Carmona’s coming

By Raffique Shah
February 17, 2013

Raffique ShahPresident-elect Anthony Carmona will assume office in a few weeks amidst great expectations by a large number of citizens. Ever since the judge was named as Government’s choice for Head of State, people from all strata of the society have been effusive in endorsing his nomination. Across the political and social spectra, it seems that everybody loves President Tony—if I may be familiar with His Excellency the way we were with President Max and President Robbie.

As I familiarised myself with the new President through the eyes of persons who claimed to know him well, I could not help but conjure images of a superman of sorts. His impressive CV alone makes him eminently qualified for the position, although academic achievement and vast experience, by themselves, do not necessarily make someone suitable for the presidency.

Ideally, the Head of State should possess a sharp intellect, integrity beyond question, and his stature would be enhanced if he has remarkable leadership qualities and commands the respect of all citizens. Add to these demanding standards the common touch and native wit, and, I guess, we have the perfect President. I don’t know that any of our past presidents embodied most or all of these qualities, and it would be unfair to demand them of president-elect Carmona.

From all accounts, though, he does not fall far short of these standards. Given the nature of this society, if there were any skeletons in Carmona’s cupboard, by now they would have made their way onto the front pages of the newspapers or gone viral on the social media. Instead, we have learnt that besides being bright, he sang calypso, plays mas’, and as he moved up the professional and social ladders, he remained accessible to the ordinary man.

Carmona will be sworn in as President on March 18 with much goodwill from the citizenry, and great expectations among many. The question he must have asked himself, and I ask, is what do people expect of the new President? Why is there all this hype over his taking office in contrast to 2003 when, with little fanfare, Max Richards succeeded Arthur NR Robinson? I think the transition means different things to different people.

UNC members in the ruling coalition view Richards as a “PNM President”. In fact, last Christmas, party chairman Jack Warner launched a scathing attack on Max, saying he would leave a “shameful legacy” when he demitted office, and that he was “a puppet of the PNM”. Neither the Prime Minister nor any of his Cabinet colleagues censured Warner for this broadside against the Head of State. One can deduce, therefore, that they agreed with him.

Since Carmona was selected for the presidency by the ruling coalition, will he be seen as a “UNC puppet”? This question is as tasteless as it is baseless. But it is perfectly legitimate, given the way Warner (and other ministers) dragged Max into partisan politics. I should think that the president-elect would be highly offended by the mere suggestion that his independence is compromised even before he takes the oath of office. But I shan’t be surprised if many in the UNC see him as “we boy”, as someone whose loyalty must be to the party that put him in the highest office.

I need add that ever since she announced Carmona’s candidacy, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has maintained the statesman-like stance she should in commending him to the nation. Nothing she has said suggests that she has breached Carmona’s independence. Moreover, in promoting the transition, she thanked President Richards for having served the country well. It’s a pity that she appeared to have condoned a serious assault on his integrity on the eve of his departure.

Apart from the potential for mischief from those who believe they own him, president-elect Carmona will face an even more daunting challenge from persons who are opposed to the Government. In the face of a number of “missteps” that bordered on violations of the spirit of the Constitution—Section 34, matters relating to national security and independent commissions and appointees—such persons see the new president as someone who must rein in a runaway horse.

In my view, the interventions they seek are just not possible, which is why the outgoing office holder failed to act. Besides constitutional constraints that limit his powers, the President cannot and ought not to fight people’s political battles. Sure, if the Government commits flagrant breaches of the Constitution or common law, the President could register his displeasure and try to persuade the Prime Minister to do what is right.

But what if the PM refuses to conform? I don’t think the Constitution empowers the President to fire a prime minister. The electorate alone has that power. So those who expect president-elect Carmona to rescue them from what they may see as oppressive rule, think again. Not even Superman can move the mountain that is an elected government.

Still, a besieged people live in hope. And Carmona’s coming has ignited a lot of hope in the hearts of many citizens. What do I want the new President to address? I think he should examine his powers as Commander-in-Chief of the nation’s Armed Forces. Over the years, politicians have quietly subverted the President’s constitutional authority. For example, only the C-i-C ought to approve of promotions at the highest levels of the Defence Force, and bestow rank.

For some time now, the Minister of National Security has seized that role — which is an unhealthy development. At all times, the TTDF must be seen to be above politics. In the UK, the Defence Secretary makes such announcements, but always says, “…Her Majesty The Queen has approved to appointments (or promotions) of….” A word to the wise.

12 thoughts on “Carmona’s coming”

  1. Yes Raff, you are correct that the qualities of a sharp intellect and an intact integrity would arise over academic qualificationa and experience. I believe the plus here is he knows the law and it would be difficult to see him fumbling in the decision making process. With respect to the politicians, beit government, opposition and the wannabees, Carmona would always have to think bigger than today and exercise the social responsibility he is entrusted for our fledgling nation. I believe he will do well.

  2. Since Carmona was selected for the presidency by the ruling coalition, will he be seen as a “UNC puppet”?

    Carmona is above the political fray and will serve the nation well. Besides the role of the President of the Republic in any vibrant democracy changes over time. His influence (behind the scenes) in re-shaping the Constitution will auger well for the future. Even first President Sir Ellis whose influence in forming the Consititution is clear; said that the Constitution is essentially a failed document, that needed to be changed in light of current times.

  3. Once more folks , this is as fine an article , as I have ever seen ,within recent times , especially at it relates to prevailing political / social realities , in our tribally charged , underachieving nation , T&T ,and so , I say ,well done Uncle Shah.
    I myself do not know our President elect , from Jack Rabbit, but maybe , slightly remember him , as an energetic, much younger Public Prosecutor , a few decades , ago when I was a member of the historically maligned ,’boys & gals ,of gray, and Blue bunch,’entrusted with protecting/ serving ,our nation.
    Incidentally, I also remembered another ,sprightly state lawyer in , present day DPP,turned Judge , and eventual ,failed politician,Uncle Volney,as he was unceremoniously ,kicked out from Cabinet , some say , once his services, were no longer required-Section 34 debqcles , and such being the case ,a la,convenient ,fall guy,and one time Caribbean immigrant, native!
    You know folks ,’Socio- Political Animal,’as I am myself, I always find it quite amusing however, when folks naively , claim , that they hate politics, or don’t care much for most aspects of the media.
    In the course of such nonsense , I often remind them ,of a cliqued truism ,that ‘politics is everything,’or that 98% ,of the opinions ,they sprew, from their jaws, were formulated ,from the pens, typewriters, mouths , computer keyboards, and brain trust, of agents across the media.
    Let’s just say , dat it takes political savvy ,to survive this long , and so successfully , yet not create a negative paper trail , ( so to speak)as our President elect has, and mucho Kudos ,to him.
    Much to the -obvious -great joy of ‘Her Majestick ,Queen K,’ Judge Carmona ,turned down one of the most sort after positions available ,for any global citizen, (as an ICC judge )who happen to be a Lawyer today.
    Trust me , when I say this , as I have seen a few elections to select a judge , to one of those premier ,international tribunals,of which he was destined to go.
    Hey guys,that ‘mickey mouse , high school/PTA like/Presidential selection charade / break dance /phoniness,’ we witnessed , just recently , in and out of Parliament ,as played out ,between Speaker Mark, Papa Rowley , and the over zealous ,UNC blokes , as well as , well chosen , co opted ,4th estate agents , that likewise ,wanted Uncle Camona to be their president , pail’s in comparison.
    We wish him well, but fear that he might not get electricity , or basic plumbing for a month ,in his Oresidential mansion, should he dare, to incur the wrath ,of any these guys, via an unpopular , independent ruling – thank you very much Professor Richards,for your stellar service, to your country , as our President.
    Let the ‘braying Donkey,’ ( for want of a better word ) desecrate your sterling character,with typical idiotic , derogatory ,and yes Uncle Shah-I concur – crass , yet spurious labels, amidst silence from his leader, but we the people,appreciate your role , (along with dear wife)and patriotic service.
    Let’s hope that our New president , is the final ingredient that’s needed, to push our stumbling country along that partway ,to concrete ,Sustainable development, so elusive, amongst too many countries , nestled across the Global South.
    Hopefully ,during the new President’s stewardship, we can one day see some love given to our other local, and regional judges, with the eventual eradication ,of the anachronistic ,and costly ,British Privy Council ,as this translate’s to full elevation, by T&T , of the domestically housed , Caribbean Court of Justice.
    Maybe ,the day would come , when our President , will transition from a mere political figure head , that appear to be always compelled ,do the bindings of his respective government of the day,or soley patronize ,one narrow, disgruntled group,as expected.
    This can only come about , when the people elect’s him,or her , and not some cunning ,Political leader of a party.
    We know this won’t happen , and why, but another subject ,for a different occasion.
    Otra VEZ, great article , Uncle Shah!
    Long live the people of Trinidad and Tobago, and the Republic of T&T, Si?

  4. My sister, who is much smarter than I am, convinced me recently that I should read Raffique Shah’s articles. I have enjoyed the three I have read so far.
    I am impressed with the selection of President elect Anthony Carmona and wish him a long and successful presidency.
    Our Presidency will only be influential in shaping the course of our society when the wider population has a stake in the election of our President. President elect Anthony Carmona has to abide by the dictates of the Prime Minister as is constitutionally provided. I must admit that I am biased towards the American system of government where members of congress are not cabinet members and the President has the final say.
    I think it is time for our parliamentary representatives truly represent their constituents by being full time representatives and not full time cabinet members and part time parliamentary representatives. We elected them to represent us and they should remain in their constituencies throughout the workin g week with the exception being when they have to attend parliamentary sittings. We should then dispense with the current system of local government, a total waste of time and money. I will maintain the office of Prime Min ister who will con tinue to preside over the cabinet. The President will then have the final say in matters which require his assent. He will have full veto powers.
    I am extremely pleased with the President elect. My choice was former Chief Justice Michael De Labastide.

  5. “I am impressed with the selection of President elect , Mr Carmona, and wish him a long and successful Presidency.” Mr C.
    So does most of the rest of the nation , and hence the reason ,as to why ,he was selected,in de first place.
    He appears on the surface, to be apolitical, which really is naive thinking , by most who wish to believe so.
    What I do know is that ‘Her Majestick Queen K ,’advisors , and handlers , are presently doing back flips , and toasting champaign ,to their earthly gods ,in her local Buckingham palace , as she essentially ,dodged the bullet , of having to choose from one of the other unpopular choices ,that were conveniently floated , for our consumption/ to test the waters.
    The people ,in not too subtle fashion ,appear to be saying ,at every turn -be it the insignificant recent THA election, and now this Presidential choice- we want our leaders , to be reflective of us ,as an ethnically diverse , and politically fractured nation.
    So you MR C, in contrast to most of dem UNC controlled PP folks , adore the American system,huh? You enjoy seeing a President having to almost walk naked , and beg like a kid, as they attempt to cajole, overzealous ideologues ,on both sides of the isles , to confirm his cabinet officials ?
    You enjoy , those Right wing Judges, and Liberal ones , who interpret the laws of the land,and or Constitition ,based on their political leanings, my friend?

    Speaking of your much adored America, can you remember a US Supreme court bloke ,by the name of Justice David Souter? If memory serves me right , he was selected by GH Bush ,and was expected to continue in his Right wing tradition , according to the dictates of the Republican, but he flipped the switch , and has sided , when inclined ,with the Liberal wing of the court, and how funny.

    I only mentioned this to say, that sometimes, in de words of my late , and extremely wise Tobago Grand mom, ‘what you see , ain’t always what you get,’and so Auntie K , and party ,should be forewarned, as they ,just might be in ,for a few surprises, as our President elect , might turn out to ‘be his own man.’ Know whatI am saying MR C?
    Just hope , for Judge Carmona sake , he did not ‘bite off more than he could chew,’when it come’s to de folks ,who presently rule de political / and economic roost, hmmmmm?
    If the eventual fate , of one of his former colleagues , turned politician , and Justice MInister, is an indication as to how he game is played in T&T, then it might not be too late for him to still take up that initially proffered post ,with the more tame ICC. Just kidding!
    We wish our country well.

  6. “But what if the PM refuses to conform? I don’t think the Constitution empowers the President to fire a prime minister.”

    Technically Mr. Shah is wrong. President Robinson fired Mr.Panday when he was a sitting Prime Minister in the 18-18 tie. As a sitting Prime Minister Mr Panday did NOT lose the election, it was determined by the President that Mr Manning should hold the reigns of power (what a disaster that was). The only reasonable option the President had was to go to the popular vote and then say to the public, we live in a democracy and as such the UNC gather a high amount of votes and should remain in office. But that was not to be, such was his disdain for Bas. So Presidents can determine the future and their power and influence should not be underestimated, they do meet with the PM weekly….

  7. That’s an interesting comment because that 2001 results not only yielded the tie of 18-18 seats but Panday was the sitting Prime Minister who I believed mustered about 20,000 more votes as well in that said election. It was one man i.e. ANR the sitting President that made that decision of firing Panday. If my memory serves me right he (ANR)justified his decision making as a moral one. Raises eyebrows indeed for a man who has the power even when he is not elected by the people.


    Aaaahaaa, and so we say Checkmate T&T! Nuff said , as to possible allegiance , re this seemingly , insignificant subject, as to , overwhelming adoration of Uncle C, our first ever – allegedly -Apolitical President,& thank you very much comatose Trinis , for allowing yours truly ,to try and figure out, this here ,Win/ win,Neo strategic move, by Uncle Bas’s, well learned ,protege.
    So let de Dr Rowley’s of de world,Chif guru de la PNM camp,continue to underestimate , ‘Her Majestick Queen K,’de facto head of ‘Triumphalist Nation,’ but some ,much wiser than yours truly say , they do so ,at their own peril.
    Let me add, one of the well tested truism , the savvy amongst us , have come to recognize,which I de Political Animal , extraordinire , would loudly proclaim. It is ,that -‘ spouses matter.’
    History have shown, that many of the major players across the globe , would not have reached the pinnacle of succes they did , without that Rock – male ,or female -Justice Camona alluded to , during this here elevation, to national political prominence.
    Let’s take big brother Pax Americana , por ejemplo. FDR , is on Mt Rushmore, but without Elenor Roosevelt , he would have been a convenient side show, a far as socio political stardom.
    Without Hillary, Bill Clinton , aka ‘America first Black President,'( to quote delusional Nobelist Toni Morison) might have remained a low end, Arkansas Professor, and state lawyer,with 50 mixed race ,illegitimate kids ,to show for his efforts.
    Had Barrack Obama not marry Chicago’s own Mitchelle , but instead ,some floozy we heard so much about ,from well documented ,oats sowing days , at Columbia University, or worst yet , a half caste, like himself ,from Hawaii, well you and I know, that he would be dreaming of the Whitehouse , just like that neglectful Kenyan Papa, he alluded to , so eloquently ,in his Best Selling memoirs.
    Pakistan murdered ,Ex President Zia’s daughter,Bennizia Butto , after partying , and frolicking around in Europe , and America , during her well publicized educational forays, returned home ,and settled for an arrange marriage, to one of Pakistan’s elite families.
    The rests , as we know is history , in this high caste figure , evolvement into Mr 10 % , during her reign, and further bolstering ,of the negatively laced image / reputation ,of yet another corrupt South Asian fiefdom, as he today sit’ s on the Islamabad Presidential throne, after , her convenient assassination.
    The hottest topic in T&T today , outside of our President elect elevation, is de possible Faux Paus, once more ,of our government, where accused Queen Maker in Chief , turned Minister of National Security ,Uncle J, is trying desperately -and failing , one might add-to convince us , patriotic ,political transparency advocates ,he did not get into a symbolic bed ,with former Police ace ,with Mervyn Cordner ,a close confidant of Randy B,to revive the much publicized ,Flying Squad unit , to tackle runaway T&T crimes.
    You remember them of course , and if not , you should , for they were responsible for the convenient , extra judicial murders ,of hundreds, of chiefly Afro Trinis, alleged criminals,in the early to Middle eighties.
    Let me add,in de interest of full disclosure , that I knew de Fox , along with his family , quite well- having served ,under him , as a young buck ,way back in ‘dem short pants , boys/ gals in Grey ,& Blue National Security days,’at his residence, and other quarters.
    It always had me a bit concern, that 98 % of the criminals murdered ,were only of folks , of Kinky head nation. Nuff said on this – thank you very much ,Scots Drug Report, for exposing part of de T&T , neo tribal , genocidal puzzle, and dehumanizing treatments of Afrikan folks, who even up to today , can’t dare claim victim hood , like other unmentionables.
    I say all this to really say,again folks-spouses matters ,people, and therefore, neo tribal T&T, is no exception, hmmmm?
    I luv this land, but do you?I have confidants , that we can make it to the next level , as more good folks , are scattered across our wonderful Republic, than the evil ,selfish, corrupt , decisive, and destructive creatures, who often get too much media. It’s a beautiful day!

  9. Hi Neal, my love for the American system is restricted to the appointment of cabinet members and the operation thereof. The President, with the assistance, advice, concurrence of the leader of the majority party in parliament, will appoint cabinet members, they will report to the President who will be an Executive President elected by the voting population. Presidential candidates may not belong to any political party, this election will be separate and distibct from the general elections.
    Appointment of Judges, senior public servants(PS,etcc.)Commissioner of Police will be done by the President on the advice of the various services commissions. These commissions must be adequately staffed and funded and must work efficiently so that appointments are made expeditiously.
    I firmly believe that parliamentary and local government representatives should be full time. Parliamentary representatives shoiuld not be cabinet members, they should be in their constituencies improving the facilities and conditions for the people who elected them. They and local govt reps could form a cabinet for the constituency. They should be given professional staff(Lawyers, Architects, Town Planners, Medical personnel, etc..) They should be given a budget based on the needs of their constituency.
    Areas like highways, education, national security, agroiculture, law,etc will be for the cabinet.
    Our current suystem is not working. I hope the reframers of the constitution will propose drastic changes in all aspects pof governance. I hope President elect Anthony Carmona’s term will be the last as currently constituted.
    On the issue of President Robinson’s appointment of Patrick Manning instead of Basdeo Panday my view at the time and still is that the sitting Prime Minister should have been allowed to continue in office.

  10. Mr.C there are no perfect system of governance. The American system of governance is an abject failure. America is in a downhill economic slide, partisan politics have stifled anything that is good. The tea partiers hope that Barack would be a one term President but it did not happen. The political gridlock in America is appalling. The Republicans control the house and therefore could choose not to pass any legislation, therefore making governance difficult for Obama.

    The current system of governance in TnT has not entirely stop government from moving forward. That is to the benefit of the citizenry. How a nation should be govern will always be a subject of debate well into the future, political appointments will always be viewed as not good for the nation. But Mr. C that is the nature of power. Power under the West Minister system is centralized from the Prime Minister Office, the most powerful organ of administration. One may say that it is an office for a dictator and the only safeguard is the 5 year election. Until the process of governance is “fleshed out” in the public domain I am not eager to Adopt the American system of governance….it is a system that has not worked effectively (at least at this time in history).

  11. I am not advocating a wholesale adoption of the American system. I experienced it first hand for the last twenty years. I am advocating a system where parliamentary representatives and local govt representatives are in the field, their constituencies on a full time basis with the exception of when they have to attend parliamentary sittings. I want my representatives to advocate for those who elected them. Look at the conditions of our secondary roads, look at the amount of garbage all over the country, look at the wastage of water, pipes leaking in some communities and no pipe borne water in others. I can go on and on, the current system needs to be tweeked. No one is looking for perfection but what currently obtains is not delivering the goods. Let the majority leader, after discussions with the President select a cabinet. The current upper house of senators should be dispensed with. Let us have a unicarmeral parliament. In the American system as you well know, both houses and by extension, both parties have a say in the selection of thye cabinet. My proposal will allow the President and the leader of the majority party to select a cabinet.

    1. Under the present administration things have improved considerably especially in rural communities. To satisfy the quest for experts the “permanent secretary position” was created to work in the various government departments. This position was set up to inform the incoming minister on the “modus operandi” of that department.

      I do agree with you that the government needs to go back to a decentralized form of governance that would provide services to the areas in need regardless of who is in power. The PNM only fixed the areas where their supporters lived, that model was wrong and saw part of the nation receiving goods and services, while the rest being punished.

      This government is moving back to strengthening the local government. That means money can be given to the local government to build roads and drains, working in conjunction with the Member of Parliament. That was the model that the first Prime Minister Dr. Williams used to address rural communities. It worked then and it is working again under the PP. Every community receiving directly a certain sum to address it needs regardless of political affiliation.

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