President of the Republic, Paula-Mae Weekes, recently gave two interviews to Hema Ramkissoon of Guardian Media and Ria Taitt of the Trinidad Express. These interviews have raised interesting issues about the constitutional powers of and limitations on the office of the President.
The Express, somewhat kindly, stated that President Weekes ‘has marked her crease and intends to bat within it’. I will be respectfully suggesting that she has marked her crease in some wrong places.
As the game of cricket is no longer of interest to many, it must be explained that on a cricket pitch where the bowler and batsman contest, there are lines, known as creases, marked on the pitch at specified places. One purpose of the crease is to define the territory of a batsman.
We must all be thankful that President Weekes has shown no tendency to stray into the constitutionally improper activism displayed on occasion by her predecessor.
However, I will be respectfully suggesting that she is tending toward the other extreme, a state approaching lassitude, in her dealings with the Executive.
As a result, she has disturbingly marked her crease in the wrong place concerning the convention of regular meetings with the Prime Minister, which gives life to the requirements of section 81 of the Constitution. This states that: “the Prime Minister shall keep the President fully informed concerning the general conduct of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Secondly, is she avoiding her solemn duty to advise and warn the Prime Minster when the office of Presidency has notice of an act or omission considered to be unwise or not in the public interest? In this case we are looking at the continuing failure of the Prime Minister to make any decision one way or the other regarding section 137 of the Constitution.
Regarding regular meetings with the Prime Minister, members of the discerning public are troubled that the President has revealed a paucity of the supposedly regular meetings. Significantly, President’s House attempted to dilute a statement that there had been agreement to meet twice a week.
In a nutshell, the current situation is this: The meetings are not regular “because various schedules, including periods out of the jurisdiction, wreak havoc with the schedule.”
This seems a clear breach of the convention or practical arrangements in support of section 81 of the Constitution.
Sadly, also, the excuse offered for lack of regular meetings betrays the lack of seriousness with which the two top office holders regard a constitutional duty. There are many unkind comments one can make about the superficial excuse of schedules, including the penchant of top office holders for travel. Simply put, if the Prime Minister cannot find the time to meet her regularly, the President must insist that he does.
It also does not cut it for the President merely to follow events in the mainstream and social media, as the President says she does. That can be no substitute for also receiving official information from the Prime Minister at regular meetings.
Moreover, the Government is constantly saying that the media is disseminating ‘mischief’. Is such alleged mischief to be the source of the President’s information about the general conduct of things in our Republic?
My prior intimation that the President knew the full extent of the turmoil in the Judiciary was confirmed by the following answer of the President to Taitt’s insightful questions.
“I am familiar with the genesis of the issues, the course they have taken, the various agendas at play, the personalities involved, and the positions of the parties on those issues, and while I hope that I have the respect of the parties involved, I do not think that there is any chance that my advice, warning or caution would have any salutary effect at this stage.”
The President understands the heft of office. Assuming that the players in the Judiciary would sneer at the heft of the office she now holds, would it be right to shirk advising the Prime Minister that it is poor governance to keep the country waiting indefinitely for a decision on section 137?
Surely it cannot be so—not with all her intimate knowledge?