Dookeran suggests change in Constitution for automatic selection of acting Prime Minister

Deputy PM essential

(Trinidad Express) There should be a clause in the Constitution where whenever the Prime Minister is unable to report for duty, there is an “automatic identification” of who shall perform such duties (as Prime Minister), Acting Prime Minister Winston Dookeran said on Friday.

“Whether it will be a deputy Prime Minister or some other position can be discussed,” he said, adding that the person should be determined within the Constitution.

Dookeran was responding to a question at the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup from Deputy Chairman Sir Richard Cheltenham who had proffered the view that there should be in the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution a constitutional post of Deputy Prime Minister.

This person would act whenever the Prime Minister “is disabled or unable” to perform the functions. Cheltenham made the suggestion after Dookeran identified a “gap” in the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution which presented itself in the 1990 coup attempt.

Under the Constitution, the Prime Minister advises the President who should be appointed to act during his absence. The Constitution, however, empowers the President to make an appointment where he considers it “impracticable” for such advice to be rendered owing to the illness or absence of the Prime Minister.

When he last appeared before the Commission, that there was a grey area in the Constitution which made it unclear during the 1990 crisis whether the acting President, Emmanuel Carter, had the power to appoint someone to act as Prime Minister while the substantive Prime Minister Arthur N R Robinson was alive and in the country but held hostage in the Red House.

Dookeran had stated that it was because Robinson had been due to travel the weekend of July 28, 1990 and the President therefore already had a letter from Robinson, advising him to appoint Dookeran to act (during his absence), that Carter used that letter as the basis of his decision to appoint him (Dookeran) to act during the crisis.

Dookeran had been asked by the Commissioners whether there should be a deputy Prime Minister. And, making a distinction between a deputy Prime Minister and someone who acts as Prime Minister in such a situation, he replied that the question of a deputy Prime Minister was a political issue. He said this matter was much deeper than the political issue.

Dookeran was also asked by Cheltenham what steps could be taken to promote healing between the different sectors of the society, arising out of the trauma of 1990. Sir Richard pointed out that when one heard from the Muslimeen members, one got the impression that they still felt that they were being persecuted.

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