SENATE president Timothy Hamel-Smith has “compromised” his position and should recuse himself from presiding over the upcoming debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 to be held in the Upper House, former senate president Dr Linda Baboolal has said.
However, Baboolal, who served as Senate president from 2002 to 2007, said she would not go as far as calling for Hamel-Smith to tender his resignation as a senator.
In an exclusive story published in the Express yesterday, former head of the Public Service, Reginald Dumas, called on Hamel-Smith to recuse himself from the upcoming debate if he (Hamel-Smith) sent an e-mail urging recipients to support the bill being sent to a Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament.
Dumas stated he received in his mailbox an e-mail from Hamel-Smith which was sent to certain persons (not Dumas) which was dated Sunday August 10, 2014 and sent after 4 p.m.
Hamel-Smith has neither confirmed nor denied that he sent the e-mail.
Speaking to the Express by telephone yesterday, former Senate presidents Baboolal and Danny Montano said presiding officers of Parliament must maintain their impartiality and neutrality.
Both Baboolal and Montano said when they were appointed Senate president they had to tender their resignations from the People’s National Movement (PNM).
“I was under the impression that my predecessors had done so (tendered resignations to their party) not just within the PNM but I was under the impression that others had done so as well but I can’t say so for certain but that was my belief,” Montano said.
Montano, who served as Senate president from 2007 to 2010, said he had sent a resignation letter to the party’s secretary and the Prime Minister .
“I took no further activities in Government affairs and one of the things you have to be very careful about is that when you speak with Government you should be talking about procedural issues and so on not political issues,” he said.
“(As a presiding officer) you have to be independent, you can’t just say ‘I am independent’ you have to actually be independent,” Montano said.
Montano said Hamel-Smith has found himself in a “tight spot”.
“I know Mr Hamel-Smith very well, I have known him for many, many years. I know him as a lawyer of great integrity as well as competence. We have done business together, I have had to deal with him on many occasions and I have a great respect and admiration for him and therefore I would not want to be directly critical of him in that way but what I would say is that he is in a difficult position, he is in a tight spot,” Montano said.
Baboolal said the PNM has a strict policy as it pertains to persons accepting the role of presiding officer.
“I don’t know what is their policy in the COP (Congress of the People) or whatever, in the PNM once we are made a presiding officer, before we are even appointed we have to resign from the party,” Baboolal said.
“Following that we can take no part in any party activities, not in social functions, not in decision-making, not in anything, and therefore we would not jeopardise our neutrality...our neutral position by trying to persuade anybody or trying to persuade the members of Parliament that this is the way to go,” she said.
“As a presiding officer we are supposed to be completely neutral we are not supposed to take sides, we are not supposed to give an opinion, we are there to preside and I think he (Hamel-Smith) compromised his position by doing that (sending the e-mail),” Baboolal said.
She said Hamel-Smith should recuse himself from the upcoming debate to make sure things were “above board”.
“I would not go so far (as his resigning from the Senate). In all other matters he has maintained his impartiality as far as I can see in the Senate in the little bit that I have followed, so I don’t think I will say that he should resign but with this issue I think it would be to his credit and to the party’s credit if he were to recuse himself,” she said.
Baboolal said apart from resigning from the PNM, she also stayed away from functions held by the party.
“The PNM is very firm on the fact that once you become a presiding officer, you are supposed to be neutral and therefore you should not be involved in any party activity,” she said.
“I have even seen Mr Hamel-Smith at some of their (COP’s) party functions and stuff like that but we did not do that, we did not go to anything. I mean if we were specially invited and I can’t think of anything that would have occurred when we were specially invited and it was a broad-based function where a lot of other people were being invited and it was something of national interest or something, then you will most probably consider going but otherwise to the ordinary activities like going to a party meeting you would stay away,” Baboolal said.
“Once you were on the chair you did not do that at all,” she said.
Hamel-Smith was quoted in yesterday’s Express as saying he is still a COP member.
Baboolal said the Parliament’s Standing Orders Committee should probably consider whether a provision about be included to ensure that a presiding officer denounces all party affiliations. —With reporting by Anna Ramdass
Former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj said yesterday Senate president Timothy Hamel-Smith should step aside and allow someone else to preside over the debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014.
“If he gets involved, he should not preside, the president of the Senate in the conduct of affairs should be impartial or seem to be impartial,” he said.
He said some of the senators will be taking the position in the debate whether to reject it or postpone it
“Obviously he has taken a pre-conceived idea about it, he has pre-determined what the matter it, when he is expected to keep an open mind,” said Maharaj.
He said Hamel-Smith has a duty to allow someone else to preside over the sitting and one would expect him to disclose his interest beforehand.