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PNM picks retired judge, UNC wants ex-diplomat
In less than a month the country will have a new President.
January 19, 2018 is the date set for a meeting of the Electoral College of Parliament to elect a new President of T&T.
Although the term of office of President Anthony Carmona comes to an end on March 19, under the Constitution an election must be held no sooner than January 18, 2018 and no later than February 19, 2019.
There has been a link between the government’s inaction on allegations against the Chief Justice in the wake of what has been described as “serious allegations” and the President.
Senior Counsel Martin Daly and Israel Khan have both argued that the Government may not have wanted to intervene in the matter, because the President who does not have the best relationship with the Government, will have to appoint a Chief Justice if Archie is removed.
The Government has argued that there is nothing in the public domain that will cause the trigger of section 137 of the Constitution, for the Prime Minister to go to the President to set up a tribunal under section 137.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bridgid Annisette-George, who is responsible for the holding of elections for President, has informed Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar that she had set the date for the “convening of a meeting of the Electoral College for the purpose of the election of a President,” as January 19, 2018.
A copy of the letter from the Speaker to Persad-Bissessar obtained by the T&T Guardian quotes the speaker as saying that the date was selected “in an effort to ensure that this office fully complies with the deadlines set out by the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago and the Electoral College Regulations.”
Carmona was elected to the office of President on February 15, 2013 and received his instrument of appointment on March 18, 2013.
That term of office expires on March 19, 2018.
Under the Constitution the Speaker as the person responsible for holding the election must announce the date of the election in the gazette not less than 21 days or more than thirty days In advance of the day chosen.
The T&T Guardian understands that the UNC is discussing their nominees for the position. Among the names being considered by the party are those of retired head of the Public Service and long serving diplomat Reginald Dumas as well as retired High Court judge Gladys Gafoor.
Well-placed sources told the T&T Guardian that the PNM’s pick for the post is retired CCJ judge Rolston Nelson.
Nelson was the longest serving judge on the Benches of the Caribbean Court of Justice and retired in May this year.
He was appointed chairman of the Board of the Unit Trust Corporation in August.
Nelson was hired by Angostura Holdings Ltd (AHL) to investigate a sexual harassment claim against its chairman, Dr Rolph Balgobin. The board subsequently dismissed the claims brought against Balgobin.
THE ELECTION PROCESS
The Electoral College is a unicameral body comprising members of the Senate and the House of Representatives assembled together.
The College is convened by the Speaker is governed by the Electoral College Regulations 1976, made under section 28 (4) of the Constitution which states that the Electoral College may regulate its own procedure and may make provision for the postponement or adjournment of its meetings and such other provisions as may be necessary to deal with difficulties that may arise in the carrying out of elections under this Chapter.
Nomination papers for persons to be elected must be signed by the Candidate for the election as President and by twelve or more members of the House of Representatives and delivered to the speaker at least seven days before the election.
In computing the seven day deadline for the receipt of nomination papers, Saturday, Sunday, public Holidays as well as the first and last days are not included.
On receipt of the nominations the Speaker will subsequently send a letter to all members of the electoral college inviting them to attend the meeting and identifying the candidates.
During the election, one or more of the proposers of every candidate is allowed to speak for fifteen minutes on the merits of the candidate. The text of the speech to be given must be submitted to the the speaker for approval 24 hours before the meeting of the College.
If there are more than one nominee, a poll is taken during the meeting.
A quorum of the electoral college under the constitution is 10 Senators and 12 other members of the House of Representatives.
Voting for the President is by secret ballot. The candidate who is unopposed or who obtains the greatest number of the votes cast shall be declared elected. If there is an equal division of votes for two or more candidates the Speaker exercises a casting vote.
Carmona’s rocky relationship with Rowley
Carmona was the choice of the then government under the leadership of Persad-Bissessar and in his inaugural address struck a chord with citizens when he declared “Under the Westminster form of governance, there are parameters within which I must operate. Powers you think I have, I do not,” but he added pointedly: “Power you think I do not have, I do,” he said to a roar of approval from the crowd.
He said under section 81 of the Constitution the Prime Minister is mandated “to keep the President fully informed of the general conduct of the Government, and at the President’s request, to submit information which respect to any matter relating thereto.”
But his relationship with the current government led by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley would turn out to be rocky.
In 2016 the Prime Minister sought legal advice on a meeting which the President had with National Minister Edmund Dillon.
Senior Counsel Martin Daly, in his advice to the PM, stated that it was “constitutionally improper and inappropriate,” of the President to have called Dillon to the meeting.
Daly’s opinion was that the President had no power to invite a Minister to discuss issues under his portfolio without reference to the prime Minister. He said “the office of the President should do nothing tending to undermine or which could be perceived as undermining the authority of the Prime Minister.”
Under section 80 of the constitution the President’s contact with members of Cabinet is the Prime Minister.
But the President insisted that PM Rowley knew about the meeting with Dillon. He said he had advised the PM of his intention to meet Dillon not once but three times and that Dr Rowley had given his prior consent and approval.
Issues about the purchase of wine from Italy and the Presidential crest on bottles of wine also surfaced but in his defence the President said “there is no corporate branding or advertisement on the wine bottles of a supplier” and it is used strictly for official functions of the Office of the President.
He said the wines with the crest and seal “can be monitored and audited so as to prevent theft and disappearance,” and the wines cannot be “commercially sold, exchanged or be available to the public outside of State functions and events.”
There were also issues over a $28,000 housing allowance which Carmona was receiving even while living in state assigned accommodation. The President said the money was used to offset costs while he was living in Flagstaff which flooded when it rained and which was not fit for occupation.
He said he instructed that the allowance be stopped when he and his family moved into the cottage in May 2015.
The term in office was also marred by questions raised in the Auditor General’s report about a discrepancy of $2.6 million, Carmona said that was merely an administrative or classification error. He said when the Office of the President was alerted to the discrepancy, it sent a comprehensive response.