10th Inauguration Ceremony of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA)

Address By His Excellency Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona ORTT, SC

President Of The Republic Of Trinidad And Tobago at the

10th Inauguration Ceremony of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) at the

Assembly Legislature, Scarborough, Tobago – January 26, 2017

 

Congratulations are in order to the newly elected Assemblymen of the Tobago House of Assembly, including Chief Secretary Mr. Kelvin Charles, Deputy Chief Secretary Mr. Joel Jack and Minority Leader, Mr. Watson Duke.

Democracy is alive and well in the beautiful island of Tobago. Tobagonians, you have voted. The electorate has spoken. And respect we must, the process of democracy and the Rule of Law, a feature of all modern, progressive civilized societies. Democracy however, does not begin and end with elections and its actualisation will take different forms but invariably would be judged by your actions in and out of the Assembly.

Aristotle, the great philosopher stated, It is more proper that law, should govern, than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.”

Members of this august Assembly, the people of Tobago have determined that you should be the guardians and servants of the laws for the next four (4) years. Each of you here has been entrusted to carry out the will of the people of Tobago, a constitutional responsibility that will often weigh you down because there is a sense of exasperation, even lethargy, in the system. But there is a burning desire that governance reflects immediacy- Immediacy of action, development and positive change. Officials, to put it bluntly, you will be burdened by the urgency of now.

Among my many visits to Tobago, I do have very fond memories of the warm and genuine welcome I was accorded during my first official visit to Tobago, as Head of State, in April 2013, by your then Presiding Officer, Mr. Kelvin Charles, who today, is your Chief Secretary.  Presiding Officer Charles then said to me, “Tobago embraces you as President.” Those words have resonated with me especially during my visits to the primary schools across the island of Tobago, as part of my Primary School initiative, to empower, motivate and encourage young minds and future leaders of this Republic. Their innocent faces and boundless hope speak to a democratic process that must get it right or make things right so that the future of our children is safe, secure and fulfilling.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am indeed happy to be here to share in this process with you. I felt that there was, and there remains, an unstinting need for institutions to give institutional support to high office and those who are mandated to serve through our democratic processes. That is why I ensured to be here today to swear-in the Chief Secretary, the Minority Leader and all the Assemblymen and Councilors.

I was invited, all expenses paid by the President of Uganda and its Chief Justice to give the feature address at a Judges conference on the theme, “The Judiciary as the Guarantor of the Rule of Law”. I dearly wanted to go, because for many years, I have been feeling Africa’s pain and affliction and there is a need, in my humble view, to share my vision and support for Africa and its judges, in its march to make Africa a continent strong in the Rule of Law and due process; to become a champion of justice. I firmly believe the Judiciary in any country is not only to be considered “the guarantor” of the Rule of Law, but also “the guardian” of the Rule of Law.

Nevertheless, the Office of the President (OTP) must give institutional support to the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) in its 10th Session- an honour and responsibility that I felt devolved upon the substantive Head of State of this Republic.

Our first Prime Minister and founding father, Dr Eric Williams in his 1962 Independence Address made it very clear on whose shoulders this actualisation of democracy, of which I speak, rests. Dr Williams stated:

“Democracy means responsibility of the Government to its citizens, the protection of the citizens from the exercise of arbitrary power and the violation of human freedoms and individual rights. Democracy means freedom of worship for all and the subordination of the right of any race to the overriding right of the human race. Democracy means freedom of expression and assemble of organisation. All that is Democracy. All that is our Democracy, to which I call upon all citizens to dedicate themselves on this our Independence Day.”

So, in congratulating all the successful candidates in the THA Election, after a hard fought battle among the parties, where sometimes reason fled, as so often happens when adversarial politics occurs on the hustings; where things are said that should never be said and where vitriol and rancour become oppressive to the law-abiding citizen, watching on. And we take small comfort when we resile to a warm characterisation of it being the result of a “silly season”. The silly season- It is over now.  Personally, I welcome, like the rest of Trinidad and Tobago, this sense of calm, harmony and celebration, which is realized today by this ceremony of substance. I am confident that the Assembly can now face the future and its challenges as one; that in these hallowed Chambers, solutions become the order of the day and not an obsession of restating the problems that we face.

We must not be only about engaging courtesies and protocols. Shaking hands is not enough. We must hold hands with the imperative to get it right. And that collective thrust to move together as a people must also be given credence institutionally.

In my address to the THA in that said visit in 2013, I recall emphasising that as the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago continues to evolve, so should its institutions including the Presidency. In this regard, I cannot underscore enough, the importance of the interdependence of powers in a democracy that seems obsessed with the separation of powers. Don’t get me wrong. The constitutionally-enshrined doctrine of separation of powers has its place. It prevents against the concentration of power and provides for the checks and balances that guard against overreach and abuse. But the concept of the separation of powers- if I may so describe it- has become so skewed that when persons in the governance structure are seen interacting, it is viewed with great suspicion and even looked upon with a jaundiced eye by the citizenry, and even by opposing politicians. This is because we have not been brought up to understand that interdependence is a critical component of working governance and democracy.

Many years ago, as a former Senior Tutor in Politics in UWI, I recall positing to my students- and it resulted in heated intellectual debate- that in our Westminster system of governance, what is exercised is not really a separation of powers but an interdependence of power. And practically, what binds and keeps our democracy together is the practice of the interdependence of power- indeed, no one in governance should ever aspire to be an island.

The unwavering support of institutional systems, grounded in the interdependencies, is critical in upholding the tenets of a practical, sustainable democracy. It must be brought to the national mind that a degree of interdependence among the institutions of power in a nation does not, and indeed, cannot, destroy the essential independence of the three (3) branches of State. Instead, this type of approach- if I might adopt the words of the eminent philosopher, Judge, nobleman Montesquieu- “favours interaction to ensure stability rather than isolation.”

In a Nation, twin island status that we are, we are still considered small. There is nothing good that outright isolation of our arms of the State can do for us as a people, as a civilized democracy, that responsible interaction among the different institutions of government- the interdependence of power- won’t cure thousand fold, in the name of the type of unity required for Trinidad and Tobago to make real, tangible changes in the level of its progress.

I am here cognisant of what Montesquieu’s said in his treatise, ‘The Spirit of the Laws’:

“Neither do I pretend by this to undervalue other governments, not to say that this extreme political liberty ought to give uneasiness to those who have only a moderate share of it. How should I have any such design, I who think that even the excess of reason is not always desirable, and that mankind generally find their account better in mediums than in extremes?”

Montesquieu accepted the prospect of citizens engaging in the variances of ‘mediums’ and in ‘extremes’. And this brings to fore how we engage each other as citizens.

We are a country in dialogue crisis. What has become of the art of disagreement and the force and power of tolerance? No one agrees to disagree anymore, but rather, agree to denigrate and disrespect in the face of opinions expressed that differ from yours. Does one have to be uncouth to be in control and to demonstrate control? And tell me, how did we get there? What have we done to get there and how are we coming out of it?  There will be no Sir Lancelot charging on a white horse to get us out this dilemma.

This is why I have always been a strong advocate for mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – that it must become a facet of governance in Trinidad and Tobago. This tired philosophy of service to politics must be replaced by service to leadership. We are so busy appealing to the politics in the politician, when we should be appealing to the human being in the politician. Ladies and gentlemen, the creation of a holistic dialogue in our Republic must be entrenched in a philosophy of governance, postulated and practiced on the altar of service (oriented) leadership and not power (centred) leadership.

The youth of our Nation are searching for answers and will not accept disingenuous attempts to misdirect, misinform or distract. Governance, as we have traditionally exercised it, is not working. A young student of North Eastern College, together with two other friends, greeted me at the funeral of their murdered classmate, Rachael Ramkissoon and after exchanging courtesies, one particular classmate told me- she did not ask me- she demanded a command performance, “Mr. President, Excellency, please find the killer of Rachael.” I felt a sense of helplessness and all I could tell that young lady is that we have to pray and invoke the power of God to help us find the killer.

Politicians- and I refer to all elected persons in authority- your mirror is not in your bedroom or sometimes in the comments of activists, bloggers or even some commentators, but rather in the faces of those who have lost jobs; those who have lost sons and daughters; those who have lost opportunities because they are not in the herd of choice; those who are your lesser brethren; the disadvantaged, the differently-abled and those without hope.  For Jesus Christ did say, what you do to your lesser brethren, you do to me. Therefore you must always do right, not to some, but to all. The young people are demanding that in the world of politics- fairness, justice, equity and equanimity- must rule and it must never be a case of different strokes for different folks.

I take worthy note of the systemic changes that the Tobago House of Assembly is encouraging in its Comprehensive Economic Development Plan (CEDP 2.0), with Tobago’s 8 Strategic Goals, as follows:

  1. Branding Tobago clean, green, safe and serene
  2. Good governance and institutional reform
  3. Business development and entrepreneurship
  4. Human capital development
  5. Social development and resilience
  6. Improved infrastructure and utilities
  7. Enhanced safety and security
  8. Environmental sustainability

This Development Plan of the THA represents a plan of action in human, social, economic and environmental development at all levels and sectors. These salutary goals of the Assembly reflect the sense of direction informed by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed to, by the United Nations, for a new development Agenda for the next 15 years. I did mention these SDGs to the at the Opening of the 11th Session of the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago in 2015-  that these 17 Sustainable Development Goals ought to become the manifesto of Nation States. In this regard, I do recall suggesting to former Chief Secretary Orville London, a radical idea of making Tobago the ecological gem of the GRULAC region- which includes Latin America, South America and the Caribbean region- by banning all plastic bags coming into Tobago.

Additionally, worthy mention must be made of the suggestion by the Mediation Board of Trinidad and Tobago (MBTT), under the astute leadership of Justice Vasheist Kokaram, that Tobago becomes a ‘zone of peace’ where international mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) are fostered and encouraged with international clientele. But the Tobago House of Assembly, in its collective wisdom, to nurture a human development that empowers, cannot do it alone. There is need for individual, innovative and entrepreneurial action that must be supported by the relevant economic institutions, NGOs and other civil groups.

In this regard, I wish to acknowledge a young businessman, who my staff met on the flight in to Tobago at 11 o’ clock last night; I was also on that flight. I refer to an environmentally-sound project by Guido La Fond, a Trinidadian living in Tobago since the age of four (4).  Mr. La Fond outlined to my staff a remarkable vision for a better Tobago and by extension, a better Republic, in the area of aquaponics and aquaculture farming. This is the combination of conventional aquaculture with hydroponics in a symbiotic environment. So basically, he grows plants without soil, which in turn, feeds fishes and this process is a revolving one. It is environmentally-sound and of sustainable economic viability. Mr. La Fond also plans on donating a portion of his profits to feed patients in hospitals and children in orphanages around Tobago, free of charge. Projects like these involve entrepreneurial risks and the financial and government institutions must have an unwavering policy to support innovators, inventors, visionaries and our dynamic young people.

And speaking of young people, it cannot be lost on us what beckons, with the possibility of Trinidad and Tobago winning its third gold medal after the Olympic process is completed. We must be reminded always that impartiality, parity, equity and equality must be core philosophies of citizens of any progressive society and with those philosophies, we will achieve what we so desire. I must congratulate the members of the 4×100 men’s relay sprint team, who initially earned the Silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and may now be set to receive gold, in light of recent developments and findings by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Keston Bledman, Marc Burns, Emmanuel Callander, Richard Thompson and Aaron Armstrong are set to be inducted to that good and honourable elite corps of Gold medal athletes produced by Trinidad and Tobago on the world stage. The message is simple, ladies and gentlemen- we can all appreciate that goodwill, honesty and impartiality will always prevail even in the face of adversity.

 

In this regard, it is my intention, as Patron of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) to meet with the President of the said Organisation, Mr. Brian Lewis, in the hope that I can convince him to write to the International Olympic Committee, to request, if it comes to pass, that at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the Trinbagonian quartet be presented with their medals as our flag is hoisted and our National Anthem played…so that we, as a Nation, can stay in our television rooms and clap and cry and be proud that we have won another gold, notwithstanding the fact that we are receiving that gold years and years after. Due credit and appreciation must be given to those who persevere, soldier on and prosper even in the face of challenges.

We are at a juncture in our history where we need to take control of our destiny. We cannot and must not depend on others to solve our problems. We are equally capable, we have the intellect and vision and we must give ourselves and each other a chance to succeed. We can only do so, if we share and commit ourselves to this principled aspiration of a better Trinidad and Tobago, one Nation for all, propelled by cooperation and collaboration, by ensuring a governance that results in everyone benefitting. It matters not whether you are from Speyside or Scarborough in Tobago or whether you live before or beyond the Lighthouse in Port of Spain. It matters not, for we are one and that simple recognition would trigger care, compassion and love for each other and Trinidad and Tobago.

 

Thank you very much.

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