Sunday, March 17, 2013

Guest commentary: Presidential challenges

President-elect Justice Anthony Carmona (third from left) sits with his wife Reema (second from left) son Christian and daughter Anura, at their home in Flagstaff St James. NEWSDAY photo
As the country prepares to inaugurate its fifth president Monday, there are challenges being left behind by outgoing President Prof George Maxwell Richards and new challenges to be faced by President-elect Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona.

At the top of the list of challenges that will form part of the transition will be the appointment of four members of the Integrity Commission to join current chairman Ken Gordon, whose term will expire in November 2014. 

The issue of the President exercising his discretion to make these appointments on the eve of his departure became quite controversial in the closing days of the Richards presidency as there was a clear intent on his part to address the matter before he left office.

The upshot of that was that he declined to proceed once the Prime Minister wrote to him advising him to leave the matter for his successor on the ground that the controversies of the past and his own difficulties in finding people to serve on the Commission in the past were enough to make him hold his hand. And hold his hand he did.

Unlike the late president Ellis Clarke who asserted his presidential powers up to the very end of his tenure in making a substantive appointment to the Judicial and Legal Service Commission mere days before his term ended, and thereby incurring the wrath of prime minister Robinson in March 1987, President Richards chose to let the current appointments on the Integrity Commission lapse.

There are many challenges facing the Commission, not the least of which are the appeals to be heard in the Gladys Gafoor matters (the constitutional motion and the judicial review). The issue of any disciplinary tribunal proceeding against her has now dissolved itself based on the end of her term of office together with the other commissioners. We shall see how the Appeal Court will rule in these matters.

Concurrent with all of this is the matter of the police file on the misplacement of the personal firearm of the chairman of the Integrity Commission Ken Gordon being passed to the Director of Public Prosecutions for directions on whether or not to prosecute Gordon.

The media have adopted a somewhat muted approach to this matter and one newspaper that has earned for itself a reputation for being fierce advocates for high standards in the performance of duties of public officials took the unusual step of trying to defend Gordon even before the police had passed the file to the DPP.

One suspects that the question of the misplacement of a personal firearm by one or perhaps two high public officials in the present Government might have been met with more sensational headlines and sustained media pressure than has been the case so far with Gordon.

The importance of this matter is that if the DPP decides to give directions to have Gordon charged with an offence, he may have to temporarily step down from sitting as chairman of the Integrity Commission pending the outcome of the matter. If the DPP gives his decision after November 2014, then there will be no challenge facing the commission. The new President will have to keep an eye on this.

Another challenge facing the new President will be the issue of whether he wishes to appoint new independent senators. There is a lobby that has developed that suggests that these senators have been appointed for a five-year term and that they are untouchable.

Such a view is an affront to the powers of the presidency and our new President must be afforded the courtesy of deciding whether he wishes to make his own appointments to the Senate in the only category that is reserved for his discretion. 
One would hope that all independent senators will offer their resignations to the new President for him to decide on the way forward.

President Carmona comes to office through a process that was conducted in an open and transparent manner that included a meeting with the Opposition to discuss the matter that was widely publicised. 

No other Prime Minister has ever adopted this approach to choosing a President and hopefully this presidency starts with the kind of reformist tone that will allow the office to move to new heights.

Unless there is constitutional reform to change the character of the office of President, it is a quasi-ceremonial one in which the primary exercise of power is on the advice of ministers with stated exceptions for acting after consultation or in the deliberate judgment of the President.

The premise of our system of government is founded on Westminster-Whitehall traditions of a parliamentary system in which ministerial responsibility and not presidential discretion is the key to its operation. The presidency has faced more recent challenges about the manner in which issues of proclamation of, and assent to, legislation are handled by the President.

The recent Section 34 controversy has generated a fair amount of public concern about the manner in which presidential powers are exercised. The reality is that the President is not in competition with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

Dr Hamid Ghany is a Senior Lecturer in Political Science and Coordinator, Constitutional Affairs and Parliamentary Studies Unit, Department of Behavioural Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences,
The University of the West Indies, St Augustine.

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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