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Open seasonon President

Hamel-Smith talks of...

By Renuka Singh

Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith yesterday refused to speculate on the implications of President George Maxwell Richards revisiting the Section 34 issue.

Though Hamel-Smith signed off on the Section 34 fiasco months ago during his stint as acting President, Richards has written to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on the issue.

Asked if he thought that Richards revisiting the Section 34 issue was an indictment on his performance, Hamel-Smith said: "I don't think I should comment on that matter."

"It would not be right for me to comment," he said in a telephone interview.

But Hamel-Smith did fire at those who criticised the State's highest office.

"There seems to be an 'open season' on the President's office. It is not the first time someone has attacked the President's office," he said, referring to statements by National Security Minister Jack Warner who said Richards was a supporter of the People's National Movement (PNM).

But while former head of the Public Service, Reginald Dumas, said it was "strange" that Richards would "revisit" an issue that an acting President had already signed off on, he said verbal attacks on the President's office did not signal an "open season".

"The term open season suggests everyone is attacking the President and that is not true. I want to draw a distinction between the office of the President and the office holder. Yes, there are several criticisms of the office holder, but there is no attack on the Office of the President," Dumas said in a telephone interview.

Dumas also questioned why Richards chose to revisit the issue, saying that it gave the perception of politics.

He cited that after the 1990 attempted coup, then acting President Emmanuel Carter signed the amnesty and that was upheld by President Noor Hassanali.

"The sequence of events, with the President only writing to the Prime Minister after the Opposition wrote to him, could lead to the perception of politics and that he acted on behalf of the PNM."

Dumas said while the correspondence between President Richards and Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar remained private, it could be speculated that Richards wrote to her on the Section 34 issue and if that is so then the President could be "perceived" as acting politically.

"We do not know what George Maxwell Richards wrote the Prime Minister about and we do not know what was said in reply. None of it is in the public domain," he said.

Dumas said despite the Opposition insisting that they would not let this issue rest, they have yet to answer why they signed off on the Bill and the Government had to answer why that Section 34 was introduced in the first place.

"It may embarrass the people to whom those questions are posed," he said.

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