Inauguration Address

I wish to express my gratitude to former President Richards, for his services to this Republic, for his corporation during the transition period and particularly for his generous hosting of this ceremony.

I am humbled by the abundance of goodwill that I have received, but I am ever mindful that goodwill can be nebulous and can dissipate if expectations are not realised or not realised expeditiously.  I have listened quietly, but with some pause to the well intentioned, rational discussions on the role and responsibilities of the President of the Republic.

My dear citizens it will be otiose on this occasion to attempt to engage you in a discussion on constitutional law.  I do want to emphasise however, that I am not an Executive President.  Under the Westminster form of Governance there are parameters within which I must operate.  Powers you think I have, I do not.  Powers you think I do not have, I do.

I may not have a magic wand, but the Office of the Presidency is not impotent.  I do have constitutional clout.  Inter-Alia, Section 81 of the constitution mandates the Prime Minister to keep the President fully informed of the general conduct of the Government and at the President’s request to submit with respect to any matter relating thereto.  It is a dialogue mechanism that will be invoked affirmatively for the good of the Republic.

As a judge, I swore to uphold the constitution and the law and do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill will.  This I have done unflinchingly.  As President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago my remit is wider and greater for I have sworn to preserve the constitution and the law and to devote myself to the service and well-being of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.  This I shall do without compromise or reservation, holding fast to the following fundamentals, integrity, transparency, inclusiveness, accountability and reverence to God Almighty.

Children, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the preamble to our constitution includes two (2) critical principles that continue to inform our existence as an independent nation.  First, that there is a higher authority that we all are enjoined to acknowledge, and second, that our humanity confers on us all certain rights and freedoms, but at the same time imposes on us all corresponding responsibilities.  The fact that we may hold these ideas to be inviolate however, does not deny the need for constitutional reform.  The need to revisit the principles and precedents by which we are currently governed to unravel the sense of disconnect that the average person has to the issue of governance.

One principle mandate of my Presidency will be to infuse new life into the watchwords, discipline, production and tolerance.  We have become a highly indiscipline society.  Fulfilling the objective of the watchword discipline entails a wider acceptance of personal responsibility for ones actions.  A willingness to be held accountable.  Let me make it clear that being responsible and accountable does not only apply to people in high places, to Ministers of Government and other Elected Officials.  Our leaders are all those persons who command positions of influence in our society.  Whatever their sphere of influence, it is the right and duty of you the citizenry to demand that as leaders that they are responsible and accountable in the exercise of their functions.  Yet one cannot justly demand that those in authority be discipline, responsible, and accountable and not invoke the same standards of conduct in our daily lives.

Being responsible and accountable is a two-way street.  It is a duty our citizenship imposes on us all regardless our social, ethnic or economic status.   Václav Havel, the 9th and last President of Czechoslovakia and the 1st President of the Czech Republic in his 1990 New Year address to the nation, pointed to his countrymen shared responsible for their past and future in these words, “let us not be mistaken, the best Government in the world, the best Parliament and the best President cannot achieve much on their own and it would be wrong to expect a general remedy from them alone.  Freedom and democracy includes participation and therefore responsibility from us all.”

The second watchword production, is a call for us to reexamine our work ethic.  To demand a fair day’s pay but at the same time commit to giving a fair day’s work.  To search out lawful opportunities, to be less dependent on the State.  To distinguish between service and servitude and to ensure in any and all areas of endeavor, the goods and services we offer are second to none.

Finally there is the third watchword tolerance.  Tolerance is properly defined as “the positive and cordial effort to understand another’s beliefs, practices and habits without necessarily sharing or accepting them.”  As such, it is allied to the practice empathy, compassion and respect for others.  All qualities that are needed if we hope to establish the more humane, civil society that our small multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural population seems gifted to achieve by virtue of its proven creativity, wide ranging and varied talents and overarching intellectual energy.

As we celebrate of 50th Anniversary as a nation, we are faced with two (2) opposing value systems each striving to emerge as the dominant culture.  The first speaks to a spirit of collaboration and community exemplified in the fellowship of religious institutions, in the unity and comradery of the steel-band, in the supported organisation of conservative sou-sou, in the healing influence of the panchite, in the socially nurturing role enacted by many businesses and professional bodies, and in the benevolence of our richly varied world of NGOs and organisations of civil society.

In sharp contrast and posing a growing threat to the first, is a value system based on rampant individualism.  A value system characterized by a spirit of intimidation and lawlessness.  One that finds expression in acts of violence, brutality and the exploitation of the disadvantage and the voiceless.  Regrettable, for many of us, tolerance has become synonymous with indifference and these reckless, lawless dysfunctional patterns of behaviour are treated as examples of ‘Trini Culture’ that we condemn in private but accept as part of the course.

My dear children, my fellow citizens we cannot, and must not be indifference to the ravages of social injustice and marginalization.  As the United Nations document Social Justice in an Open World published in 2006 bluntly reminds us, neglect of the pursuit of social justice in all its dimensions translates into de facto acceptance of a future marred by violence, repression and chaos.  Today our jails cows a disproportionate percentage of young males from depress communities and we need as a society to devise ways and means of addressing this dilemma.  The family remains the bedrock, the bedrock of this solution.

In his 1995 edition of the Moral Compass, William Bennett reminded us of the role the family is call upon to play in the moral development of a young person, “all children need bread and shelter but a true home of course is more than that.  Children also need love and order and because they are not born with knowing the difference between right and wrong, home is a place where they can begin to develop a moral sense.”

The observation of Aristotle, the philosophy is pertinent he stated that “it is the peculiarity of man in comparison with the rest of the animal world that he alone possesses the perception of good and evil, of the just and the unjust and of other qualities, and it is the association of these things that makes a family.”

In the criminal justice system, there is so much pain and anguish.  For too many years young men from our depressed communities are being murdered.  The man child is in crisis and we cannot and must not trivialized the sanctity of human life by indifferently dismissing the deaths of these young persons as gang related.  We adopt the offensive philosophical positon that they will eventually all be killed.  Not recognising that each man’s death diminishes me and every murder is revenge, and revenge is a relay race that will never end unless there is genuine out of the box intervention.

We as a nation, we the parliament of the people must no longer engage in tired politics on this issue.  Waffle abound, what is needed is needed is a truly collaborative effort to address the crisis that is crime.  I say this because I know that with the appropriate support these young persons are fully capable of acting in a responsible manner, fully capable of being accountable.

Let me give you three examples.  First there is the highly successful Bail Boys Project, which was initiated in the San Fernando Court.  The project which involves family members, aims are preventing revisits among young criminals between the ages of 15 and 25.  It includes curfew restrictions, sessions in anger management, and self-esteem by trained psychologists.  Reeducation and literacy training as bail conditions.  On completion of the programme employment is made available through collaboration with various companies and institutions.  It has reached the point that in the last four (4) years we have moved a criminal to be a first year student at the University of Trinidad and Tobago studying Engineering.

Secondly, the Drug Treatment Court, instituted in San Fernando under the wise leadership of Chief Justice Archie, is another major form of restorative intervention that promises to benefit the society at large like the Bail Boys Project.  It demonstrates the value of thinking outside the box.  We cannot and must not only engage in the philosophy of containment.

My third example is drawn from a primary school.  Rose Hill RC School in Laventille, which is part of the East Port of Spain Mentoring Project, under the leadership of Father Clive Harvey.  A giant among us, mentors from the wider society outside of Laventille joined with members of the community to help those most at risk to meet successfully the challenges that they encounter on a daily basis.  We can look to Rose Hill RC to provide the quality of personal and communal leadership we so urgently need today.

By referencing the school’s motto, ‘Do the Right Thing Because It Is the Right Thing to Do.’  In other words, the students of Rose Hill RC are constantly being reminded of something that we in the wider society are forgetting or oblivious too.

For important as it is for us to acquire knowledge and the technical skills needed to compete successfully in a global economy, economic growth and material well-being are not the only criteria by which we are judged here or on the world stage.  Honour and integrity do matter.

My dear children, my dear fellow citizens, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a crown sitting on the head of the Americas, but our sphere of influence has not been fully recognised or developed.  Yet the unique role that this small Republic can play was pointed out to us in no ambiguous manner by that towering world figure, Pope John Paul II when he visited our shores in February, 1985.  In his Papal Exhalation to thousands of citizens in this very stadium, he said, I want to tell you of my admiration for your nation whose people of different races, religions and traditions, live side by side.  This mutual understanding of one another is spiritually enriching and fulfilling in a world riddled with religious bigotry and fratricidal conflicts, you are a sign of hope.  I believe as a nation we need to rediscover our destiny of created hope for a world in turmoil.

The International Criminal Court, established through the Nelson Mandela of the international criminal justice system, namely, President ANR Robinson SC, is a perfect example of us creating hope for the world at large for those who have suffered the ravages of impunity and we as a Republic can still do more.  Pursuing this goal however, will require us to make certain changes.  For many, many years, this ship called the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has left its safe moorings of integrity, accountability, responsibility, transparency and inclusiveness.

We are good at soundbites and labeling.  We can be excellent wordsmiths, the cynics, they howl in the wilderness but if we are to establish a better more progressive, more humane society, real change must be invoked.  No one has ever suggested that change is easy, indeed even the most sought after changes are generally attended by doubts and fears.  This is particularly true when the change envisioned threatens our self, our sense of who we are as individuals or as members of a distinct group, when that change exposes strongly held biases and practices as myths that constrain our capacity for empathy and promoting instead narrow group loyalties that serve only to deny us the magic of community.  To steal from us the courage and the wisdom that are the principal building blocks of the small and complex nation we call Trinidad and Tobago.

I consider myself fortunate, to have been raised by no less than five (5) villages.  Let me hasten to add, this was not because I was a difficult child, but the circumstances that occasioned these frequent changes of residence did broaden my sense of community and expand the body of exemplars whose influence was so crucial in determining he direction of my life.

I thank my parents, Dennis and Barbara Carmona.  My siblings, my wife Reema, my son Christian and daughter Anura.  My dear friends, teachers and mentors for all accorded me throughout my long and varied career.  I particular want to recognise the debt of gratitude I owe to Sobo, Palo Seco, Bennet Village, Los Bajos, Jacob Settlement, Santa Flora, Dally Village and Fyzabad.  The love and encouragement that you so generously offered along the way, have played a large part in who I am today.

In closing, I will like to thank all of you present here this afternoon.  A special thanks to my brothers and sisters in the Judiciary who have helped and assisted me on my journey to where I am today.  As I embark on this new journey, I ask for your continuing support and prayers, that I may discharge my responsibilities with integrity and sensitivity.  That my term in office may coincide with our growing sense of humanity and in all things I may prove myself to be deserving of this rich honour that you have so graciously bestowed upon me today.  Notwithstanding our dynamic diversity.  Notwithstanding we are the result of two (2) islands.  We have each other’s back, because we are one.  May God bless you all and may God bless our nation of Trinidad and Tobago.