Powers he does not have

By Raffique Shah
October 04, 2016

Raffique ShahThe unseemly public spat between President Anthony Carmona and Prime Minister Keith Rowley, if it gets any nastier, could bring both offices and office-holders into further disrepute, and add to the list of public offices, officials and institutions in which citizens have lost or are losing confidence.

We can take it as fact that based on the structural political divide in the country, at least half the adult population believes that Dr Rowley is wrong, that he is lying. We should not be ashamed to admit that most people judge politicians not on facts or evidence adduced, but on partisan politics, whatever the issue or whoever happens to be under scrutiny.

In this confrontation between the President and the PM, it’s no different. What are the facts? Mr Carmona admitted to having asked National Security Minister Edmund Dillon to meet with him to discuss matters relating to national security. He also asked Mr Dillon to bring along his advisers.

President Carmona claims he informed Dr Rowley about the meeting on three occasions, and Dr Rowley consented. The PM denies this, saying he only knew of the meeting when Mr Dillon informed him, and he did not know what was down for discussion.

I ask: was Mr Carmona acting within his constitutional remit when he summoned such meeting? The answer is no. The President has no authority to summon or invite any minister to discuss with him the Government’s policies or programmes, or, in this case, national security issues.

Some persons might argue that as Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Force, the President is empowered to summon or give orders or instructions to senior officers of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force. That is absolutely incorrect. The Commander-in-Chief is titular head of the nation’s armed forces, not executive commander.

Indeed, and many people may not know that the President in that role may even wear a military uniform befitting his honorary rank. Thus far, no president has exercised that right and we have been spared the masquerade. Sir Solomon Hochoy, as governor-general after Independence, used to wear an elaborate outfit, complete with braids and the colonial “cork hat”, at Independence Day parades. He also rode a horse as he inspected the troops.

But all of this is purely ceremonial, part of the pomp and ceremony of the military, nothing to do with command and operations.

Mr Carmona, as a former judicial officer with considerable experience, must know, or ought to have known, that by accepting the presidency, he surrendered his rights to intervene in the politics of the country the way other citizens do.

We can cuss the Prime Minister or any other minister or public official, tell them how to do their jobs and what we expect of them. He cannot. He must at all times be seen to be above the mud-wrestling in the political “gayelle”.

It seems to me, though, that for all his references to “powers” during his inaugural speech, Mr Carmona does not understand the many powers he does not have, or the few he does. Either that or he does not care about constitutional limitations imposed on the presidency.

In the instant issue of the meeting he held with Mr Dillon, it matters not if Dr Rowley lied—politicians are expected to lie—Mr Carmona ought never to have asked to meet to discuss what appear to have been national security concerns. He should have discussed them with the PM at their statutory weekly meetings.

I am inclined to believe that the President has decided to take the unconventional route and deliberately overreach his authority. The last time I wrote about him was when he formally welcomed Venezuela’s President Maduro and proceeded to raise with the latter, in the presence of the media, the matter of illegal guns coming from that country to ours.

That was undiplomatic in the extreme. Since then, the President has, in public, discussed matters such as trade, investment and education, all way outside his remit, with other visiting ministers and diplomats who had gone to him to present their credentials or make courtesy calls.

Last week, at an unprecedented media briefing at which he entertained no questions, he stoutly defended the $1.4 million purchase of fine wines in customised bottles that bore the presidential crest and a glaring error (“Presidential House”).

Having noted all these irregularities on the part of the President, I do not think that the Government should take any measures to have him removed from office. At a time when institutions seem to be falling apart, the last thing we need is a catfight between the Government and the President.

Let President Carmona be—for as long as he is comfortable in the castle of his sins.

(Dedicated to my friend and comrade, Allan J Alexander, who passed on last Saturday. He was a class act in a society whose superstructure is riddled with crassness. Rest in peace, Bro.)

5 thoughts on “Powers he does not have”

  1. I wonder if this is one of the reasons the deceased Patrick Manning was seeking to establish the office of an Executive President? He was very much interested in occupying such an office.

  2. One of the characteristics I have learnt early on in life was to be a productive citizen you need to be politically aware and conscious of your surroundings. Needless to state I do appreciate that skill set.

    One of the interesting characters of T&T is ANR former PNM, DAC and NAR. He witnessed a revolution in 1970 when T&T was independent and in 1990 when it was a Republic and we had a president as part of the constitution. ANR himself had the distinction of being a PM as well as being the titular head of state. In fact he took a bullet as a sitting PM in 1990.

    We tend to be hung up on the diplomacy that is expected of a President i.e., being a figure head and to be less involved in political affairs be it national, regional or international. Is that easy to do? Can one imagine if ANR was President at the time (1990) would he not be agitated to do something for the good of the nation just as he displayed at the Red House in 1990? I think the ‘cultural DNA’ would kick in automatically. http://www.guardian.co.tt/lifestyle/2016-10-12/%E2%80%98cultural-dna%E2%80%99

    When the current President solicits an interview with Dillon does this show concerns he has of crime in the nation and the need be pro-active i.e., not usurping authority of the government but to get a pulse of the current happenings? In other words be cognizant rather than wait to be reactive

  3. The President at times has been concern about the excessive criminality in the nation. As the first citizen in this exhalted office he deserves much respect. President Max was known to get drunk and wine on women at carnival time a true grass roots man. No one said he brought the office into disrepute.

    ANR Robinson was known at times to be at odds with Panday. Once a standoff lasted for 56 days (the same amount of days Choudhry was held captive by Speight) regarding the appointment of 7 unelected candidate for Parliament. Robbie felt it was too much. Panday stood his ground stating that the constitution allows for it. Robbie back down,but Robbie got even with Panday when there was an election tie, in a high drama that threaten to cause civil unrest the government was given to Manning, the rest was history.

    Differences between the Office of the Prime Minister and the Presidency will emerge from time to time. Those differences stem from the restrictive functioning of the Presidency based on the West Minster system of governance. The Presidency can be like to the ceremonial role of the Queen except it comes with term limits. The Queen in the British Monarchy held sway and political influence sometimes over the Prime Minister. Tony Blair quickly realized that the Queen could get rid of him. She held the deck of influence that ran deep into the British governance system.
    Our president does not hold such sway or does he.

    Personally I believe the role of the President should be expanded instead of being limited. That role could be none political except when called upon to attend to political matters. For instance raising funds for various charities. That is a none political function. Orphanages, scout, diabetes foundation, cancer research funding, child abuse programs, sick kids, reading awareness month etc. He should be allowed to host at least 4 fund raising dinners per year. The money collected used at his discretion for the various charities…..

  4. “Can one imagine if ANR was President at the time (1990) would he not be agitated to do something for the good of the nation just as he displayed at the Red House in 1990? I think the ‘cultural DNA’ would kick in automatically.” Trini RawOils.

    When I read this comment ,by our foreign based ,not too sly fox- Trini RawOils, I was somehow reminded of the phrase, ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’
    So do I take it Trini Raw oils , you love the Global Statesman, , in ANR Robinson again, even though he refused to accord power ,to what he concluded was dat Morally repugnant -‘Fahhah of Your Nation,’in Basdeo, during the tied , 2001 election? Just checking.


    If that’s the case , then you are a better man , than said vindictive Basdeo, for the bastard did not even have the decency ,to attend the late PM/President’s States funeral, so angry , and full of hate , was he, over the slight.
    To hell with escapist thoughts about ‘doing good for the nation,’ and ‘cultural DNA ,’ as possessed by the Castaria Kid , ANR. Such idle thoughts , are nothing short of escapist indulgences, that is carded to get us nowhere.

    Here are however bigger questions to chew on:-

    1. If ANR was President, and not our Muslim President Noor Hasanali, would former T&T Horse Police / Football Goalkeeper , turn criminal Islamist , in Lennox Phillip, aka Yasin Abu Bakr , of 1990 attempted Coup fame , give ANR , a similar heads up ,as to his proposed 1990 criminal/Coup plans , so that he too , could conveniently be out of the country?
    2.If ANR was not born in Tobago, but instead, a Trinidad enclave , such as San fernando, Siparia , St Anns , or Couva,would he have died , without ever receiving , any form of justice?
    Disingenuous weasel!

    Let’s cut through the chase , and get to the nitty gritty of this matter , re El Presidente Cameo , and his new political enemies. His predecessor , Professor Richards , was kicked to the curb , because some political idiots , preferred to characterize him, as a PNM political stooge , all because, he had a backbone, and decided against signing unconstitutional laws , that the tribe attempted to slip through the cracks, at de dead of night.
    In addition to all that your leaders placed on the table , in support of his successor Justice Carmona, it is not lost on many ,that having a wife that fitted a certain mole , was deemed a positive, to his political benefactors- and no the aren’t concern about her education,as an economist, either.
    Based on his seemingly erratic stewardship thus far , it is fair to say ,that those who touted this argument , are vindicated, ehhhh?
    Ain’t surprise that this does not sit well, with the present regime- who would prefer to have a President whose allegiance is beyond question.
    Hey folks , there is a distinct possibility .that some where in a future blog , you read where Neal said, El Presidente Cambeo, ain’t fit to be President, simply because he has a wife ,who belongs to- what Pappa Deffy Eric referred to , as -de a recalcitrant tribe.

    Let the record show that I said no such thing.
    Here is the deal . If the President truly cares about crime , there are a few things he can do, and here they are:-
    1. Beg back for his old job as an Appeal court judge, where he can continue to legislate from the bench , like so many.
    2. Resign and run for office.
    3. Start an NGO Advocacy Organization, and make crime reduction/ eradication , it’s prime mission.
    4. Resign ,and put in motion a gold of eliminating our present ceremonial Presidency, in favor of an Executive type- then if such work out , throw his hat in the ring,where he would run against 98 year old Basdeo Panday.
    His job at present , is no different from that of Queen Liz of England. Enjoy your pay, entertain , and await the PM , to give him the occasional political briefings , and Bills to sign. Anything beyond that is political interference , and worst yet,unconstitutional.
    Stay vigilant people! , and ‘beware of wolves in sheep clothing.

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