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The nomination issue
When the news arrived Monday evening it was over 95 minutes later than originally scheduled. The 4.30 pm delivery was pushed to 5.30 pm and eventually, at 6 pm, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar began speaking, announcing ten minutes later that Justice Anthony Carmona was Government’s nominee for President.
Some might have considered the press conference delay less than an auspicious start to the situation. But so far Government has handled the hurdle—what appeared to be a constitutional bar—concerning Carmona’s qualifications. The COP, which had lobbied for ex-leader Winston Dookeran, accepted valid arguments that the appointment of a sitting parliamentarian could fuel perception that the independence of the Office of President would be compromised.
Former partner MSJ, usually a stiff critic of Government, brimmed over with welcoming Carmona’s nomination. Even the Opposition PNM was supportive—despite subsequent events. PNM’s proposal of Judge Rolston Nelson would hardly have got airborne without the signatures of 12 MPs as required by law. In seeking Government consensus on the proposal, PNM signals were that the party lacked numbers to make the proposal solo.
There was silence from PNM MP Patrick Manning’s direction to queries that his signature wasn’t available. A spokesman said Manning “didn’t know anything about that.” He was, however, quite visible at Skinnner Park’s Calypso Fiesta and his constituency’s fete. Several Opposition PNM MPs also stressed they weren’t in PNM’s loop on the Nelson proposal.
After PNM officials welcomed Carmona’s nomination, the party’s subsequent letter concerning his eligibility sent mixed signals on its position indicating PNM hadn’t fully scrutinised the situation before commenting—and embarrassing officials who first supported the nomination.
The seasoned MP Colm Imbert—rather than PNM’s legal experts who brought up the issue—went in to bat to clarify the position, spinning the letter as a move to ensure no challenges arose later and stressing PNM has no intention whatsoever to challenge the nomination. On whether the issue has compromised Carmona’s ability to be sworn in as President next month— around March 18—Imbert said Wednesday:
“First he must be nominated as was done. The electoral college must meet and elect him. There’s no need for a ballot since he’s unopposed. Then he becomes President-elect and has no authority until the incumbent demits office and Carmona is sworn in. “Any challenge to his authority can come at any time—before the electoral college meets or before swearing in. But PNM isn’t mounting any challenge and anyone who does has to be in possession of all the facts.”
Imbert added: “On the few times we spoke I found Justice Carmona very socially conscious. That’s what I like about him. He has a genuine regard for society’s disadvantaged. He’s always come across to me as very humble—a real person, no pretence or attitude. When you take that combination of positive personality, combined with academic and legal achievements, then I think he’s an excellent choice. We’ve done our part. If there are issues, that’s for Government to resolve.”
PNM is awaiting Government’s legal opinions on the issue which were requested and which will include details of Carmona’s residency status. It remains to be seen if, after receipt, anyone—outside PNM—challenges the nomination. Over Carnival, the nomination may be a mere footnote for clinking glasses before next Friday’s election of T&T’s fifth President, expected to be a 10-minute meeting.
Carmona’s pronouncements from the bench—a view which would have kept him on the cutting edge—seems to indicate he’ll be a strong, fair, level-headed leader. His replies to a 2011 International Criminal Court questionnaire lends interesting insight into his principles, modus operandi and outlook including on politicians.
With the nomination arising during Carnival and Government on a tighter footing since its PNM Tobago licking, whether or not national issues are checked properly, warnings heeded and governance appropriately handled may all be part of the measure of whether—or perhaps just how much—T&T is a superficial Carnival society or whether much-needed growth is on track.
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