over what happens on the hustings.
Hamel-Smith noted that he has said over and over that the country needed to have a fulltime Parliament in which there are fulltime Parliamentarians.
Under the Constitution, the President of the Senate is not a full time Parliamentarian, something which Hamel-Smith said he does not "relish". Currently therefore the Senate President is allowed to practise his profession to sustain himself and his family.
Political pundits said the real question which the country had to consider was whether it could afford a Parliament of fulltime Parliamentarians. Until then conflicts such as the current situation would continue to arise and would have to be managed by the individual(s) involved.