FORMER Senate president Michael Williams yesterday said he “empathised” with Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith and that it would be a “pity” if presiding officers are precluded from voicing their opinions.
Williams, who served as Senate president from 1987-1990, made the statements in a telephone interview with the Express yesterday.
He was asked to comment on an exclusive article published in the Express yesterday in which former head of the Public Service, Reginald Dumas, called for Hamel-Smith to recuse himself from presiding over the debate of the Constitution Amendment Bill 2014 when it comes before the Upper House.
Dumas made the call following receipt of an e-mail from Hamel-Smith to other individuals urging support for the bill to be sent to a Joint Select Committee of Parliament.
Williams described the situation as a “grey area”.
“I don’t think he is asking for support of the bill, he is asking the recipients to take certain action that would allow wider discussion of the bill. There is a difference,” Williams said.
“He has certain views and I think we should not be deprived of the views of persons who have an interest in politics and constitutional matters. I don’t think it would be sufficient to have persons sanitised because they occupy a position like that,” he said.
Williams referred to the fact that the Express published a series written by Hamel-Smith entitled “Re-engineering the Constitution”.
“As he said earlier he did a presentation to the Rotary Club and he expressed his views and I think that is commendable,” Williams said.
“I empathise, there is a grey area here. He is not asking people to take a position on the bill he has expressed his views previously as someone interested in our political system which I think is commendable,” he said.
Hamel-Smith’s e-mail was dated Sunday August 10, 2014 and sent after 4 p.m.
“He did it just before it was coming to the House but bear in mind what happened in the Lower House is that the Government rushed it through without any...you could not even sleep, to which I object,” Williams said.
“These long sessions, long-winded sessions where people go at ten in the morning and sit there until four in the morning is not indicative of treating serious matters in an appropriate manner,” he said.
“Now if the same procedure was to be used in the Senate, well he is indicating that this is not...well he is not favouring that, he is saying it should be delayed a bit and there could be support or objections and there could be a wider discussion,” Williams said.
Williams said he does not support the call for Hamel-Smith to recuse himself from the upcoming debate.
“That (recusal) could be one point of view but a presiding officer like a judge is entitled to have his views and I think it is possible for him to preside over the sitting without imposing...or without appearing to influence the outcome of the debate,” Williams said.
“I think it would be unfortunate if we are to bar persons, citizens of Trinidad and Tobago who have knowledge on a matter...it would be a pity to expect him to keep his mouth shut because he is Senate president. It is a grey area,” he said.