(Trinidad Express) In a complete departure from practice, President Anthony Carmona has changed four of his senators in mid-term, a move that is unprecedented in Trinidad and Tobago’s post-Republican history.
Traditionally, presidents have changed independent senators at the end of the life of a Parliament, which comes with the calling of a general election.
Yesterday, however, the President’s office announced that Carmona had revoked the appointment of four senators—Corinne Baptiste-McKnight, James Armstrong, Prof Harold Ramkissoon and Dr Lennox St Bernard.
The President’s office also named four new senators, who will be sworn in tomorrow at the opening of the Third Session of the Tenth Parliament. They are the first permanent senatorial appointments of Carmona, who met the appointees of his predecessor, former president George Maxwell Richards.
The new appointments to the Senate are Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir, one of the country’s leading economists; Hugh Russell Ian Roach, an attorney with experience in civil, criminal, public, labour and military law; Anthony Vieira, practising attorney-at-law in civil, industrial, family and criminal law; and energy expert David Small.
There is no contention with the new choices in themselves, who many regard as highly worthy of their appointments, but questions were raised about the way in which the President discharged his constitutional prerogative. The Constitution states an independent senator holds office until the appointment is revoked by the President or the life of the Parliament ends.
Hitherto, incoming presidents have always maintained the Independent bench for the life of the Parliament. This, notwithstanding the fact that presidential appointments overlapped the parliamentary term.
Presidents have entered into office in the middle of the life of a Parliament. But no other President, entering his five-year term in this way, changed the composition of the Independent bench. This happened with the movement from Sir Ellis Clarke to Noor Hassanali; Hassanali to Arthur NR Robinson and Robinson to Richards, all of which occurred during a parliamentary term. In each case, they waited until the end of the parliamentary term.
It was only in the event of death, for example in 2005, when Dr David Quamina died and was replaced by Angela Cropper; or when a senator resigned, for example in 2004 when Christopher Thomas resigned to assume the chairmanship of Public Service Commission and was replaced by Basharat Ali, or in cases of ill-health, for example when Basharat Ali resigned and was replaced by Lennox Bernard, that independent senators were changed mid-term.
This despite the fact that the President had the power to change independent senators at any time. So President Carmona, whose term of office begun in February, has broken new ground. And the question being asked yesterday was this: is this a good practice?
Former independent senator Martin Daly said yesterday this was setting a bad precedent. “What are the reasons for picking on these particular senators (whose appointments were revoked) for change? Unless we have transparent reasons, the changes can be regarded as arbitrary,” he said.
“On what information or grounds did the President decide to cut short tenure that is normally expected to last until the next dissolution of Parliament? In the case of the change of Corrine Baptiste-McKnight, many may also infer that hostility between her and the Executive may have been a factor in that change. Such inference will expose the Office of the President to unnecessary and unseemly controversy,” Daly said.
Baptiste-McKnight had several clashes with Government members and on one occasion Attorney General Anand Ramlogan had remarked “this is PNM plus one” in reference to her.
Baptiste-McKnight was chairman of a Joint Select Committee, as was Armstrong. Both committees are for the life of the Parliament and their work continues from session to session.
Some of the senators whose appointments were revoked were informed by the President’s office, while others were informed by the Parliament.