Sunday, December 23, 2012

Guest commentary: Max's Swansong (Reproduced from NEWSDAY)

By SUZANNE MILLS - Sunday Newsday
Sunday, December 23 2012

The President writing to the Prime Minister on behalf of a group of protesters is not a tremendous development for the country, but a dangerous one.

By intervening in this matter to represent the Roundtable on Section 34, President George Maxwell Richards has set in train a course of action which challenges the very essence of our Constitution.

What the Roundtable and Richards are doing and suggesting is we create a precedent where any group can lobby the Head of State because it feels aggrieved by the Government, the Highway Re-route movement is a case in point, and the President uses Section 81 to demand answers on their behalf from the Prime Minister, then turns his relationship with the Prime Minister into a greater three ring circus by releasing the letters and by going to court for an Order of Mandamus.

Is this what Section 81 of the Constitution intended? Did its framers wish to make the Prime Minister subservient to the President and make the head of government accountable to the population by way of the intervention of the President? Did it intend for the President to descend into the political arena? Does Section 81 give Richards the right to challenge the PM in a court of law?

What the Roundtable is proposing is a series of constitutional confrontations.

The President acting for interest groups demands information from the Prime Minister. That correspondence is made public, and the President decides to pursue an Order of Mandamus, which means that another arm of the state, the judiciary, is now involved in determining who has more power, the head of state or the head of government.

I don’t know how the President fell into this trap, how he could dream of permitting his office to be dragged into a political and constitutional drama.
Now the Roundtable feels it has an ally in the President, or at the very least an errand boy, because it is demanding that the correspondence between him and the PM be made public in the so-called public interest. So essentially, he is reporting to them.

If he does release the letters, his relationship with the Prime Minister will for all intents and purposes be at an end. How can she be expected to hold weekly meetings with a man who may breach confidence? 

Or if he takes her to court as Dr Rowley is advocating, how can she function as head of the executive when she is threatened by an Order of Mandamus and by an unelected President who has become the voice of lobbyists. The President is not the representative of the people. 

I also believe, however, that Dr Rowley is backing himself into a corner in this very perilous political game. Dr Rowley’s triumph this week was short lived when he realised that even if the President had written to the Prime Minister, acting under Section 81 of the Constitution, he was not required, nor was it is his interest to make public the contents of the correspondence. 

Thus, Rowley’s subsequent argument that the normally confidential information be made public in the public interest, when the only interest here is Dr Rowley’s, shows only his eagerness to embarrass the government. 

I have already argued that such breach of confidence is not in the public interest whatsoever, because it would create tension between head of state and head of government.

Thankfully, neither the President’s office nor the Prime Minister’s seems willing to compromise protocol by making these letters public. 

We do not know what the President asked the Prime Minister. We do not know the contents of the Prime Minister’s response and whether the President is satisfied that he has received enough information and that the matter rests there.

It is clear that the Roundtable expects him to report back to them. Richards is now their representative, their man on Section 34?

President Richards is on his way out and it would be a pity for this constitutional bacchanal to be his swansong. He assented to the legislation. He was party to the process that led to the early proclamation of the controversial section of the legislation.

He is now representing a group whose majority leader gave his assent to Section 34 in the parliament, but who intends to squeeze as much political blood as possible out of this stone, a stone that he helped carve and is now willing to go to any lengths to gain political points, lengths which include undermining the constitutionally established authority of an executive and elected Prime Minister.

The President should have known better than to get involved. Now what?

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai