Many readers will recall the political controversies in which President Anthony Carmona, the immediate predecessor of our current President, was involved arising out of the purported exercise of powers that he thought he had.
As a result, citizens hoped that the presidency would return to calmer waters, not made turbulent by involvement of the office of President in the agendas of the politicians.
In an editorial in Newsday published on December 23, 2017, the writer commented that Carmona’s tenure had highlighted “the problematic nature of this anachronistic office amid a modern democracy” and concluded: “The next President must be a person that understands the powers Carmona did not. And the process of appointment of this official should not become enmeshed in politics. We’ve had enough of that from President’s House already.”
Sadly, the Office of the President is again tangled up in partisan politics leading, last Thursday, to an ill-prepared and deficient motion by the Opposition UNC proposing the appointment of a tribunal to investigate the President’s conduct. As readers know, the context of the motion were the events at President’s House, which led to the collapse of the Police Service Commission.
The Opposition failed, as it was clear that it would, but not exclusively, because of not having sufficient numbers to permit the motion to get off the ground. Opposition backers need to review the lack of competence of the Opposition and its current members, so vividly illustrated by the deficient wording of the charges it brought against the President.
It was also dotish to race into an unexplored area of the Constitution and get caught flat-footed, frustrated and fulminating against the Speaker’s permissible, but conservative, guidelines, which sucked the breath out of some of the debating theatrics that the Opposition had naively assumed it could perform to supplement the motion.
The more extravagant of the Opposition voices, sometimes attempting to copycat the words of others, frequently cause the significance of issues to be diluted or permit the Government to evade them in the routine exchange of bacchanal talk.
I respectfully consider that the President got it wrong and took actions that were not supported by the powers vested in her by the Constitution in the course of dealing with the Merit List for Commissioner of Police. When she did make a statement about the material events, the statement was somewhat aloof and opaque in material respects, and a case of this I tell you, this I don’t.
As already indicated, the constitutional errors of the President were to participate and acquiesce in a withdrawal of the Merit List and to block Parliament out of the process set down in the Constitution for the appointment of a Commissioner of Police. However, in view of the now regular anger of this Government at points of view expressed by commentators, it might be useful to remind readers that one of the controversies of the Carmona presidency arose after the PNM, under Prime Minister Rowley, regained office.
That one concerned a meeting that Carmona held in 2016 with the then-Minister of National Security, Edmund Dillon, to engage Dillon in matters within the minister’s portfolio. As became known in the public domain, I was engaged professionally by the same, now angry, Rowley Government to advise whether Carmona acted in a constitutionally proper manner. My professional opinion that the then-President, in meeting with Dillon, had not acted with constitutional propriety was so well received that someone promptly released it to the media.
On this different occasion, one can accept the Government’s discomfort with my commentaries on the lack of constitutional proprieties surrounding the collapse of the Police Service Commission. However, readers may be cynically amused that commentaries by the author of the Carmona opinion for which I was subsequently engaged should be met with angry outbursts from the same persons who previously chose the commentator as counsel to advise them.
If the death of democracy is imminent, it is because we have both a Government that evades issues but attempts in vain to stifle reasoned disagreement, and a wholly unattractive Opposition that is mostly a spent force. Everything is all dangerously farcical and tangled up.