Tackling Crime Among Youth Will Be Top Priority For President-elect

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President-elect Paula Mae Weekes

By Shaliza Hassanali / Trinidad and Tobago Guardian

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO (GUARDIAN) — President-elect Paula-Mae Weekes has prioritised the two main issues affecting society — crime and youth — and intends to do all within her constitutional remit to tackle the problems head-on.

While these matters will engage Weekes’ attention after she is sworn into office on March 19, becoming the country’s first female President, she did not envisage any problems in turning an arm or two and even searching abroad to appoint the right people for the job, nor will she be afraid to express her views on problems affecting the Judiciary.

“While I am concerned like every other citizen and particularly as a former judge, I think that I must not get ahead of myself and stick within my boundaries.”

Asked if she would look into the controversial issues surrounding Chief Justice Ivor Archie, Weekes said she would be like every member of the public — looking on, usually with help from the media.

“Looking into it, it is not a matter for me until certain constitutional provisions are in vote. At that time, if it becomes a matter on my plate I will deal with that if and when it becomes so.”

The Judiciary, under Chief Justice Ivor Archie stewardship, has been embroiled in several controversies in the past few months with the Law Association appointing a committee to investigate some of the allegations including the recommending of State housing for acquaintances and changing of personal security for judges. There have also been calls for the Prime Minister to trigger impeachment proceedings against Archie to probe the allegations.

Weekes, who had recently signed a three-year contract to be an apeallate judge in the Turks and Caicos, after she retired from the local Appeal Court, spoke to the media for the first time since the Electoral College unanimously elected her to serve as the sixth president.

Weekes spoke for six minutes after she was presented with her Instrument of Election by Speaker of the House Bridgid Annisette-George at the Diplomatic Reception Lounge, Parliament, Port-of-Spain. Senate President Christine Kangaloo, who has acted as President, on several occasions during her tenure, was also present.

Asked if she intended to seek legal advice or will use her years of experience as a High Court judge to navigate her way through constitutional matters during her tenure, Weekes replied: “I am sure that question will arise that my experience which is mainly criminal will not immediately satisfy. So where I think I need to avail myself of expertise I will most certainly do so.”

Weekes said she was not fully aware of the operations at President’s House in terms of its staff.

“But I do know in the past, Presidents had recourse for senior counsel outside of their offices in order to get the best advice. And if that becomes necessary. I certainly do not intend to depart from that course.”

In getting the job done, Weekes said she would bring to the table “a set of cutlery to deal with matters on my plate, a basket full of the fruit of the spirit and grace before meals.”
Questioned what issues she would first bring to the public’s attention as President, Weekes could not say.

“I don’t know…I can’t say right away because there are so many issues and each of them takes a prime place given what is happening at that time. But I am certainly concerned like every citizen with crime…a particular interest I suppose because all my career I have spent in the criminal law. I cannot fail but to be concerned with young persons and what positions they are going to occupy in our developing society.”

Weekes said leaving room for anything else that may step into the spotlight “I think youth and crime are my immediate concerns.”

Does she foresee a challenge in identifying the right people for board appointments which some President had difficulty with, and if so, if she would develop a formula to address this?

Weekes admitted that anecdotally the issue has been a challenge.

“And it is no surprise. Putting yourself in the public’s eye, especially given today’s climate and the media plays a part, in that, really makes people shy away from this.”

As for moral suasion, Weekes could not say how far this will go.

“I have been known to turn an arm or two and if I need to turn an arm or two to get the best persons for the best fit I am going to give it my effort.”

Weekes said she will resist appointments based on familiarity, stating that “due diligence” will be a priority in selecting people for the task. – (http://www.guardian.co.tt)

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