President George Maxwell Richards yesterday used his authority as head of the Parliament to speak directly to the politicians and the nation, focusing on the themes of equal opportunity, fairness, even-handed- ness and transparency in policies.
He also pointed to the necessity of preserving the independence of the commissions established under the Constitution.
Addressing the ceremonial opening of Parliament yesterday, the first such opening at Tower D, International Waterfront Complex, Port of Spain, the President used his position as a bully pulpit, pointing out that the lawlessness and crime could not be allowed to continue.
But the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces sounded a word of caution that in the use of the armed forces in maintaining law and order, "zeal must not inform our behaviour, less mixed signals be conveyed if, in any way, due process appears to be eschewed".
The President said he recognised that joint army and police exercises were critical in the fight.
"However," he warned, "in their modus operandi, there must be a clear understanding, and a demonstration of that understanding, of the chain of command within both entities, with wisdom dictating the levels of involvement".
Many listeners interpreted this as a direct reference to recent demolition of the Highway Re-Route Movement's campsite in Debe by soldiers and police.
Appearing to practise what he was preaching, the President stressed the importance of "speaking truth to (those in power)".
This elicited an audible "Ouch!" from People's National Movement (PNM) Senator Terrence Deyalsingh.
As he spoke about equal opportunity, Richards "reminded" his audience that it (equal opportunity) was not the domain of "any individual or group in our diverse population. Decisions taken in this Parliament must be such as to ensure even-handedness and transparency in policies that affect the welfare of all our citizens. There must be equality of opportunity, and merit must count above any other considerations".
"Yes!" said PNM's Chief Whip Marlene McDonald.
Richards, a former principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine campus, dealt with his pet subject of education.
He said in seeking to develop a more educated people, there must be "measured decision-making", with an eye to the future.
"But in looking ahead, we must be careful in our quest for new things, not to discard the past and behave as if it did not exist. We will find that some decisions of the past were taken on solid foundation," he said.
The former president of the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) said there was a certain vision birthed when UTT was established, particularly, in respect of science and technology, which is critical.
"UTT must do no less than the University of the West Indies. None of us, I am sure, would like to see our national university lose its relevance to the communities that it is intended to serve."
Richards said the university is not a place that can accommodate anything but the best professional behaviour, in all its practices.
"There is...no room for partisan behaviour and personal preference in appointments at the highest levels of leadership at our university or at the level of academic staff. Ability is what matters, and governments and others concerned must ensure that academic autonomy is preserved," the President stressed.
On the issue of the commissions, the President said these independent commissions were established for good reasons, "reasons which have not lost their validity". "Consigning them to history is not a good option. They are guardians of our democracy," Richards told his audience, which included chairman of the Integrity Commission Ken Gordon.
The judges of the Supreme Court who were present would have noted with satisfaction that the President appealed for some consideration for the position of retired judges who, he said, were "living in penury, or not far from it, having given outstanding service".
He also called on parliamentarians to think about the "working poor, who does not stand out as the indigent does", and small organisations lacking the clout of the established non-governmental organisations who need help, in order to help others.
As he concluded what many believe to be his last speech to Parliament, Richards was applauded, the first time many recall such a response was given to a presidential address to members of both Houses of Parliament.
Despite the inclement weather, the pomp and ceremony of the opening of the Third Session of the Tenth Parliament went off with a hitch.
The one hiccup was that traffic was stopped completely on Wrightson Road, with not even the eastbound lane being open for two-way traffic as was promised.
Sources said this was contrary to the instructions of the Speaker of the House.
Parliament has been adjourned to a date to the fixed. It is expected to resume in September, according to sources.