When former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Patrick Manning attempted to engage in much needed constitutional reform on our twin-island state, he was chastised for attempting to become an ‘Executive President’. Now he is gone, having ‘given up the ghost’ ( to use the Biblical phrase) and we are still trotting, or in more locally recognizable terms, ‘chipping’ along to his ‘Vision 2020’ – in it’s revised version of Vision 2030 – the goal being developed nation status.
Now the role of the President in Trinidad and Tobago is for the most part symbolic. Few can point to instances in which the Office proved to be a necessity to the every-day functioning of national life on the two islands. With the most notable exception being ANR Robinson’s decision in 2001 after a tied general election to select a party which would form the next government, could one remember the last time in which the Office of the President took center stage in the political discourse in T&T? Could anyone even remember the last time a President returned a Bill to Parliament to be reconsidered? This present President took Office with some rather bold - but up to this point - completely empty words: “Under the Westminster form of governance, there are parameters within which I must operate. Powers you think I have, I do not, power you think I do not have, I do.” So what has President Anthony Carmona done since then? NOTHING! To be quite honest, at the very least I expected possibly a monthly press conference by his office making the public aware of his regular discussions with the Prime Minister, or even proposals of his own, rather we are subjected to his tantrums in defense of his wife or his complaining on the state of President’s house – nothing of substance.
Now recently there have been inconsistencies with regard to spending by the President’s office. It has been confirmed that the Office of the President has proven to be reckless at best concerning expenditure control - spending tax payer dollars. To be specific “there were 85 instances of incorrect classification of expenditure totaling $2,685,236.90 in contravention of Financial Regulation 65 which stipulates that a vote may not be applied to a purpose for which it was not intended.” Furthermore, “Office Furniture and Equipment costing $129,818.59 and items costing $300,444.92 sampled from total purchases amounting to $685,469.22 for the President’s household were not entered in the Inventory Register.” All of this being directly cited from page 44 of the Report of the Auditor General on the Public Accounts of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago for 2015 (which could be found below).
Quite frankly, I would argue that this office is a complete waste of time, thus underlying the urgent need for constitutional reform. Simply, the Office of the President has become a luxury which we cannot afford. Take into consideration Section 34. Former President George Maxwell Richards, a man of high standing in academic circles – as a former UWI Principal - was unable to even recognize the potential implications of proclaiming a particular section of a much more extensive law on the 50th Anniversary of our independence? Was he not paying attention to the events of the day?
The unfortunate reality is that the Office of the President has become a luxury retirement home for some of our otherwise distinguished citizens. In an almost diabolical expression of poetic justice, the highest office in the land shows how rotten and warped our standards of morality have become - even at the very top.
With the Office of the President in its present symbolic role, removed or reformed, it would surely be a step in the right direction to ensure that public office holders are actually paid to do something. Presently the President is paid to essentially be on vacation.
In this limited regard, I have no sympathy for Mr. Carmona and his family, the loss of extravagance is a pinch which they would surely survive. Nevertheless, to expect such a radical move from a Rowley government which seems bent on playing a Jimmy Adams type innings (to make as few mistakes as possible) is kind of a stretch.
Mikhail E.D. Byng