Trinidad and Tobago Elects First Woman Head of State

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President-elect Paula Mae Weekes

Prime Minister Rowley Calls it a Proud Moment for Trinidad and Tobago

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The Electoral College Friday elected the first woman as the sixth Head of State of Trinidad and Tobago with both Prime Minister Dr, Keith Rowley and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar saying she was the best person suited for the position.

Retired Justice Paula Mae Weekes, was the sole nominee to replace President Anthony Carmona, whose five-year term of office ends in March.

Prime Minister Rowley said that the former Court of Appeal judge here and in the Turks and Caicos Islands, who is not married and has no children, had been a trail blazer and is now poised to become the first female Head of State of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

“As a young nation, we can indeed be proud of the fact that our democracy and all our governance systems are open to all our citizens. Today, for the first time, a woman is set to hold the highest office in the land,” he told the College, comprising legislators from both the House of Assembly and the Senate.

Rowley said that while Trinidad and Tobago is no stranger to having women hold high office, given that the tapestry of the nation’s history is woven with the life threads of many formidable women, he wanted to use the historic occasion for young people to sit up and take notice.

“This is a fitting time, as good a time as any, for our young people and indeed each and every citizen, to recommit to being the best that we can be. Justice Weekes’ story serves as a living example that nothing is beyond our reach.

“The simple truth is that with hard work, dedication, discipline and good character, in this land of Trinidad and Tobago, no accomplishment, no accolade, nor position is beyond reach.”

He said the President-elect “is selected and celebrated only because she was deemed to be the best person for the job, measured by a variety of very exacting yardsticks”.

He said while the Head of State is widely thought of as ceremonial, the job of President does in fact hold significance in the overall governance of Trinidad and Tobago.

“Unfortunately it is only when things don’t go well and we are faced with the inconveniences and sometimes dire consequences that we are forced to acknowledge that this office of President is much more than a ceremonial humbug,” he said, outlining the various functions imposed on the President by the Constitution.

“As such, it is public service of the highest order. It is my view therefore, that taking up the mantle of service to the public is a clear demonstration of one’s patriotism. Madam Justice Paula Mae Weekes is eminently suited to carry out these duties, to bring calm and confidence to our national governance and to demonstrate that necessary ingredient of good judgement which is the unscripted recipe for a successful undertaking of this solemn assignment.”

In her congratulatory statement, Persad Bissessar, the first woman to be elected to head a government here, said it is the Opposition’s hope that the new head of state “will discharge her duties and responsibilities as our Head of State impartially and with compassion, striving at all times to enhance our democracy”.

She said while significant progress has been made in building “our democracy and our public institutions …we have much to do to ensure that our citizens are adequately served.

“We must continue to focus on improving transparency and accountability, and in working to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our institutions. The Opposition maintains its commitment to collaborating with stakeholders in making this a reality, for the benefit of our people,” she said.

The Opposition Leader said that her party maintains that “the person elected to this office must be independent and fair, and possess the strength and courage to discharge the functions of the office in a manner that adheres to the Constitution and the rule of law, and preserves the separation of powers.

“We took the decision to support, given that Madame Justice Paula Mae Weekes’ record; her experience and her qualifications demonstrate that she was most suitable and deserving of the office.”

Justice Mae Weekes was elected less than 48 hours after the country bade farewell to Professor George Maxwell Richards, the fourth head of state, who died earlier this month after suffering a heart attack.

Justice Weekes, was appointed to the Court of Appeal in the British Overseas Territory in September, 2016 for a term of three years.

She becomes the second prominent regional jurist to be elevated to the post of head of state, following the decision of the Barbados government to name Madame Justice Sandra Mason as the island’s eighth Governor General earlier this month.

Justice Mae Weekes is a former Justice of Appeal of the Judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago where she served for 11 years until her retirement in 2016. She was appointed a Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago (Criminal Jurisdiction) in 1996 where she presided for nine years before being elevated to the Court of Appeal. Prior to her appointment to the Bench, Justice Weekes served with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for eleven years and in private practice from 1993.

She is a graduate of the University of the West Indies and the Hugh Wooding Law School. She is a trained and experienced judicial educator having become a fellow of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute in 2000. She has designed and delivered programmes extensively in Trinidad and Tobago and also in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and Jamaica over the years. – CMC

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