The UNC stands by its position that the election of Christine Kangaloo to the Presidency on Friday 20 January 2023, is a dangerous step to a One-Party Totalitarian State.
This is something the PNM has been trying to impose on Trinidad and Tobago since 1956, even before independence.
The PNM and its allied media houses are trying to paint her election as harmless and nothing to worry about, but that is not the case.
Thankfully for the country, despite the PNM’s best efforts, the PNM has always faced resistance. UNC stalwart Wade Mark has been in the forefront of pushing against the PNM’s domination for decades.
He and the UNC continue the struggle, with lessons for us all with regard to the coming Presidency under Christine Kangaloo.
PNM have always wanted a one-party totalitarian state
The first thing Mark observes is that the PNM’s drive to one-party totalitarianism is not new.
“You will see between 1962 and 1976, [PNM] party dominance was almost established,” Mark observes.
“The Constitution of 1962 established the dominance of the party over the country and its people, even though they attempted to tinker with it in 1976 when they brought the Republican Constitution into being.”
“From 1962 to now, we have had the [PNM] party’s interest being almost predominant over the national interest. We should never have a situation where the party is competing with the national interest.”
This PNM dominance – even totalitarianism – was always Eric Williams’s philosophy, as he believed only the PNM could and should bring order to Trinidad and Tobago. Of course, the opposite is the truth, as the PNM has presided over the collapse of our great inheritance over the past 67 years.
Unfortunately, the ideology still remains alive in the PNM.
The PNM is about dominance, not democracy.
Struggle for an Independent President
In the Independence constitution, virtually all powers were vested in the Prime Minister. This included choosing the so-called Independent Senators, the Commissioner of Police, the Elections Commission, the Boundaries Commission (they were separate then), and the functions of the DPP were in the hands of the Attorney General, who was of course appointed by the Prime Minister.
Thankfully the population, trade unions, opposition parties, academics, democratic lawyers pushed back hard and were able to get some more democratic concessions.
The Presidency was one such concession.
Unlike the Governor-General before, the President could now act in his or her own discretion on important appointments, including Independent Senators, Service Commissioners, the Elections and Boundaries Commissioners, the Integrity Commission, and more.
The democratic forces in the country intended for the President to act as another check on the Governmental/Executive power, apart from the Opposition.
The Presidency was meant as a curb to party dominance and totalitarianism.
How the President was SUPPOSED to be chosen
The Wooding Commission was initially appointed by the PNM Government to recommend a new constitution. It comprised the following eminent patriots: Sir Hugh Wooding, Justice Philip Telford Georges, Mitra Sinanan, Michael de la Bastide, Gaston Benjamin, J. Hamilton Maurice, Solomon Lutchman, Reginald Dumas, Dr. Anthony P. Maingot, and Dr. Selwyn Ryan.
They recommended a President as we have now, but they advised a radically different method for electing him or her. This is because the method of election would determine how independent the President was.
The Commission recommended that the President be elected by a much wider electoral college than we use now.
Their recommendation was that it be composed of their proposed 72 members of Parliament and the 149 members of the City, Borough and County Councils (half of all these members would have been elected by Proportional Representation).
The President would therefore not simply be a creature of the Government.
The Wooding Commission explicitly recommended against the system we have in place now.
In their own words,
“146. Another possibility would be to have the President elected by a simple majority in the National Assembly [Parliament]. Since the Head of Government would normally command a majority in that body, this method of election would for all practical purposes be tantamount to having the Head of State nominated by the Head of Government. This could very well weaken the President’s effectiveness as a national symbol and lead to doubts as to his impartiality in his role as an authority appointing persons to offices of a national character.”
Eric Williams and the PNM ignored this advice. So said, so done.
Eric Williams established a sham Presidential election process
Eric Williams rejected the Wooding Commission completely. This has been to our country’s great detriment.
While accepting the idea of a President, Williams undermined the independence of the Presidency by doing EXACTLY what the Wooding Commission recommended against.
Eric Williams made the President an appointee of the Government, through a farcical Electoral College where the Government had a guaranteed majority. The President was basically an appointment of the Prime Minister.
The President, therefore, became a potentially dangerous instrument of one-party dominance.
Senator Wade Mark reminds us “The President, even though he consults with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition is not bounded by them. At the end of the day, the Constitution gives the President the discretion, almost the sole discretion, to make appointments to very critical offices.”
These offices include Senators, Chairman of the Integrity Commission, Chairman of the Election and Boundaries Commission, Chairman of the Public Service Commission, the Chief Justice, Members of the Judicial and Legal Services, and many more.
Mark: All PNM Appointed Presidents were Closet PNM
The Electoral College gave the illusion of Independence. It appeared to satisfy those in society that wanted an independent Presidency. However, in reality the President was an appointment by the Prime Minister.
Therefore, it was up to the Prime Minister whether the President would be a puppet or not.
When you look at all of the Presidential appointments that the PNM made in our history, it will be seen that all the PNM-appointed Presidents have been in the PNM’s back pocket.
According to Senator Mark, “What we have to recognise is that Ellis Clarke was a well-established closet PNM.”
Clarke’s very close relationship with Eric Williams was well known.
Senator Mark continued, “George Maxwell Richards, he also was a closet PNM.” His father, George A. Richards, was the first Attorney General of Independent Trinidad and Tobago, from 1962 to 1969.
Senator Mark then refers to Paula-Mae Weekes, “And then this current President is a closet PNM. Nobody expected Paula to be an overt PNM. So when she was elevated to the Office of President, we felt that as a former judge of the Court of Appeal and a former Appeal Court Judge in the Turks and Caicos Islands, we thought that lady would have brought neutrality, impartiality, independence and a kind of unbiasedness to the office. Only to find out that she actually was a closet PNM.”
Paula-Mae Weekes was allegedly a close classmate of Hazel Thompson-Ahye (whom she appointed as an Independent Senator) and Sharon Clarke, wife of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley, at Bishop Anstey High School.
Mark asks, “What role, if any, did this relationship at the Bishop Anstey High School level as classmates contribute to her being nominated to the post of the President of our country?”
“Sterling Frost did not emerge accidentally”: The Pernicious, Hidden PNM Role of President Paula-Mae Weekes
Senator Mark refers to Weekes’ appointment as “surreptitious”, “stealthy”, and a “Trojan Horse”.
“While our sitting current President, who is out-going, nobody could have said she was an overt PNM, but if you look at the independent Commissions that she has under her jurisdiction, and the appointments made to those independent Commissions you will see certain personalities cropping up.”
This includes Professor Sterling Frost from the Arthur Lok Jack School of Business, who is simultaneously:
- Deputy Chair of the Public Service Commission (responsible for hiring and promotion in all Ministries)
- Deputy Chair of the Statutory Authorities Service Commission (responsible for hiring and promotion in all Borough and Municipal Corporations)
- Assessor/Advisor to the Industrial Court of Trinidad and Tobago
Which are supposed to be neutral bodies promoting neutrality.
Yet Frost is also at the same time appointed by the PNM Government as:
- Director of Angostura Holdings Limited
- Director of Angostura Limited
- Director of Trinidad Distillers
- Director of First Citizens Trustee Services Limited
- Director of First Citizens Investment Services Limited
- Director of First Citizens Investment Services (Barbados) Limited
“The Chief Justice and Sterling Frost are very close ‘buddy buddies’,” notes Senator Mark. “The Chief Justice being a Tobagonian has a very close relationship with the current Prime Minister and a lot of confidence goes both ways.”
“So Sterling Frost did not emerge accidentally.”
Frost is not the only PNM insider appointed to our crucial independent bodies by Paula-Mae Weekes, notes Senator Mark.
“I have been informed that there is a chap who is now our Transport Commissioner in the Licensing Office who worked as a Contract Officer in the IT Division of the Ministry of Works and Transport just only recently. Now, this person carries the surname Clarke, and there is a relationship between that Clarke and the Clarke at the Diplomatic Centre (Mrs. Sharon Clarke-Rowley).”
These nepotistic practices have been commonplace, even though they go against the remit of the Public Service Commission.
Under a previous Chairman of the Public Service Commission, according to Senator Mark, “A woman who was a contract officer and advisor to the then Chairman of the Elections and Boundaries Commission, Dr Herbert Masson, my understanding is that the person was his goddaughter. And that person was taken from being a contract officer, and hoisted to high office as a permanent Public Officer and made the Chief Elections Officer. That is the one called Fern Narcis-Scope.”
“I am showing you how the Public Service Commission, even though they are so-called independent, have been manipulated, abused and misused,” declares Senator Mark.
“Independent” Senators and Order of Merit List
Much more well known than her public service appointments has been the record of her so-called “independent” Senators, who are not independent at all, but extremely pro-PNM, in terms of their voting record.
Her Senators have a record of supporting the Government 90% or more of the time. One even has a 100% record of voting with the PNM in the 12th Parliament. Her Senators have even directly attacked the Opposition, whom they already outnumber 9 to 6 because of the PNM Republican Constitution.
The Hon. Kamla Persad-Bissessar noted in her Virtual Report speech of 8 November 2021 the voting record of the so-called “Independent” Senators, and demonstrated that they were not independent at all.
“If we go further and examine the voting record of the so-called Independent Senators in our 12th Parliament clearly shows that they view themselves as nothing more than Rowley’s rubber stamp.
In the 12th Parliament:
- Out of 16 occasions, Paul Richards has always voted with the Government – 16 times
- Out of 16 occasions – Vieira has voted with the PNM 15 times
- Out of 16 occasions, Senator Charisse Seepersad has voted with the PNM 15 times
- Out of 16 occasions, Senator Varma Deyalsingh has voted with the PNM 14 times
- Out of 16 occasions, Senator Hazel Thompson has voted with the PNM 14 times
- Out of 16 occasions, Senator Amrita Denonarine has voted with the PNM 13 times
These PNM puppets voted to gut the Procurement legislation. They voted in favour of the property tax. They voted to preserve Faris’s flawed COP selection order and parts of it was eventually struck down by the court.
“These PNM puppets voted to gut the Procurement legislation. They voted in favour of the property tax.”
This is in contrast to Opposition Motions where the so-called Independents have not supported them, as they have done with the Government.
Notably, every one of them appear to have voted for Christine Kangaloo. Apparently, they are a voting bloc, not independent individuals.
Because of Paula-Mae Weekes’s appointments, it is as though the PNM have a guaranteed two-thirds or even three-fourths majority in the Senate, because of the apparent non-independence of the President’s Senators. Virtually 25 to 6.
In addition, of course, we have the controversy surrounding the Order of Merit list for the selection of a Commissioner of Police. Weekes allowed herself to be persuaded by Keith Rowley to unconstitutionally withdraw the Merit List and not present it to Parliament, as the President is required to do by the Constitution.
Weekes unconstitutionally denied Gary Griffith the chance of continuing in his role as Commissioner of Police, or anybody else the chance of being appointed. As a result, we have no one in the post, and not coincidentally, Trinidad and Tobago has had the highest number of murders in our nation’s history following that.
This scandal surely was the root cause of her not seeking renomination.
Our 3 Truly Independent Presidents: Hassanali, Robinson, and Carmona
In contrast, the only time that our Presidents were truly independent was when they were appointed by non-PNM administrations. These are:
- Noor Hassanali, appointed under the NAR in 1987 (and renewed by the PNM in 1992)
- ANR Robinson, under the UNC-NAR in 1997, and
- Anthony Carmona, under the UNC-led People’s Partnership in 2013
This is because of the UNC’s commitment to democracy, opposed to the PNM’s commitment to domination and one-party totalitarianism.
Notably, Ellis Clarke left the Presidency in 1987 in a state of disgrace. This is because he made two controversial appointments to the Service Commissions just as he left office. This resulted in a constitutional mess that caused the Hyatali Commission to be appointed to examine the Constitution.
Noor Hassanali, however, rescued the reputation of the Presidency from Ellis Clarke’s debacle.
Upon reflection, Senator Mark has opined, “Noor Hassanali has gone down in the annals of history as a very outstanding, extraordinary, dignified, civilised, balanced, independent President of our Republic, and he served his nation with balance.”
On the other hand, ANR Robinson as President displayed the possibilities of independence that the Office of the President held.
One may not have agreed with his positions, but he illustrated the principle that the President was not supposed to be simply a rubber stamp for the Government. That is what the PNM always wanted the Presidency to be.
Finally the PP government appointed Anthony Carmona as President, who also was fiercely independent and by no means a rubber stamp for government, unlike the PNM appointments.
The appointment of Christine Kangaloo removes the veil which hid PNM domination
The appointment of Christine Kangaloo by the Keith Rowley PNM has removed any pretence of objectivity and independence that the office of the Presidency was to have, according to wishes of the democratic forces of the country.
Kangaloo is in the bosom of the PNM. She is riddled with conflicts of interest.
The PNM now appear to have abandoned even the appearance of independence, unlike the efforts of the NAR and UNC to do so.
Senator Mark remarked, “The President must be a beacon of unity. A president must be able to heal these perceived divisions and even real divisions in our nation, so any segment of our nation any grouping in our nation in our national community must feel free to go to any president, knowing that the president doesn’t have a Balisier tie or a UNC tie or an NAR tie.
“In other words, that person has a certain kind of aura of independence, neutrality. And they will treat every citizen fairly and equally when they come before them.
“And that is the kind of President we were looking forward to. That is why you need a person of the calibre and quality of Noor Hassanali.
“It tells us that we require major, radical sweeping revolutionary constitutional reform in our nation. We cannot escape from that if we want to bring good governance to our nation.”
The UNC Opposition will hold President Kangaloo to account
Until we continue our changes to the Constitution (see the many changes the UNC introduced to the Constitution here) the UNC will use the existing laws (some of which the UNC passed while in Government) to hold President Kangaloo to account, when that time comes.
Senator Mark notes that Reginald Dumas (a member of the Wooding Commission) paved the way.
“The President is not above the law. It was clearly established recently when a judgement was handed down by the Privy Council in favour of Mr. Reginald Dumas who had questioned the appointment of an individual to be a member of the Police Service Commission which was contrary to the disciplines and the standards that were established in the Constitution.”
“So even though the Constitution says that you cannot enquire into decisions taken by the President, at the level of the court, it does not deny you and me, or any citizen, from taking the President to the courts,” notes Senator Mark.
Notably, the specific piece of legislation used by Dumas was the Judicial Review Act, which the UNC Government passed in the 1990s.
The law, parliamentary scrutiny mechanisms, and the political gayelle including the streets, are the avenues that the UNC will use to ensure that the Presidency is not to be continuously and more blatantly used to create the one-party totalitarian state that the PNM has always wanted.
Our independent institutions must become truly independent, and not arms of Balisier House.
Preventing PNM Party Paramountcy in Trinidad and Tobago
This is not mere rhetoric and hyperbole. In neighbouring Guyana, under Forbes Burnham (who reigned from 1964 until his death in 1985, similar to Eric Williams who also reigned for life), the ruling PNC established the doctrine of party paramountcy, where the PNC party was above the State. In fact the PNC hoisted their flag over the State House.
“I had made the point that President’s House will become Balisier House. All they have to do after that is to hoist the Balisier flag over the President’s House, just as how Burnham hoisted the PNC flag over the Supreme Court in Georgetown, Guyana.”
This is a real danger.
It took decades of struggle, including geopolitical struggle and the ending of the Cold War, to get rid of that oppressive dictatorial Burnham regime in Guyana.
The UNC will fight to the end to ensure that this does not happen here, despite the PNM’s every intention for that to occur. Every one of Kangaloo’s actions and appointments will be scrutinised and, whenever required, challenged. The PNM will not be allowed to control our independent institutions.
There will be very interesting times ahead.