Trinidad and Tobago to Get New President Early Next Year


Retired Judges, Former Diplomat Are Picks to Replace Carmona

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO — Trinidad and Tobago will have a new President early next year when the Electoral College meets on January 19 to elect a successor to President Anthony Carmona.

The new President will take up office in March when Carmona’s five year term comes to an end on March 19.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bridgid Annisette-George has written to Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar informing her of the date for the “convening of a meeting of the Electoral College for the purpose of the election of a President”.

She said the date was selected “in an effort to ensure that this office fully complies with the deadlines set out by the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago and the Electoral College Regulations.”

Under the Constitution, the Speaker as the person responsible for holding the election must announce the date of the election in the gazette not less than 21 days or more than thirty days In advance of the day chosen.

Media reports here Friday said that the government is likely to nominate former judge with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Rolston Nelson, while the opposition are said to be considering retired diplomat Reginald Dumas and retired High Court judge Gladys Gafoor.

Since the island attained political independence from Britain in 1962, Trinidad and Tobago has elected seven heads of state with the late Sir Ellis Clarke being the last Governor General and the first President of the Republic.

The Election Process

The Electoral College is a unicameral body comprising members of the Senate and the House of Representatives assembled together.

The College is convened by the Speaker is governed by the Electoral College Regulations 1976, made under section 28 (4) of the Constitution which states that the Electoral College may regulate its own procedure and may make provision for the postponement or adjournment of its meetings and such other provisions as may be necessary to deal with difficulties that may arise in the carrying out of elections under this Chapter.

Nomination papers for persons to be elected must be signed by the Candidate for the election as President and by twelve or more members of the House of Representatives and delivered to the speaker at least seven days before the election.

In computing the seven day deadline for the receipt of nomination papers, Saturday, Sunday, public Holidays as well as the first and last days are not included.

On receipt of the nominations the Speaker will subsequently send a letter to all members of the electoral college inviting them to attend the meeting and identifying the candidates.

During the election, one or more of the proposers of every candidate is allowed to speak for fifteen minutes on the merits of the candidate. The text of the speech to be given must be submitted to the the speaker for approval 24 hours before the meeting of the College.

If there are more than one nominee, a poll is taken during the meeting.

A quorum of the electoral college under the constitution is 10 Senators and 12 other members of the House of Representatives.

Voting for the President is by secret ballot. The candidate who is unopposed or who obtains the greatest number of the votes cast shall be declared elected. If there is an equal division of votes for two or more candidates the Speaker exercises a casting vote.

Carmona’s Rocky Relationship With Prime Minister Rowley

Carmona was the choice of the then government under the leadership of Persad-Bissessar and in his inaugural address struck a chord with citizens when he declared “Under the Westminster form of governance, there are parameters within which I must operate. Powers you think I have, I do not,” but he added pointedly: “Power you think I do not have, I do,” he said to a roar of approval from the crowd.

He said under section 81 of the Constitution the Prime Minister is mandated “to keep the President fully informed of the general conduct of the Government, and at the President’s request, to submit information which respect to any matter relating thereto.”

But his relationship with the current government led by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley would turn out to be rocky.

In 2016 the Prime Minister sought legal advice on a meeting which the President had with National Minister Edmund Dillon.

Senior Counsel Martin Daly, in his advice to the PM, stated that it was “constitutionally improper and inappropriate,” of the President to have called Dillon to the meeting.

Daly’s opinion was that the President had no power to invite a Minister to discuss issues under his portfolio without reference to the prime Minister. He said “the office of the President should do nothing tending to undermine or which could be perceived as undermining the authority of the Prime Minister.”

Under section 80 of the constitution the President’s contact with members of Cabinet is the Prime Minister.

But the President insisted that PM Rowley knew about the meeting with Dillon. He said he had advised the PM of his intention to meet Dillon not once but three times and that Dr Rowley had given his prior consent and approval.

Issues about the purchase of wine from Italy and the Presidential crest on bottles of wine also surfaced but in his defence the President said “there is no corporate branding or advertisement on the wine bottles of a supplier” and it is used strictly for official functions of the Office of the President.

He said the wines with the crest and seal “can be monitored and audited so as to prevent theft and disappearance,” and the wines cannot be “commercially sold, exchanged or be available to the public outside of State functions and events.”

There were also issues over a $28,000 housing allowance which Carmona was receiving even while living in state assigned accommodation. The President said the money was used to offset costs while he was living in Flagstaff which flooded when it rained and which was not fit for occupation.

He said he instructed that the allowance be stopped when he and his family moved into the cottage in May 2015.

The term in office was also marred by questions raised in the Auditor General’s report about a discrepancy of $2.6 million, Carmona said that was merely an administrative or classification error. He said when the Office of the President was alerted to the discrepancy, it sent a comprehensive response. — CMC and TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO GUARDIAN