Given the apparent confusion surrounding the swearing-in of Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis by the President yesterday, the Office of the President finds it necessary to bring clarity to the process that was employed leading up to the assumption of office by the Chief Secretary.
A vacancy in the Executive Council of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) was created on April 28, 2020 by the resignation of former Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles. The THA Act provides a single process for the filling of a vacancy in the position of Chief Secretary, whether that vacancy arises by virtue of the election of a new Assembly, by the resignation or death of the Chief Secretary, or by revocation of the Chief Secretary’s appointment by the President under section 35 of the Act.
In all cases, the Chief Secretary is elected by the members of the Assembly employing the process laid out in the Act – sections 8 and 11. Once the Chief Secretary is elected, he is then administered the oath of office by the President, after the President has been satisfied that he has been duly elected. The President was so satisfied in this instance, by notification from the Presiding Officer, indicating compliance with sections 8 and 11 of the Act.
The President does not, in any case, appoint the Chief Secretary, as there is no provision in law so to do.
The vacancy created by the resignation of former Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles was not a vacancy in the Assembly, as he continued to be an Assemblyman, having been elected by the constituents of Blackrock/Whim/Spring Garden as their representative in the last THA election in 2017.
Section 21 (6) of the THA Act reads as follows:
“A person elected or appointed to the Assembly to fill a vacancy shall be administered the relevant oath of office by the Presiding Officer …”
Assemblyman Dennis was not being elected to the Assembly to fill a vacancy in the Assembly; he was already an Assemblyman having been elected in 2017 as the representative for Buccoo/Mt. Pleasant and, in any event, there was no vacancy in the Assembly; the vacancy was in the Executive Council.
Section 21 (6) applies where a person, not already an Assemblyman, is elected to fill a vacancy, as was the case with Councillor Tracy Davidson-Celestine, who was not already a member of the Assembly when appointed to fill the vacancy in the Assembly created by the resignation of former Councillor Agatha Carrington.
The Chief Secretary can only take his oath, as Chief Secretary, before the President.