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When the PM was prime ministerial
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar looked, sounded and delivered in a prime ministerial manner her nomination of Justice Anthony Carmona to be the next President of the Republic of T&T. And I dare say that the Prime Minister has not seemed prime ministerial too often in the recent past.
Interestingly middle-named, Thomas Aquinas, Carmona is a very good choice in the particular circumstances in which it has become apparent that the President of the Republic has to be seen as someone above the political fray and be able to rise above the differing forms of power plays that are contested with much vigour in the public space.
Justice Carmona is not known to have been politically involved; his career on the bench has been publicly without negative controversy, unlike his former colleague who jumped from that exalted position to the centre of the political gayelle.
Like President George Maxwell Richards, Carmona’s mixed ethnic background is likely to favour him in the constant controversies about race and politics, and avoid him being dragged into one of those unseemly and dishonest wars. In addition to being a member of the local bench, Carmona has had some international experience as prosecutor in The Hague and appointed judge at the International Criminal Court.
He is also reported to have done some ground work for that court with the man who first advocated it, former President and Prime Minister Arthus NR Robinson. But, of course, the presidency has its own challenges, especially for someone who is still very actively involved in day-to-day life though operating in a space reserved for judges.
Nonetheless, the discipline and thoroughness of the judge and the ability to remain arms length and dispassionate will serve him well; statesmanship is acquired in the job over years. Carmona’s suitability apart, the major burden of this column is to point to the Prime Minister fulfilling her mandate to nominate someone for the position in a politically enlightened and culturally acceptable manner.
She must surely have got something of a bump in the political ratings for what has been one of her best approaches and execution of a major prime ministerial responsibility. It would seem that the Prime Minister approached the task through the floating of a number of names in the media to gauge public opinion.
The names ranged from deeply political potential candidates from Wade Mark, Roger Hamel-Smith and Winston Dookeran, through retired Judge Amrika Tiwary, Carmona, former chairman of the PSC, Kenneth Lalla, Senior Counsel Karl Hudson-Phillips and BP executive Robert Riley—whom, I was told, was at one time the front runner; it is said he was approached and declined the offer.
The names of retired diplomat and former head of the public service, Reginald Dumas, and Chief Justice Ivor Archie were also floated as possible nominees. According to the Prime Minister, she consulted widely on the potential nominees, even said she gave consideration to the proposal of CCJ judge, Rolston Nelson—he must have surely been the most legally experienced and qualified of the names put forward.
The difficulty in nominating Nelson was that his name was circulated by the Opposition; the Government could not have been seen to cede such an appointment to Dr Rowley. In fairness to the Prime Minister and her party, the Constitution does not require her to consult on the nomination of the person, so she did more than what was required.
Even Opposition Leader, Dr Keith Rowley, who is as cynical as they come, said he could not find fault with the Prime Minister after his meeting with her on the subject. In her first public statement on the nomination process, the Prime Minister emphasised the issue of “diversity.”
That could have meant that she was conscious of herself as being Indo-Trinidadian as head of Government and an overwhelming number of Indos in the Cabinet; that at the level of state boards, certainly as chairs of the major state enterprises, Indos predominate.
I take, too, her statement on the need for diversity as a recognition that Indo-Trini-owned companies probably receive the large chunk of the Government’s contract pie. She was therefore saying to the country that she could not go and compound that situation in her choice of nominee for the presidency. Carmona, of mixed ethnicity, became the politically correct choice.
But beyond those matters, the greatest impact on the Prime Minister taking constructive political action was the message she received and paid attention to from the flogging her leadership got in the Tobago House of Assembly election.
Notwithstanding the empty, arrogant and geo-politically narrow outbursts of the UNC spokesmen, led by the party’s chairman, the likes of Rambachan and Ramlogan, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar understood that she could not constrict the party and Government into even narrower geo-political, ethnic and cultural confines by her choice, whatever the extremists among her party membership and clan may have been saying to her.
Smart politicians take cognizance of the power that flows out of the ballot box.
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