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Presidential transition controversies

Sunday, February 18, 2018

One month from now, Trinidad and Tobago will have a new President. As the arrangements for the transition are being put in place, one can only hope that there will not be any controversies associated with it.

There is one potential item that could become controversial, which relates to the desire of the House of Representatives to investigate the circumstances surrounding the decision of the Police Service Commission to select Deodat Dulalchan as its choice for Commissioner of Police and Harold Phillip as its choice for Deputy Commissioner of Police.

With the Special Select Committee of the House of Representatives embarking on a task that will seek to go behind the notification made by President Anthony Carmona and interrogate those members of the Police Service Commission who remain from the initial group that made the decision, the potential for controversy exists.

The Government had the opportunity to dispense with the notification on February 2 instant, but chose instead to accept the advice of the Opposition and appoint a Special Select Committee. That committee has until March 31 to report to the House and the current acting Commissioner of Police, Stephen Williams, has been extended in office until April 1.

President Carmona is demitting office at midnight on March 17 and President-elect Paula-Mae Weekes will assume office later in the day on March 18 (one presumes that Senator Christine Kangaloo will be sworn in at midnight on March 17 to act as President until Madam Justice Weekes is administered her oath of office on the afternoon of March 18, unless President-elect Weekes is privately administered the oath at midnight and then takes another oath for public consumption later on March 18).

The potential for controversy in the matter involving the presidential notification relates to when the House of Representatives plans to take a vote on it. Will they dispense with it one way or the other before President Carmona demits office, or will they seek to let this carry over into the term of the new President?

It would be better if the matter is settled before March 18 and not left hanging after the President has left office. This will recall the controversy involving the appointment of the late Justice Cecil Kelsick to be a member of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) in March 1987, mere days before president Ellis Clarke demitted office.

On that occasion, president-elect Noor Hassanali had previously resigned as a member of the JLSC at the time of his nomination for the presidency. The controversy arose over who was going to fill that vacancy and when.

President Clarke insisted that he would not leave office with a vacancy pending in his name. Prime Minister ANR Robinson suggested that President Clarke should not trouble himself with filling the vacancy, as it could have been filled by the Acting President Michael Williams during the five days between Clarke’s departure for London and Hassanali’s inauguration. Hassanali was very clear that he did not want to fill his own vacancy.

Clarke appointed Kelsick on March 14, 1987 and left for London that night. Hassanali assumed office on March 19 1987 and Michael Williams never got the chance to make the appointment.

The response of Prime Minister Robinson was to appoint the Hyatali Constitution Commission. What is going to happen to President Carmona’s notification if it is not voted on by March 17? Will it still be valid or will someone attempt to argue that it has lapsed?

Will the Police Service Commission get to do another recommendation for the new President under a different chairman so that the process will not have to be redone, just another notification with another name? Could Carmona’s notification be recalled by an Acting President?

We are in uncharted waters over handling a presidential transition and a pending presidential notification.


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