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Preparing for the executive presidency
Now that the brand new Prime Minister’s Residence and Diplomatic Centre has been completed and handed over to the Prime Minister, one must assess the palatial magnificence of the buildings against the backdrop of the constitutional arrangements that exist for the office of Prime Minister.
It is important to do this for two reasons.
Firstly, the building next door to the new prime ministerial residence, namely the President’s House, has been allowed to fall into disrepair, to the extent that President George Maxwell Richards and his wife, Dr Jean Ramjohn-Richards, have not been able to reside there.
Additionally, President Richards has had to request the use of the new Diplomatic Centre as the venue for this year’s National Awards ceremony, as the President’s House is now an inappropriate venue for the holding of such a ceremony.
Secondly, Prime Minister Manning has formally signalled his government’s intention to proceed with a revised constitution that will merge the offices of President and Prime Minister in order to create an executive presidency.
Such a development will remove the need for two residences for two separate office-holders.
The executive president will obviously live in the new residence and have a diplomatic centre on site for the effective discharge of these new presidential duties.
If the existing constitutional arrangements are going to remain in place, one would have thought that there would have been the same level of determination to repair the existing President’s House, so that both residences would have been elevated to the level of dignity that both offices require.
One could have refurbished the existing structure at President’s House in order to preserve its traditional dignity, while the other could have been more modest to signify the dignified subservience of the office of the Prime Minister to the office of the President.
This has not happened, and the Prime Minister will now live in a palatial mansion when compared with President’s House.
With the curtailing of official functions at President’s House and the first transfer of one of these to the Diplomatic Centre at the Prime Minister’s Residence, one wonders how many more presidential functions will be carried out at this Diplomatic Centre.
It is obscene for President’s House to be left in its current state of disrepair, especially when the Government addressed the problem as far back as when Franklyn Khan was Minister of Works.
Why has a national treasure like the President’s House been allowed to fall into the kind of disrepair and dilapidation that it has suffered?
The only reason that can be advanced at the moment is that this is a policy expression of the preparation for an executive presidency.
As with the national budget, Prime Minister Manning is looking forward with great certainty to the re-election of the PNM to office and his re-appointment as Prime Minister.
A lot of work has been done on a new constitution by his constitution committee, and essentially he will be ready to bring that new constitution to Parliament early in the new term.
He already has called upon his party members to ensure that they can bring home a landslide majority of nothing less than 32 seats in the next 41-member House of Representatives, which will allow for a three-quarters majority required for fundamental constitutional amendment in that House.
The Senate that will be appointed by President Richards after the general election and before he demits office on March 18, next year, will hold the key to the final amendment process for the Constitution.
If the independent senators appointed by the President are not in agreement with the new constitution, then they will either abstain or vote against it.
If the opposition senators are also against it, then the new constitution will fail in its passage through the Senate.
However, if Prime Minister Manning continues to hold office after the general election, he may wait until a new President is elected before he brings the new constitution to Parliament.
While there is a convention that independent senators are not removed whenever there is a new president, one does not know whether the exigencies of enacting a new constitution may lead to changes on the independent benches in the Senate after the election of a new president in order to facilitate enactment of the new constitution.
After all, the new president will have to be someone supportive of the absorption of the offices of President and Prime Minister into one.
In seeking to nominate someone to that office, Prime Minister Manning (once he is still the Prime Minister) will have to offer a nominee supportive of this fundamental constitutional change, and who is prepared to preside over it in the desired manner.
One would imagine that in choosing PNM candidates for the general election, political leader Manning will seek to ensure that he has people on board supportive of this constitutional change.
It appears that the PNM plans putting forward many new faces to replace some existing ones who have either been forced out or have willingly stepped down.
Another sign that there has been a long-term preparation for an executive presidency include the introduction of the national coat of arms on the official vehicle for the Prime Minister, albeit painted in silver, as opposed to gold for those in the President’s fleet.
Any merger of the two offices will require only a coat of paint, as opposed to the installation of the coat of arms.
The die has been cast for the executive presidency. The official residence has been completed, the registration plates of official vehicles have been harmonised, and the only obstacle now is the apparent pesky business of changing the constitution.
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