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The making of a president

Sunday, February 17, 2013

In praising the appointment of then Justice Anthony Carmona, SC, as a judge of the International Criminal Court just over a year ago, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was at pains to point out that, notwithstanding his qualifications, the appointment had only been made possible by the support of her administration.


According to the T&T Guardian report of December 16, 2011: “The Prime Minister also took the opportunity to commend Ambassador Rodney Charles, Permanent Representative of T&T to the United Nations, New York, and members of his staff, as well as officers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Communications for their outstanding work toward the success of the candidatures (sic). She said these feats were in keeping with the vision of her government to enhance T&T’s profile in regional, global and hemispheric bodies.”


The Prime Minister could not restrain herself from admitting that just like the appointment of Nicole Dyer-Griffith as Inspector of Missions and Dr Neil Parsan as Ambassador to Washington, Carmona’s election to the ICC was very much a gift of her office and an articulation of her government’s policy. 


With Friday’s nomination as President-elect, Carmona has been given a promotion and will be even further in the debt of the Prime Minister, since the “outstanding work” which saw his uncontested election on Friday was very much her doing. 



This column, on December 30, had called for attention to the process of the presidential election so that whoever was appointed would not simply be the Prime Minister’s amanuensis. Given the history of appointments under the Persad-Bissessar administration, the Prime Minister has developed a reputation for getting it spectacularly wrong. On this occasion, she was at pains to point out that she had canvassed widely.


Here’s the process which really began after the February 4 Monday-morning meeting with the Opposition Leader and ended with the Cabinet session on the afternoon of the same day:
“Subsequently, I shared with all members of my Government and the leaders of the Partnership the names and views expressed by everyone with whom I had consulted. In this process, each member was given the opportunity to state his or her view on the preferred choice of nominee for President.


“At the end of this collaboration the individual chosen as the nominee for the President of the Republic of T&T emerged.” It does not say or even imply that the eventual candidate had the support of the majority of the Cabinet or the members of the Partnership, but that the candidate “emerged” (by magic?) after a “collaboration.” It is not even clear with whom the collaboration took place.


The truth is, most members of the Cabinet had only learnt of the nomination of the now President-elect on the very day it was announced, although an offer was made, according to my sources, on the Friday night preceding Monday’s special Cabinet meeting. In fact, Justice Carmona, who had not even been suggested as a candidate before, and who was preparing for his stint at The Hague, from all accounts was taken by surprise. 


Prior to that Friday offer, which was accepted on the Sunday night, Carmona had not even been on the shortlist and had not even been mentioned among the names being selectively leaked to the media as part of a vetting process to determine the acceptability of various candidates to the national population.


According to those in the know, the PNM’s suggestion of Rolston Nelson of the Caribbean Court of Justice served to frame the negotiations and meant that the PP had to put forward a candidate who could be seen to be matching in stature. Having played a leading role in the “outstanding work” which led to Carmona’s appointment to the ICC, his name was quite easy for the Prime Minister to draw out of the hatful of presidential aspirants.


I had noted on December 30 that the PP was facing three elections in the first half of the new year. The first was lost spectacularly with the 12-0 debacle that was the THA election result, and with the presidential nomination getting increasing attention, it was clear that the government could not afford another loss of face even with a built-in majority in the electoral college.


Government’s search for a replacement to President George Maxwell Richards had boiled down to Independent Senator Subhas Ramkelawan and Justice Amrika Tiwary before the PNM suggestion of Justice Nelson forced the PP administration to turn to Justice Carmona. It explains why AG Anand Ramlogan and Communications Minister Jamal Mohammed were so livid that the PNM had allowed Nelson’s name to become public. It really did upend the PP’s nomination process.


Given the hard work required, after what must have been months of intense diplomatic activity to have Justice Carmona appointed to the ICC, it does not say much for either the government’s planning or foresight to abandon that achievement to fill a vacancy which it was known would arise for the last five years. I have no doubt that Justice Carmona was a very fine judge and has all the qualities to make an excellent president. 


Our democracy can only be protected, however, with eternal vigilance and it would be a mistake to believe that Carmona’s appointment was anything more than the usual political machinations at play. His greatest challenge will be to rise above it. His career, thus far, suggests he is more than qualified to do so.



Maxie Cuffie runs a media consultancy, Integrated Media Company Ltd, is an economics graduate of the UWI and holds an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School as a Mason Fellow in Public Policy and Management.


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