Articles on this Page
- 09/16/17--21:34: _When is scrutiny un...
- 09/23/17--23:17: _SCRUTINY CHALLENGES
- 09/30/17--21:23: _Private sector blow
- 10/07/17--22:33: _Making the adjustme...
- 10/14/17--21:56: _Celebrating our Wes...
- 10/22/17--00:47: _The looming challenge
- 10/28/17--20:50: _Arguing about elect...
- 11/05/17--02:35: _Leadership challenges
- 11/11/17--20:24: _Politics before div...
- 11/19/17--01:55: _Kamla’s reset
- 11/26/17--03:13: _The Piggott effect
- 12/02/17--23:39: _A tale of two elect...
- 12/16/17--21:23: _That 3/5 majority c...
- 12/23/17--19:38: _Challenging the jud...
- 12/30/17--20:40: _Electing a president
- 01/06/18--19:06: _Forgetting the Fede...
- 01/13/18--21:21: _A consensus president
- 01/20/18--21:43: _Remembering Sir Art...
- 01/27/18--20:44: _Reforming the Polic...
- 02/03/18--21:34: _Questioning the PSC
- 09/16/17--21:34: When is scrutiny unpatriotic?
- 09/23/17--23:17: SCRUTINY CHALLENGES
- 09/30/17--21:23: Private sector blow
- 10/07/17--22:33: Making the adjustment differently
- 10/14/17--21:56: Celebrating our Westminster Republic
- 10/22/17--00:47: The looming challenge
- 10/28/17--20:50: Arguing about elections
- 11/05/17--02:35: Leadership challenges
- 11/11/17--20:24: Politics before diversification
- 11/19/17--01:55: Kamla’s reset
- 11/26/17--03:13: The Piggott effect
- 12/02/17--23:39: A tale of two elections
- 12/16/17--21:23: That 3/5 majority controversy
- 12/23/17--19:38: Challenging the judiciary’s independence
- 12/30/17--20:40: Electing a president
- 01/06/18--19:06: Forgetting the Federation
- 01/13/18--21:21: A consensus president
- 01/20/18--21:43: Remembering Sir Arthur Lewis
- 01/27/18--20:44: Reforming the Police Service
- 02/03/18--21:34: Questioning the PSC
Last Monday a daily newspaper reported that “Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young yesterday described former minister Devant Maharaj’s complaint about the proposed Sandals Beach Resort in Tobago to the Integrity Commission as unpatriotic and ‘even traitor-like’ from someone who claims to be a patriot.”
This was a most unusual comment from Minister Young and seemed really to be unreasonable.
When is scrutiny unpatriotic? There is absolutely no aspect of public policy that must ever be deemed to be a sacred cow that it cannot be scrutinized.
The fact that Minister Young was so sensitive about the query made by Devant Maharaj about the impending Sandals project in Tobago makes it all the more imperative that there should be even closer scrutiny over every step of the project.
To demand information on, or an investigation of, a mega public policy project, regardless of what it is, can never be classified as unpatriotic.
The demand for scrutiny and transparency has no boundaries.
However, this is not the first time that Minister Young has adopted this line of attack in responding to queries about certain public policy projects.
Answering a question from Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee on March 17, 2017, in the House of Representatives, this was the exchange between Minister Young and David Lee as recorded in Hansard :
“Trinidad and Tobago/Venezuela (Dragon Gas Agreement) Mr David Lee (Pointe-a-Pierre): Thank you, Madam Speaker.
“To the Minister of Energy and Energy Industries: Was the recent Dragon gas agreement signed by Minister Stuart Young and the Venezuelan Government approved by the National Assembly of Venezuela?
The Minister in the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister (Hon Stuart Young): Madam Speaker, standing in for the Acting Minister of Energy and Energy Industries, I have already answered a question that has made it very clear and it should be abundantly clear, at this stage, that no agreement was signed by me nor was any agreement signed by Minister Martinez.
It was NGC, PDVSA and Shell. Madam Speaker, I will use this opportunity to state, however, that whilst this Government is working hard to ensure the future and for the future generations of Trinidad and Tobago that a gas industry is kept alive by this Dragon initiative, what is going on, and we are seeing it clearly and let the citizens mark it right now, is a complete lack of patriotism by those on the other side, [Interruption] and I will lend a dictionary to them very shortly for them to look at it, because they keep trying to throw spanners into the wheel of what is doing, [Desk thumping] and they keep trying to call something that does not exist, and one must question why it is that they keep trying to do this and talk about approval by the National Assembly of Venezuela. Both this Government of Trinidad and Tobago, under this administration, as well as the administration that exists in Venezuela, are ensuring that every step of the way, everything that is being done is being done in accordance with the respective laws. [Desk thumping].”
This new line of attack to use patriotism as a defence against any attempt to get information or to scrutinise government policy is an unhealthy development.
It suggests that whatever the Government is doing is so right that no one should dare seek to question it because it is sacred.
That is a dangerous place to go and it would be best for Minister Young to withdraw from this line of defence as it is totally unjustifiable.
The Opposition must press even harder on these two items (Sandals and Dragon gas) for further details. Scrutiny can never be unpatriotic.
Last week the scrutiny challenges facing this country were fully exposed.
On the positive side was the appearance of Prime Minister Rowley before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament to answer questions related to the scandal of the ferry service between Trinidad and Tobago.
This was a first for parliamentary scrutiny and represented a step in the right direction for the growth of such scrutiny in this country.
On the negative side was the decision by another Joint Select Committee (with responsibility for State Enterprises) not to pursue hearings on the “fake oil” scandal between Petrotrin and one of its contractors in the field, A&V Drilling and Workover. According to the Parliament website, the members of that committee are (i) Senator David Small (chairman), Dr Lester Henry, Brigadier General Ancil Antoine, Mr Adrian Leonce, Mrs Cherrie-Ann Crichlow-Cockburn, Senator Allyson Baksh, Mr Fazal Karim, and Mr Wade Mark.
The T&T Guardian reported last Wednesday (page A14) that a majority of the committee voted against having these hearings and that “well-placed sources” had told the Guardian that Senator Allyson Baksh recused herself from the sitting of the committee.
Committee chairman David Small told the Guardian that “at this time there will be no inquiry by the JSC, but this does not preclude the committee looking at the matter in the future.”
On the media front last week, there were dangerous trends that reared their heads in the form of physical and integrity attacks.
Guardian photographer Kristian De Silva was physically attacked by thugs who attempted to prevent him from taking photographs of A&V Drilling and Workover in Penal.
Bottles were pelted at a TV6 television crew who also went on assignment to the same location and violence was vented upon Newsday staff covering the same venue.
This thuggery caused alarm bells in the media which led to condemnation from the Opposition and the Media Association of T&T (Matt) with a delayed condemnation from the Government.
Such violence was later ameliorated by an apology from A&V Drilling with an offer to the media to tour their facilities followed by a press conference. This sudden volte face led to a rejection of the offer by Matt.
Media scrutiny was attacked last week when TV6 reporter Mark Bassant revealed to the Joint Select Committee investigating the Tobago ferry scandal that he had been offered a cheque for six figures by someone close to a Government official if he would just make his coverage of the story go away.
All of this is disturbing because it portrays a clear and present danger to press freedom. One often reads about journalists being attacked in other parts of the world, but never here. That can only mean that the stakes are high.
The “fake oil” scandal has also seen a new twist in the way that Petrotrin wants to deal with its internal audit of a shortfall of actual oil supplied and an overpayment for that oil based on incorrect or concocted figures.
The approach that the company wants to adopt is to seek restitution, rather than both restitution as well as prosecution.
Hopefully, the Government will want to adopt a sterner position on this situation.
Former chairman of TSTT, Emile Elias, told Prime Minister Rowley on September 19 of his reason for demitting office ahead of time. His actual words, at the start of his letter, were:
“I had fully intended to continue my National Service for another three years, but due to the fact that my company is now facing unexpected challenges which require me to devote far more time to its future, I write to advise you, Minister Robert Le Hunte and the board of my decision to submit my resignation with immediate effect, to the respective Corporate Secretaries, from my positions as chairman of TSTT and the recently acquired subsidiary, Massy Communications Limited.”
It is to be noted that the letter was addressed to the Prime Minister and not to the Minister of Finance who is normally the person to whom all such correspondence would be addressed. Only Minister Le Hunte, the board, and “respective Corporate Secretaries” were informed.
However, Elias’ letter is a revelation in trying to make a change to archaic business systems and practices that have haunted TSTT for decades and prevented it from moving with the times in an era of high competitiveness in the telecommunications field. He was apparently the right man in the right place at the right time and now he is gone.
There will continue to be speculation as to the other reasons why Elias would have left TSTT, however, the reality facing Prime Minister Rowley on the eve of the national budget for 2017-18 is that he has lost a key ally on a state board whose ideas and influence would have helped his government to embark on the kind of competitive changes that are required for our economy to help it rise again.
Within days of the Elias resignation came another private sector blow for the Government which was announced by Prime Minister Rowley at a press conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel after his six-hour discussion with the business community on the economy. According to Rowley, the Sandals project in Tobago has been put on hold for the time being because the Sandals Group suffered some property damage in the “Northern Antilles”.
According to the Shaliza Hassanali report on page A4 of last Thursday’s Guardian, Rowley also said he hoped that Sandals “does not lose their interest in Tobago as a result of the Irma and Maria losses and more so by a rejection of this approach by influential voices in Trinidad and Tobago.”
Something does not sound right in what has been put forward here by the Prime Minister in relation to the Sandals project. Property destruction after a hurricane can cause companies to effect their disaster recovery plans, however, in the case of Sandals they will know that they are likely to see an increase in visitor arrivals at their St. Lucia, Barbados and Grenada properties in the aftermath of the hurricanes and the property damage to their “Northern Antilles” properties.
Now would be an ideal time to fast forward the Sandals Tobago project. Not hearing it from Butch Stewart himself will leave a lot of suspicion on the ground that this is nothing more than government spin. For the time being, the hard truth is that this is really a serious setback for the Prime Minister’s flagship project.
The overall reality for this government of the Emile Elias resignation and the stalling of the Sandals project means that the Government has lost two key allies in its economic recovery programme. One was a genuine transformation and turnaround effort at TSTT and the other was an international mega project for this country in the tourism sector.
The test will be in the budget presentation tomorrow to see how private-sector friendly it might be. That might be the biggest clue of all to understanding these recent high-profile private sector disappointments.
Last Monday, Finance Minister Colm Imbert delivered a Budget presentation to the House of Representatives that demonstrated quite clearly that he was not prepared to walk the same road that was traversed by the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government during the period 1987-1991.
According to Imbert: “Madam Speaker, you may recall that as a result of an oil shock in the 1980s the then NAR government chose to address the problem of reduced revenue by downsizing the public sector and cutting public sector salaries and allowances, thus requiring the population to reduce their real incomes. The present situation is quite similar but our approach will not be the same.”
Indeed, the approach adopted by Minister Imbert in his Budget presentation was not the same even though the problems are similar.
Going to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1988-90 saved the country, but cost the NAR political office at the general elections in 1991.
It is clear that this People’s National Movement (PNM) Government has no intention of going to the IMF and certainly does not want to lose the next general election.
The risk in that approach is whether it will turn the country’s economy around while keeping the PNM in power or will it wreck the economy. Who knows?
The Minister had a mix of philosophies in his Budget that were clearly different to the IMF policies of 1988-90.
On the one hand, he implemented a complete deregulation of the maxi-taxi sector, which was a pivot to the free market policies of the IMF 1998-90, while on the other hand he refused to let go of the State’s stranglehold on state enterprises that continue to drain the Treasury of precious taxpayer dollars.
This halfway approach is very risky as it seeks to keep the State in the driver’s seat of the economy thereby maintaining a high rate of transfers and subsidies to losing enterprises like WASA, T&TEC and Caribbean Airlines.
In many respects, the Minister has kicked the can down the road yet again, when he could have bitten the bullet and started the divestment/privatisation process that will reduce the burden on the Treasury.
Indeed, he showed his commitment to the state enterprise sector when he said: “We expect that with sound governance at the Board and managerial levels, the state enterprise sector will discharge its mandate in growing the productive capacity and infrastructure of our economy.”
Where is this “sound governance” suddenly going to come from?
Recent hearings held by Joint Select Committees ranging from the Port Authority to the Education Facilities Company have demonstrated serious shortcomings in the governance practices of some state enterprises.
There is a crisis of governance in the country that spans the gamut of state enterprises and reaches into the hallowed halls of the Judiciary.
It will be interesting to see where and when this “sound management” will make its grand appearance.
The NAR government used poor management practices by certain state enterprises, like the Iron and Steel Company of Trinidad and Tobago (ISCOTT), as the basis for approaching the IMF for a bailout. Forty years later, the country is still waiting for “sound management” to manifest itself in the state sector.
The free-market IMF policies saved the country in 1988-90, but they cost the then ruling party (NAR) a second term in office.
Minister Imbert’s taxation policies have not been well-received based on initial media reports, however, the risk that he is taking is that economic prosperity will come from increased taxation. That is unlikely to happen.
You cannot kill the goose that laid the golden egg and expect that there will be another source of riches to tap into.
Taxation causes reactions like forcing businesses to pass on the increased costs to their consumers, which drives up the cost of living.
However, the Minister is committed to doing his recovery plan differently.
The country is taking a gamble with this budget. Will it work?
The recent celebration of Republic Day had the added event of the National Awards ceremony which has traditionally been held on Independence Day. The intention behind moving the National Awards ceremony to Republic Day was designed to raise the level of consciousness associated with the day itself.
However, in doing so, there still remain issues that tie us to our colonial past in some official documents that raise issues of identity in the context of our republican status.
The first of these issues relates to the 2014 Standing Orders of our House of Representatives in which parts of Standing Order 2 have the following provisions:
“(2) In any matter not provided for in these Standing Orders, resort shall be had to the usage and practice of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom which shall be followed as far as they may be applicable to this House and not inconsistent with these Standing Orders or with the practice of this House.
(3) In cases of doubt the Standing Orders of this House shall be interpreted in the light of the relevant usage and practice of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, but no restrictions which the House of Commons has introduced by Standing Order shall be deemed to extend to this House or its Members until the House has provided by Standing Order for such restriction.” This raises the question that our Parliament is expected to follow a particular pathway in which its default position is locked into the former colonial connection. This creates a dependence on practice and procedure in the Westminster Parliament for the resolution of issues not covered by the Standing Orders.
The absence of any indigenous or innovative regulatory provisions that are of the native soil as opposed to the continued reliance on the Westminster connection is a matter of debate.
Our Constitution at Section 55(3) provides that the “powers, privileges and immunities of each House...until so defined shall be those of the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom…”
While the thinking behind all of this might have suited the transition from a monarchy to a republic in 1976, it represents a significant reliance on the Westminster Parliament to be the fallback locator for anything that cannot be resolved locally.
This is an issue of consciousness that must be considered in terms of our evolution to a higher level of thinking about the identity of our institutions. The Westminster model in the United Kingdom has moved on from what it once was. It has adopted some Washington model techniques as regards scrutiny committees which were introduced in 1979 and we followed suit, after much resistance, to emulate that model for departmental joint select committees in 1999.
In the UK, there was also the Fixed term Parliaments Act 2013 which introduced fixed dates for elections (another Washington model example) with a parliamentary modification to permit exceptions for earlier elections thereby abolishing the right of the Prime Minister to request a dissolution of Parliament. Those exceptions are (i) the loss of a motion of no confidence by the Government, and (ii) a resolution passed with a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons for an early election (which happened in April this year in the UK).
While Westminster has moved on, our constitutions in the region have remained locked in a time zone of no change.
In the Eastern Caribbean, there have been rejections of constitutional reforms at referenda in St Vincent in 2009 and Grenada in 2016. Constitutional reform has also not been successful here despite the efforts of Patrick Manning and Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
There is a persistence of the Westminster-style model here, while knighthoods and membership of Her Majesty’s Privy Council arise for other West Indian political and judicial elites which creates a bipolar approach to regional constitutional reform.
As the protests against some of the measures announced in the 2017-2018 Budget reached to the doorstep of the Minister of Finance on the Divali holiday last week, one could not help but wonder about the personal challenges of serving in public office.
Protesting outside the homes of public officials is not a new phenomenon as this has been done before. However, the deeper story behind this is the expectation of citizens to have their matters addressed by public officials and, if not satisfactorily handled, they go to their homes. Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the late Malcolm Jones faced that challenge and now Colm Imbert joined them.
With the State now being less able to continue funding many entitlement programmes while resorting to unpopular taxation measures to support them, there is a looming challenge.
In 1970, the PNM adopted the Chaguaramas Declaration as a replacement for the People’s Charter as a response to the Black Power uprisings of that year. In presenting the document to the special convention of the PNM that adopted it in November 1970, Eric Williams laid out his vision for what he called “The New Society”.
According to the Chaguaramas Declaration:
“Economically, the goal should be the creation of a national economy, with decisions over the key sectors of the economy being made at home, with widespread popular participation and greater self-reliance by all groups in the economy, with a more equal distribution of income and with a greatly improved employment situation. There will of course still be a lot of trade with the outside world because of the small size of the country.” (p. 41).
This Williams model has guided public officials on all sides of the political divide for nearly five decades (whether they recognized it or not). The expectations created by this philosophy have bred a generation of people who firmly believe that their self-reliance is really state reliance.
The policies pursued by successive governments have all placed the State at the centre of economic activity which has bred a culture of state dependence. In facing those challenges in the 1988-90 period, the NAR government implemented a structural adjustment programme offered by the IMF.
The policies worked insofar as they turned the economy around and saved the country from economic destruction. Those policies did not fit into the core values expressed above in the People’s Charter and the social backlash was severe.
The NAR lost the 1991 general election. The PNM is facing similar challenges today and making every effort to avoid going to the IMF. The 2017-18 budget reflects a mix of free market policies akin to structural adjustment (eg, the proposed deregulation of the maxi-taxi sector) and a retention of state domination in key sectors (eg, continued transfers and subsidies for losing industries).
Can that cocktail avert social unrest? The “visit” to the minister’s home last week requires monitoring. It is time for a wider debate on the way forward and the time to do it is now. The country cannot continue to “kick the can down the road” because the problems have to be faced urgently.
The fear of losing office is always a major political consideration for any incumbent government. History is not kind to economic saviours who failed on the battlefield of electoral politics—like the NAR.
The Chaguaramas Declaration also said this in the paragraph after the one quoted above:
“Production will be carried out by three sectors: the Public Sector; the National Private Sector; and the People’s Sector. Foreign and foreign private capital will be useful adjuncts to meet shortages of resources in the three basic national sectors. The long-run goal is for the Public Sector, the People’s Sector and the National Private Sector combined to dominate the economy.”
Our current challenges demonstrate that this model has failed. We must change course. Can we?
The latest controversy to hit the local political scene has been the issue about whether or not the UNC ought to hold its internal elections for the post of political Leader earlier than scheduled.
Ever since the UNC started the process of having internal elections on a one-person-one-vote basis, the party has always (except for one instance in 2012) held its elections on a past-due basis after the term of office of the National Executive (Natex) and the political leader had expired.
Last Wednesday’s Guardian had an interesting report on page A7 about UNC MPs meeting to discuss the election date debate. Inside of that story there were varying comments about the history of the party and the intention of the framers of the UNC party constitution to separate the terms of office of political leader (three years) from the Natex (two years) and to hold those elections separately.
However, right next to that story was a box titled “History of UNC elections”. The story told in that box clearly contradicted all of the comments made in the report just next to it.
In fact, what emerged there was the fact that after the first one-person-one-vote election in 2001, there ought to have been a Natex election in 2003 and a political leader election in 2004.
Instead, both elections were bundled in 2005.
The highlight of the 2005 election was the fact that Basdeo Panday stepped aside as political leader and endorsed Winston Dookeran as political leader. However, Panday did not step aside as Leader of the Opposition and that was the source of all the difficulties that Dookeran faced during his short tenure as political leader. He eventually resigned the post in September 2006 when he formed the Congress of the People.
By giving up the post of political leader, there was no UNC political leader who could have sought to have those UNC MPs who joined Dookeran as COP MPs removed from their seats under section 49A of the Constitution.
The next UNC internal elections for the Natex were due in 2007 and the political leader election was due in 2008. Neither election was held on time and it was only after Jack Warner and Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj fought Basdeo Panday on this issue in 2008-2009 were both elections bundled again and held in 2010.
The only time that the UNC ever held any of its internal elections on time was in 2012. The political leader election of 2013 and the Natex election of 2014 were both bundled and held jointly in 2015. In many respects, the UNC has not held its elections in accordance with the timelines envisaged in its constitution.
The argument now is that the political leader election should not be held one year before it is due, while the Natex election is being held when it is due. The matter is to be decided by a congress meeting of the UNC that is to be held next Tuesday to discuss the Natex recommendation for it.
The most striking aspect of this controversy is the fact that a call for elections would normally be welcomed by potential challengers and they would be ready to respond. Instead, there are arguments about technicalities pertaining to who could and could not do whatever in relation to the holding of an early election for political leader.
If there are challengers they should have decided, by now, on who will be on their Natex slate(s) and they could step forward one year earlier than planned (if they had planned at all). Maybe those who are arguing about technicalities were not planning to challenge.
For those who may have been planning to challenge, Basdeo Panday had an old saying that he used to use on his political platforms to describe impending attacks from those opposed to him which was “Do them before they do you.” Did that happen here?
On September 12, 1973, Karl Hudson-Phillips resigned as attorney general in the Cabinet of prime minister Eric Williams. The two had not been on good terms for months before this. On September 28, 1973, Williams told a packed Convention Centre in Chaguaramas that he had made no arrangements to seek a further extension of his tenure as political leader of the PNM.
The PNM Annual Convention was adjourned and Williams became a recluse. The General Council of the PNM met on October 7, 1973, to put the process in place to elect a new political leader. It came down to two nominees, Karl Hudson-Phillips and Kamaluddin Mohammed, with Mohammed saying that he would withdraw if Williams were to reconsider his decision.
On December 2, 1973, when the PNM Convention resumed a motion from the floor was approved that a delegation should be formed to visit Williams to determine whether he would reconsider and return. He did.
Many who were known Karl loyalists deserted him that day and only a councillor from Couva, Desmond Baxter, stood up in the convention to argue that there should be no delegation and that the convention should proceed to elect a political leader. He was overruled and Karl was virtually left at the altar.
It would appear that in recent times within the Opposition UNC that a similar cold-feet condition has afflicted those UNC MPs whom Vasant Bharath has openly claimed are working with him and whose names he is not prepared to call publicly.
The issue of public declarations of support for those who seek to support challengers and then withdraw their support when the virtual political heat is turned on is an old phenomenon in our politics.
The difference today is that the major political parties now have direct elections for their executives on a one-person-one-vote basis. Kamla Persad-Bissessar has decided to offer herself for re-election, as political leader of the UNC, before the end of the minimum date on which her term would have ended.
That opened a firestorm of controversy inside the UNC with arguments about whether or not the party could regulate its business by fixing a date for an internal election—on time for the national executive and one year early for the political leader.
Last Tuesday, the Congress of the UNC approved the recommendation of the National Executive (Natex) to hold those elections on November 26 instant. Section 18 of the UNC party constitution says:
“The Political Leader shall hold office for THREE (3) years. All other elected National Executive officers shall hold office for TWO (2) years. They shall hold office until successors to their offices have been elected unless they resign or are removed from office prior to the expiry of their tenure or their offices otherwise become vacant for any cause.”
The implication of the language is that all office holders hold office until their successors are elected. That explains why political leaders and Natex members have been able to hold office way beyond the time for the holding of elections for their positions because they hold office “until successors to their offices have been elected”.
If the election is being held before the term of office expires and a successor is elected, then there will be a changing of the guard. The language is quite simple and the intention of the framers is quite clear.
In 2006, when Winston Dookeran resigned as political leader of the UNC in order to form the Congress of the People on September 10, it was easy for other UNC MPs to join Dookeran as COP MPs because there was no political leader of the UNC to write to the Speaker to seek to have the seats of those MPs declared vacant under the crossing-the-floor provisions of section 49A of the Constitution.
Is early resignation a Trojan horse?
Last Thursday, the Guardian reported that the Chairman of the Economic Development Advisory Board, Terrence Farrell, raised the issue of the priorities for development projects in the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP). One of the issues that he flagged was the question of why the proposed highway from Cumuto to Manzanilla was given a higher priority than the improvements to the Crown Point International Airport.
He reckoned that with the Government completing the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Sandals Group for the development of a Sandals hotel in Tobago the improvement to the airport ought to have had a higher priority.
But alas, Farrell has to face the gap between policy and politics. The two Tobago constituencies are solidly PNM-controlled as is the Tobago House of Assembly. The Toco-Sangre Grande seat together with its boundary seat of La Horquetta-Talparo are important pieces of the puzzle for the PNM to continue its hold on power by the time the next general election comes around. The highway would have been fairly advanced by that time, if not opened already.
Sandals will not materialize just yet and upgrading the airport in Tobago may happen later, rather than sooner. There is more bang for the political buck in these eastern constituencies of Trinidad than in the two constituencies of Tobago.
The scare suffered by the PNM in the 2016 local government elections that saw the party literally having to pull out all of the stops to controversially cite incumbency in a tied local government election in the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation demonstrates that there was PNM slippage in that area and a mega project like highway construction is an urgent matter demanding priority attention.
It might not make logical economic development sense to the chairman of the Economic Development Advisory Board.
However, it makes a lot of sense to the political handlers of the ruling party who know what they need to do in that area in order to give themselves the competitive edge in the next general election.
This kind of approach to policy-making has been part of our political model since independence.
According to the Guardian report by Nadaleen Singh last Thursday, Farrell said:
“The infrastructure that we are talking about is the infrastructure that supports diversification. When the Government has its PSIP with all the infrastructure projects it wants to do—in terms of prioritising the infrastructure projects, it must look and say, are these projects going to support diversification?”
The Government is not going to ask itself, as a first question, whether a project is going to support diversification. The first question that will be asked is whether there is political value in pursuing particular projects before getting to the question of “diversification”.
The ultimate sweet spot is for diversification and electoral marginality to coincide. Otherwise, electoral marginality will trump diversification.
In dealing with the raw politics of policy situations, one has to make the connection between policy decisions and political realities.
For example, the Government decided to increase its debt ceiling on December 1, 2015. What made that even more politically significant was the fact that the day before (November 30), the UNC had been granted leave to pursue six election petitions by the Court of Appeal. The connection was clearly there.
Others may have argued about the debt-to-GDP ratio, while what really lay underneath was that the Government had to be able to spend as it was preparing for a possible election year if the courts were to rule to vacate those seats in 2016, having conceded that there was an arguable case by granting leave to proceed.
Farrell’s frustrations are real. As an economist, like most economists, he would be perturbed about the decision-making on the PSIP.
However, in most of these decisions, politics simply trumps economics. Unfortunately, the country has suffered from such an approach.
Vasant Bharath made a tactical blunder last Wednesday when he announced that he would not contest the position of political leader of the UNC in the party’s internal elections on November 26 instant.
There were some MPs whom he said were supporting him, but in the end he never revealed any names and no one who is a sitting UNC MP ever came forward to publicly identify themselves with his cause.
Two Sundays ago, I wrote about the experiences of Karl Hudson-Phillips in 1973 when he had a number of PNM MPs who were supporting him to become political leader of the PNM in succession to Dr Eric Williams.
Williams made his move to announce that he was not seeking re-nomination as political leader and then he changed his mind. It was at that point that all the MPs who were supporting Karl receded from their earlier support and he was left high and dry with the exception of one councillor from Couva—Desmond Baxter.Fast forward 44 years and Vasant Bharath apparently suffered the same fate. He kept talking about all of these MPs who were purportedly supporting him and that he could not call their names. When the time came for nominations to close, he held a press conference to announce his withdrawal from the race.
That is where he and Kamla Persad-Bissessar separate themselves from each other. In 2010, she faced an executive and a party electoral machinery that was under the control of Basdeo Panday and Kelvin Ramnath and she knew it would not be easy to take on the UNC establishment in a contested election and win.
However, she did it and she won in a process that revealed that UNC voters had changed their minds.
Bharath had that opportunity and he decided to walk away. It would have been better for him to have taken on the current UNC establishment and voice his opinions openly about what could be done better in the party, rather than to complain about what he feared might happen.
Persad-Bissessar could have done the same thing in 2010, but she decided to challenge the founder of the party, Basdeo Panday. That was not an easy decision to make.
Bharath had a somewhat similar challenge in front of him last Wednesday. When many people thought that he was calling a press conference to announce his slate, very few imagined that he was actually calling a press conference to announce his withdrawal.
Even if he lost, he would have been able to pontificate about what he thought needed to be done and he could even have alleged that he was not comfortable with the outcome and could have kept his battle going for change. For someone who stated that they had been working among the party membership for the last year, walking away was the last thing to do.
That has now cleared the way for Persad-Bissessar to press the reset button in the party executive as her sole challenger, Christine Newallo-Hosein, does not have a slate.
The biggest surprise was the entry of Jearlean John into a leadership position in the UNC.
By accepting nomination for the position of deputy political leader she will bring to the party a level of energy and diligence to duty that will redound to its benefit.
The three deputy political leaders also provide a level of diversity that not even Basdeo Panday was able to accomplish given his own attempts at quietly supporting a particular candidate in the UNC internal elections of 2001.
The contest between Persad-Bissessar and Newallo-Hosein will have to be hard fought as nothing must ever be taken for granted in politics.
The party mobilization that goes with an internal election is always valuable for any political party and provides a time for renewal of effort. That will be the UNC task for the future.
Last Wednesday the Guardian editorial addressed the issue of more power for select committees. The editorial started as follows:
“It might be time to review the system of parliamentary select committees as it operates in this country. Under the Westminster system, these committees play a critical role, strengthening Parliament’s ability to hold the executive to account. However, the ability of these committees to enhance executive accountability will be limited unless they are accorded additional powers, such as making it mandatory to appear before them.”
This editorial was inspired by a report earlier last week that former EFCL chairman Arnold Piggott declined to appear before the Joint Select Committee on State Enterprises. Piggott’s refusal hurt the image of the Rowley administration. There is now word that he has had a change of heart and he will now appear.
The issue of strengthening the parliamentary committee system was addressed in the 1998-1999 parliamentary term. At that time, the proposal to amend the Constitution to introduce departmental select committees that would be given the power to scrutinize the service commissions, government ministries and departments was the topic du jour.
This was a fundamental change from previous practice where parliamentary committees were not as effective as they ought to be. The constitutional amendment was subsequently passed after much disquiet in various sectors of the society and became Act No 29 of 1999. The bill only required a simple majority in order to amend section 66 of the Constitution.
This was a reform of the parliamentary system that was designed to enhance its powers of scrutiny. It followed the scandal of 1985 when Plipdeco refused to appear before the Public Accounts (Enterprises) Committee and then Senator Lincoln Myers sat on the steps of the Hall of Justice for 40 days in a dawn-to-dusk fast.
The 1985 refusal of Plipdeco to appear had its mirror last week when Piggott also declined to appear before the Joint Select Committee on State Enterprises. This 1985 episode also helped to catapult the NAR to victory in 1986.
In 1985, there were some people in the society who described Myers’ fast as a “farce”. The struggle by people like Lincoln Myers in the development of parliamentary scrutiny should never be derided. The bill brought by the Panday administration in 1998-1999 was an organic continuation of that struggle insofar as the evolution of parliamentary scrutiny was concerned.
In the debate on the bill, Dr Keith Rowley, then an opposition MP, associated himself with the so-called “six wise men” who had come out in opposition to the creation of these committees. He concluded his contribution to the debate on February 24, 1999, by saying as follows:
“Mr Speaker, the note from the Chief Justice and his colleagues ends by saying that this action is a retrograde step and against the public interest. When the sitting Chief Justice of a country stands up and makes a statement like that, all you people in Trinidad and Tobago with ears to hear you must hear.” (Hansard, House of Representatives, February 24, 1999, p 574).
The then chief justice Michael de la Bastide as well as the other people who constituted the “six wise men”, namely former chief justices Sir Isaac Hyatali, Cecil Kelsick and Clinton Bernard, and former presidents Sir Ellis Clarke and Noor Hassanali were opposed to that constitutional amendment to create these departmental joint select committees. The fear at that time was that this was a threat to democracy.
Eighteen years later, the Guardian editorial is calling for more reforms to introduce mandatory appearances before these select committees when a summons is issued.
According to the editorial: “The intent, in making it an offence not to appear before a standing committee, is not to be punitive but to ensure accountability and transparency in affairs of the State.”
This is the Piggott effect.
Two Sundays ago, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan was elected political leader of the Congress of the People (COP). She defeated Sharon Gopaul-Mc Nicol by a margin of 416-168. A total of 589 votes were cast with two votes being spoilt and three votes being rejected.
Last Sunday, Kamla Persad-Bissessar was re-elected political leader of the United National Congress (UNC) with 20,328 votes and Christine Newallo-Hosein getting 114 votes and Chanda Bhaggan getting 45 votes.
The contrasts were extreme and confirmed that the COP has really lost a lot of ground from where it was ten years ago. On the other hand, Persad-Bissessar increased her vote count over her two previous victories which was a significant statistic in its own right. In her 2010 victory she got 13,932 and in 2015 she got 17,502.
In all cases the membership of the UNC had also increased. Her critics would have lambasted her if her numbers had declined in any form or fashion. One critic posted a tweet before all of the votes had been counted which said that she had received less than ten per cent support of the membership when it was more like 20 per cent of the membership.
The COP turnout was a major disappointment for a party that had grown exponentially from 2006 onwards. That growth got stunted in 2011 when Winston Dookeran decided that he would not seek re-election as political leader and there was a five-way fight for the leadership of the party.
That ushered in a period of decline for the COP as internecine warfare became the hallmark of the party’s affairs. That warfare continued right up to the eve of this recent leadership election that involved a court battle. Another court battle that awarded damages to some members was also appealed.
As a party that offered the country “new politics” there is a lot of work to be done to begin a process of healing. There are some who believe that there is nothing left to heal any more, while others believe that salvation is possible.
On Monday November 20, 2017, Shaliza Hassanali reported in the Guardian as follows:
“As for forming a coalition with the UNC, Seepersad-Bachan said, “At this point in time that question does not arise. The People’s Partnership, as you would have known…many years ago, in 2014, when I did go up for the political leader’s post I spoke about how we could have gotten the coalition politics right at that point in time. It was not taken on board. Unfortunately, the partnership came to an end.”
That is going to be a sore point for the COP going forward because what ripped the party apart was whether it should stay in a coalition with the UNC or go it alone.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar is not talking coalition politics in the aftermath of her victory. She is talking about the PNM being the enemy and her focus is on that. Last week Seepersad-Bachan said that she would be prepared to engage the PNM in dialogue.
Right away it is apparent that the COP and the UNC are not likely to come together anytime soon. The tale of two elections has a lot more to do with perceptions about the way forward for both parties as opposed to just counting the numbers of who voted in each election.
With different perceptions of the PNM emerging from both leaders, it seems unlikely that there will be any coalition between the UNC and the COP anytime soon.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about my perception that Persad-Bissessar had pressed the reset button in the UNC and she was moving to reorganize the party. Coalition politics does not appear to be on her horizon for the UNC, so it will be interesting to see how the COP will move forward in dialogue with the PNM and the UNC going it alone.
The failure of the House of Representatives to arrive at a consensus to enact the Anti-Gang legislation because of differences of opinion between the Government and the Opposition over the length of time for the sunset clause in the bill has raised, once again, the issue of the three-fifths majority.
Earlier this year, the Government and the Opposition were able to enact the Fatca legislation with the three-fifths majority in the House of Representatives by a 39-0 margin. Not this time on the Anti-Gang Bill.
At independence, during the Queen’s Hall Conference in April 1962, the Eric Williams government accepted a recommendation from the then president of the Bar Association, Hugh Wooding, for the model of the Canadian Bill of Rights 1960 to be adopted for the human rights provisions in our independence constitution.
One of the features of the Canadian Bill of Rights 1960 was the permission it granted to Parliament to enact legislation inconsistent with the guarantee of fundamental human rights and freedoms. Parliament is required to state its intention to do so and earn a three-fifths majority as well. The check and balance against the infringement is that a judge may overturn it if he/she deems it not to be “reasonably justifiable in a society that has a proper respect for the rights and freedoms of the individual”.
Because the infringement of human rights is at stake, the three-fifths majority is required. The sticking point in the Anti-Gang Bill was the inability of the Government and the Opposition to agree on the length of time for the sunset clause, either four years (the Government) or two years (the Opposition).
This issue of having to ask the Opposition for its support on certain pieces of legislation during the life of this Parliament has arisen because the Government does not have a three-fifths majority (25 MPs) in its own right. Only in the 1992-1995 (21-13-2), 1995-2000 (17-17-2), January 2001-October 2001 (19-16-1), April 2002-August 2002 (18-18), and 2002-2007 (20-16) Parliaments as well as this one (23-18) has there not been a three-fifths majority among the ranks of the Government side.
That reality has driven up the need for national consensus at a time of greater national political division since the 1990s because of the emergence of a properly functioning two-party system that has seen the pendulum of power swinging back and forth between the PNM and the UNC.
The full effect of the Wooding intervention at the 1962 Queen’s Hall Conference had not been felt until the 1990s and beyond when governments started being elected with smaller majorities that made co-operation with the Opposition a reality. That reality was a function of the emergence of a dedicated second party of substance to challenge the PNM in the form of the UNC after 1989.
The reality for the rest of this Parliament is that the Government will have to live with the idea of seeking the support of the Opposition on all special-majority legislation. Without a general election or some by elections in toss-up constituencies that picture does not have a chance of being changed any time soon.
The argument between the Government and the Opposition about who did or did not support whatever at the committee stage or the final stage on any legislation will always go on each time there is a disagreement.
Our system of government is not based on seeking repeated majorities by parliamentary consensus like some other systems of government, but rather seeking majorities by single-party domination or multi-party coalition. Additionally, the PNM is opposed to the coalition philosophy, while the UNC has been prepared to embrace it in the past.
When the time comes for consensus, our system is ill-equipped to handle it because no government wants any opposition telling it what to do and no opposition wants to give away its demands on any legislation.
On December 6, 2017, a group of unnamed judges were associated with an advertisement in the Newsday in which they supported the Chief Justice in an ongoing controversy involving his office.
They said in part:“It is unfortunate that the media often falls into the ‘trap’ of presuming that one or two or three judges speak for the bench.
The inescapable reality is that judges generally do not and ought not to speak to the press and protocol dictates that judges do not engage the media about the business of the Judiciary.”
The advertisement was signed “Group of Judges, Supreme Court, Trinidad and Tobago”.
This fact revealed to the public that the Judiciary is divided. This characteristic is not new.
Writing in the Sunday Express on February 13, 2005, in a column entitled “Regime Change Needed in Judiciary”, my UWI colleague, Prof Selwyn Ryan, had this to say about the Judiciary at that time:
“It is also clear that there continues to be a great deal of cronyism and jockeying for position within the Judiciary and that the brethren are as divided along ethnic and personal lines as they have been in the past.”
For those with insider information about the Judiciary, they will know whether these 2005 comments apply today.
The fact that a “Group of Judges” has chosen to go public with a statement that seems to contradict their own narrative insofar as they said that “…Judges generally do not and ought not to speak to the press….” is very instructive.
Taking an advertisement in a daily newspaper is engaging the press. The fact that this advertisement may have been placed by the Court and Protocol Information Unit of the Judiciary is even more alarming given that the advertisement itself said that “…and protocol dictates that judges do not engage the media about the business of the Judiciary…” which in itself is a challenge to the role of that unit in this matter.
The most disturbing aspect of this is what method of payment was used by the “Group of Judges” for this advertisement. Did they pay for this from their own pockets bearing in mind that they receive tax-free salaries that are guaranteed by the Consolidated Fund? Is this what tax-free judicial salaries should be used for?
In closing their advertisement the Group of Judges said:
“It is hoped that the false narrative referenced herein does not continue to perpetuate itself in the print and social media and by extension in the public domain.”
Surely the Group of Judges must have known that their statement would not end the controversies in the Judiciary, but would only heighten them. Also, they must be aware of the Reynolds Rules with regard to the right of the media to publish investigative material in the public interest because of the right of the public to know.
The Chief Justice finally broke his silence on December 15 after a stirring plea by the Law Association for him to do so. He said that the allegations against him were false.
The Guardian editorial the next day noted this as “a welcome development, despite the statement’s brevity”.
The Chief Justice may not realize it now, but the stories being printed about him are not going to go away.
His brevity and lack of engagement will only embolden the media to think that there is more to what is being said about him. Senior Counsel Martin Daly was particularly blunt about the Chief Justice when he spoke on CNC3’s The Morning Brew on December 15 and called on him to step down. Senior Counsel Israel Khan subsequently said that the Chief Justice should be shamed out of office.
For the Judiciary, this controversy will not go away as questions continue to swirl when only minimalist responses are being given.
With the announcement that the Electoral College is going to meet on January 19 instant to elect a new President came a media story that suggested three possible names—one from the PNM and two from the UNC. After that journalistic trial balloon produced varied responses—from people whose names were called saying that they had no interest in the position to the UNC saying that they have not had a caucus to decide on any nominee—we are now left to ponder likely nominees as nowhere among the media stories was the name of the incumbent President called.
Until people actually sign a nomination form consenting to being nominated, all of the rest is just speculation. It takes 12 elected MPs to nominate someone for the position of President. That means that unlike the last time the Electoral College met in 2013 there could be another nominee as the PNM currently has 22 MPs with the 23rd (Maxie Cuffie) currently on medical leave, while the UNC has 17 MPs and the COP one.
In 1997 there was a contested Electoral College secret ballot when ANR Robinson was elected and in 2003 there was another contested secret ballot when George Maxwell Richards was elected.
In 1977 the first Electoral College sitting was boycotted by the United Labour Front (ULF) then led by Basdeo Panday when all ten ULF MPs stayed away in protest. President Ellis Clarke who had become President on August 1, 1976, by virtue of the transitional provisions in the republican Constitution was elected in January 1977. He was re-elected unopposed in 1982 as the combined opposition of the ULF (eight MPs) and the DAC (two MPs) was too small to nominate anyone.
In 1987 President Noor Hassanali was nominated after a 33-3 NAR victory and in one of the only occasions where an incumbent President was re-nominated by a different majority party, Noor Hassanali was elected unopposed as President in 1992 with the full consent of all sides in the House of Representatives as both the PNM (21 MPs) and the UNC (13 MPs) were in agreement despite the fact they could each have chosen their own nominees.
In 2013 the PNM in opposition were unable to nominate anyone as their twelfth MP (Patrick Manning) was on medical leave from his service as an MP Anthony Carmona was elected unopposed.
With no signals being advanced that President Carmona is likely to be asked to serve another term, he will become the first President not to do so despite being eligible to continue. President Robinson had serious health issues by the time he demitted office in 2003 after one term.
The concept of the Electoral College came from the Wooding Constitution Commission’s 1974 Report in which they had proposed that their Electoral College ought to consist of parliamentarians and local government councillors and that a two-thirds majority would have been required to be elected with a default position of a simple majority where such a threshold could not be reached.
That proposal was rejected by the Eric Williams administration and the Electoral College that came into being only consisted of parliamentarians with elected MPs alone being able to nominate a presidential candidate.
In the situation that faces the country ahead of January 19 one does not know whether the Prime Minister will hold any consultation with the Leader of the Opposition to discuss a consensus candidate as was done by Mrs Persad-Bissessar when she was Prime Minister in 2013.
Although the Government has a majority and it can push its nominee through on a purely partisan basis, will that be best for the country at this time? Or will the 1992 model of consensus between Prime Minister Patrick Manning and Leader of the Opposition Basdeo Panday be better as they both agreed on a single candidate for President?
Last Wednesday the 60th anniversary of the birth of the West Indian Federation passed virtually unnoticed. What had been a great dream for many British and West Indian policymakers came into existence on January 3, 1958, with the arrival of Lord Hailes, the first Governor General of the West Indies, at the Port-of-Spain wharves.
He ushered in a most turbulent period in West Indian history as the unresolved battle over insular self-determination and regional unity was to play itself out over the next four years.
That the British Government had it in mind to grant independence to a new nation state that was to be called “The West Indies” was always on a shaky foundation given the recommendation of the 1938-39 Moyne Commission that had recommended the federal idea with great uncertainty.
Their 1939 recommendation was that federation was a laudable goal that should be pursued by His Majesty’s Government, however, the Commission was doubtful of its success because of the insularity that they had seen in the British West Indian territories that they had visited.
Between the Standing Closer Association conference that had been convened in Montego Bay, Jamaica in September 1947 and the enactment of the British Caribbean Federation Act 1956 by the British Parliament, there were many pitfalls that nearly scuttled the entire effort. Not the least of these was the task given to the Federal Capital Site Commission to determine where the capital of the Federation should have been located.
This difficult task had to be settled between Antigua; Barbados; Dominica; Grenada; Jamaica; Montserrat; St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla; St Lucia; St Vincent; and, Trinidad and Tobago. In the end, the capital was located in Trinidad.
When on May 31, 1960, the Jamaican Government announced that the electorate of Jamaica would be given a chance to determine whether or not Jamaica should proceed to its independence inside or outside of the Federation, the concept of federal independence was uncertain.
After the Lancaster House conference of March 1961 that discussed the issue of independence for The West Indies, the Jamaican Government kept its promise and held the referendum on the federation on September 19, 1961.
The result was a victory for secession from the Federation by a margin of 35,535 votes. JAMEXIT had prevailed and Eric Williams concluded that one from ten would leave zero. That put considerable pressure on Trinidad and Tobago and it too announced its departure from the Federation in January 1962. By April 1962 it was wound up and remains to this day a blip on the radar screen of hope for what life could have been like in a Federation of the West Indies.
Carifta and Caricom are perhaps the closest that the region has come to finding the holy grail of regional unity that has eluded it since 1962. It was an act of self-determination in Jamaica and the unwillingness of Trinidad and Tobago to accept the final revised offer from the Federal Government of 75 per cent financing of the Federation in exchange for 50 per cent of the seats in the Federal House of Representatives that ended the dream.
The tension between regionalism and nationalism has plagued the regional unity movement for decades. The political divisiveness within Caricom and the outward expression of that divisiveness at other international forums like the OAS and the UN is justified on nationalist grounds, while the regional conversation is treated like an inconvenient truth against a backdrop of never-ending rhetoric about the dream of political union.
It was not surprising that the 60th anniversary of the West Indian Federation passed virtually unnoticed last Wednesday. However, will the next West Indian generation have the benefit of possible political and economic union in the face of a changing global economy that is unlikely to be friendly to small nation-states still trying to carve their own niches on the world stage? We can dream.
For the third time in our presidential history, both a Prime Minister and a Leader of the Opposition signed the nomination form for a presidential candidate to be elected by the Electoral College.
On February 4, 1987, the then leader of the Opposition, Patrick Manning, co-signed the nomination form for Mr Justice Noor Hassanali together with Prime Minister ANR Robinson and a number of his NAR MPs who were elected in a 33-3 electoral victory in December 1986.
Hassanali was elected by the Electoral College on February 16, 1987 and was sworn into office on March 19, 1987.
Indeed, by Act No 1 of 1987, the Parliament had to make provision for the postponement of the dates on which the Electoral College could sit and nomination forms be submitted for the presidency owing to the closeness of the general election of December 16, 1986 and the date of expiration of the term of office of then president Ellis Clarke.
That postponement has permitted the President to be sworn into office in March of the five-year cycle for the presidency with 2002 being the only year when no such ceremony could have been held as there was no Speaker elected in the Parliament that attempted to assemble after the 18-18 tied general election result of December 2001.
On February 7, 1992, President Hassanali was again nominated on a bi-partisan basis as his nomination form was co-signed by then prime minister Patrick Manning and then opposition leader Basdeo Panday.
They were joined by the following PNM MPs: Kenneth Valley, Wendell Mottley, Keith Sobion, Augustus Ramrekersingh and Keith Rowley. The following UNC MPs also signed the form: Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Carl Singh, Raymond Pallackdharrysingh, Sham Mohammed and Hulsie Bhaggan.
After the boycott of the first sitting of the Electoral College in January 1977 by Basdeo Panday and his ULF colleagues when President Ellis Clarke was elected the first time, these 1987 and 1992 precedents where both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition co-signed the nomination forms for Noor Hassanali seemed to have settled the selection of nominees in a bi-partisan manner.
However, in January 1997, the UNC-NAR coalition government that had been elected in an early snap general election in 1995 nominated one of its ministers, ANR Robinson, as their presidential candidate.
The Opposition PNM refused to support the nomination on the ground that it would object to a sitting parliamentarian becoming the President.
The PNM nominated Justice Anthony Lucky as their choice and there was the first-ever contested election for the presidency which was won by Robinson.
He took office in March 1997 and served until March 2003 (one extra year owing to the inability of the Electoral College to meet in 2002).
Robinson was succeeded by Prof George Maxwell Richards who passed way last week. Prof Richards was the PNM’s nominee and he too faced a contested election against the UNC nominee Ganace Ramdial.
President Richards assumed office on March 17, 2003. He was unopposed for his second term which ended on March 17, 2013.
In 2013 there were no consensus signatures on the nomination form for President Anthony Carmona as the Opposition PNM had made an announcement prior to the presidential nomination day that their choice was Mr Justice Rolston Nelson of the CCJ. However, once the nomination process was complete, the PNM did not oppose the Carmona nomination.
The 2018 nomination of Madam Justice Paula-Mae Weekes has recalled the two consensus nominations of President Hassanali. Despite the bitter divisions between the PNM and the UNC in the parliamentary chamber and on the battlefield of T&T’s politics, both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were able to co-sign her nomination form.
This was a most positive development that demonstrated that consensus is possible between our main parties despite policy differences elsewhere.
On Tuesday January 23 instant, The University of the West Indies will honour the memory of its first vice chancellor, Sir Arthur Lewis, who also won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1979.
At the St Augustine campus, there will be a memorial symposium from 9.30 am to 3 pm, which will be followed by a Distinguished Lecture at 7 pm, to be delivered by Prof Stuart Corbridge, vice chancellor of Durham University in the United Kingdom.
Sir William Arthur Lewis (January 23, 1915—June 15, 1991) was a native of St Lucia who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1979 when he was serving as James Madison Prof of Political Economy at Princeton University.
He graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1937 with a Bachelor of Commerce degree (First Class) and later with a PhD in Industrial Economics in 1940. He also taught there and later resigned his position as a Reader in Colonial Economics to take up a chair in Economics at the University of Manchester in 1948 where he held the Stanley Jevons Chair in Political Economy.
In 1950, he published “Industrial Development of the British West Indies” in Caribbean Economic Review Vol 2, pp 1-61. In it, he wrote inter alia:
“Laissez-faire economic philosophy of British West Indian governments has been the principal obstacle to the industrialisation of the islands.” (p 34).
He went further to say in the same article:
“The islands cannot be industrialised to anything like the extent that is necessary without a considerable inflow of foreign capital and capitalists, and a period of wooing and fawning upon such people. Foreign capital is needed because industrialisation is a frightfully expensive business quite beyond the resources of the islands.” (p 38).
In 1955 he published a book titled The Theory of Economic Growth (London: George Allen & Unwin). In 1957 he became United Nations economic adviser to Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana’s first year of independence. He later served the United Nations as deputy managing director of its special fund before becoming the first West Indian principal of the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) in 1959 which had been established by Royal Charter in 1948. In 1962 he became the first vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies which succeeded the UCWI.
In 1963, he became Prof of Economics and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and later became James Madison Prof of Political Economy.
Another of his famous works, Politics in West Africa, published in 1965, offered a unique insight into the emergence of new states in West Africa that had recently become independent. He did not confine himself to English-speaking countries, but also probed those that had emerged from colonial rule under other imperial powers.
In relation to the political problems being faced by new states that were emerging in the post-colonial era after gaining their independence in the 1950s and early 1960s, Lewis had this to say:
“Plurality is the principal political problem of most of the new states created in the 20th century. Most of them include people who differ from each other in language or tribe, or religion or race; some of these groups live side by side in a long tradition of mutual hostility, restrained in the past only by a neutral imperial power.” (Politics in West Africa, p 66).
From 1970 to 1973, Lewis served as the first president of the Caribbean Development Bank and returned to Princeton after that as James Madison Prof of Political Economy where he remained until his retirement in 1983.
The UWI tribute to Lewis on Tuesday will be a most fitting memorial to a man whose work is still as relevant today as it was before he won the Nobel Prize for Economics.
Winding up the debate in the House of Representatives on the suite of legislation that included the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2006, the Police Service Bill 2006 and the Police Complaints Authority Bill 2006, then prime minister Patrick Manning said:
“I thank and congratulate my honourable colleagues opposite for sitting with us and arriving at modifications to the initial proposals that could meet with the approbation of honourable members on both sides. It is a historic day and while we would not expect that there would be a change in the crime situation tomorrow, what this certainly does, it sets the stage for better arrangements in the future and a Police Service in which the national community can have more confidence and levels of crime that would be more consistent with the national aspirations of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Permit me also to thank honourable members on this side, my colleagues for having been so patient in this matter and lending their support to this historic legislation. Thank you.” (Hansard, House of Representatives, March 27, 2006, p 114).
This was a clear recognition of the Government-Opposition consensus that drove the process to amend the Constitution and enact the relevant legislation to give the country a bright future to fight the scourge of crime.
The new process that was enacted met its first challenge when the very first nominee for the post of Commissioner of Police under these new procedures, Stephen Williams, was rejected by the Government of the day.
After an exhaustive process to come up with a nomination, the House of Representatives, on July 4, 2008, voted 22-10 to reject the presidential nomination of Stephen Williams with the vote being split along strict party lines.
The reality is that the process of the Prime Minister’s veto over appointments by the Police Service Commission for the Commissioner of Police was replaced by the will of the House of Representatives. In many respects, this was designed to resemble the Washington model of congressional approval for presidential nominees to high offices of state.
The Washington model is not easily inserted into our political process without some measure of modification. The transfer of the Prime Minister’s veto to the party line vote of the majority in the House of Representatives by simple majority needs to be reviewed.
The Government of the day can veto the nomination once they apply their majority to the vote as they did with Stephen Williams. On the flip side, there ought to be a safeguard to ensure that any person who is appointed should be approved by a three-fifths majority vote to ensure that there can be the likelihood of cross-party approval.
Three-fifths majorities provide safeguards in many legislatures to ensure that there is cross-party approval for measures requiring such approval. This can range from financing the Federal Government in the United States where 60 votes out of 100 are required to avert a Government shutdown to getting consensus on Anti-gang legislation in this country.
We are about to have a presidential nomination being made on the advice of the Police Service Commission fairly soon for the consideration of the House of Representatives for the post of Commissioner of Police.
Whether that nomination will be handled on a bi-partisan basis or there is a hidden political agenda to try to pitchfork a preferred political nominee into the position based on all of the leaking of names that has been going on, we shall see.
These days, there has been a renewed spirit of cross-party consensus that has emerged from the cross-party endorsement of the presidential candidate to the revival of the Anti-Gang legislation by the Opposition who reached out to the Government with a plan of action to revive the legislation in the House of Representatives. A three-fifths majority can diminish any perception of police political appointments.
Now that the Police Service Commission is being questioned publicly about how it arrived at its recommendations for the positions of Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Police, T&T’s political culture took a new twist in the direction of transparency for Service Commissions.
Having for long been the bastion of secrecy in how they arrive at their decisions to appoint, promote, transfer and discipline public officers in general, the Police Service Commission was put on a different plane back in 2006 following the enactment of a suite of legislation then. That suite included a constitutional amendment that inserted a modified Washington model of having presidential notifications ratified or refused by the House of Representatives for the appointments of members of the Police Service Commission and for the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners of Police.
The clear intent of the 2006 constitutional amendment was to keep the political directorate out of the process until the very end when elected MPs would get to vote on whomsoever was nominated by the President on the recommendation of the PSC.
In the pre-2006 format, the Prime Minister would have indicated his/her objection, behind closed doors, to any proposal from the PSC. An appointment would either have been made or rejected based on that opinion depending on how long it took the Prime Minister to respond.
With Prime Minister Rowley now being put in the position of an observer, like the rest of the public, he desperately reached out to Leader of the Opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar last Thursday to have a pre-sitting meeting between small teams from the Government and the Opposition to discuss the nomination of Deodath Dulalchan by President Carmona for the post of Commissioner of Police.
His motivation for seeking the meeting was his concern that the public domain was “awash” with commentary about Dulalchan. Persad-Bissessar hit back saying she would not attend such a meeting, but rather wanted a Special Select Committee of the House of Representatives to hear from the PSC about how they arrived at their recommendation.
The insertion of open and more transparent transactions in the process of Service Commissions is the way to go. Some possible reforms to be considered for the future should include (i) the nominees of the President being brought before the Joint Select Committee on National Security for questioning before being voted in the House of Representatives, and, (ii) that vote should be elevated to a three-fifths majority to ensure higher level consensus.
The current Government has been adamant that it wanted to settle the issue of a permanent Commissioner of Police and stop the repeated acting appointments in that office that have been consistent since 2012.
In seeking to accomplish this, they introduced some regulations in December 2015 that ensured that only citizens of T&T could be appointed. Having accomplished that goal, they appear, on the surface, to be uncomfortable with the citizen who has been recommended for the position of Commissioner of Police, Deodath Dulalchan. Sometimes, you need to careful about what you whish for, you just might get it !
Concurrent with all of the public controversy being generated by the media about Dulalchan comes word that the Police Service Commission has been short of one member for almost a year. So with the great anxiety to settle the appointment of a Commissioner of Police pushing the process, little attention was paid to the fact that the PSC itself was deficient of one member.
That is nothing new in T&T’s Service Commission sector as it recalls a similar reality in the Judicial and Legal Service Commission where judges were being appointed by a JLSC that was one member short.
The real issue is whether the political directorate wants Dulalchan or not. Over to the House of Representatives vote. What will it be ? Yea or nay.