If ever there was a time that Trinidad and Tobago needed people to unite it is now. In accepting the invitation of the government last week to have discussions with respect to the nomination of our country’s next President, I noted the importance of this decision at this time for our country.
Today our country is more divided than ever before. The criminal element is holding our citizens to ransom and with each passing day, the level of suffering that our citizens are forced to endure becomes more unbearable and agonizing.
There is a sense of hopelessness and despair engulfing our nation and our citizens are becoming more and more desperate for a reprieve; some measure of hope.
The unprecedented times that our nation is experiencing call for extraordinary action to help our country to move towards greater unity. It is only when we are united that we will be able to rescue Trinidad and Tobago from the position in which we find ourselves and heal the fractures that have been created.
Our country was built upon the motto that together we aspire together we achieve.
We cannot continue in the vein we have been going, we cannot continue with the division of people and our country; it is time for us to come together, to work together, to collaborate and to try to heal our country.
Having carefully considered the government’s nominee in the person of Madam Justice Paula Mae Weekes and having held discussions with our members of Parliament and various persons in the country, and, having listened carefully to all of the varying and diverse views expressed, we took the decision to support the government’s nominee.
For myself, I have had the honour and the privilege to be appointed the first female Attorney General of our country, the first female leader of the Opposition and the first female Prime Minister of our beloved country.
My life in public service has been an example that the women and girls of our country can aspire to any position nationally and internationally. It gives me great pleasure, personally, to support the nomination of a woman for President of Trinidad and Tobago.
It is time that we elect a woman to hold the highest office in our land not because she is a woman, but because by her actions she is deserving of the office and suitably qualified.
While our history will show that the Opposition’s support for a government nominee is not unprecedented, under the circumstances currently facing our country and with the unprecedented level of mistrust and betrayal that some citizens have towards the present administration, support for any proposal of this government, especially for the office of President, is not one that is politically expedient or without its challenges.
However, at this time, we firmly believe that all other interests should be placed second to the interest of Trinidad and Tobago.
Many may have their reservations about the exceptional action that we have taken at this time in co-signing the nomination form for the Government’s nominee for the office of President.
In considering the Government’s nominee, two concerns surfaced, and I raised these with the Government; they had to do with whether Madam Justice Weekes satisfies the requirements under the Constitution.
Specifically Section 23. (1) which states that
A person is qualified to be nominated for election as President if, and is not so qualified unless, he is a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago of the age of thirty-five years or upwards who at the date of his nomination has been ordinarily resident in Trinidad and Tobago for ten years immediately preceding his nomination.
The concern was raised with regard to Madame Justice Weekes’ appointment as a judge of the Turks and Caicos Islands Court of Appeal, and her residency in Trinidad and Tobago.
The second concern is with respect to the Chapter 3, Section 23. (3), which states that: a person is not qualified to be nominated for election as President who is disqualified for election as a member of the House of Representatives by virtue of section 48(1)…which states: “No person shall be qualified to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives who— (a) is a citizen of a country other than Trinidad and Tobago having become such a citizen voluntarily, or is under a declaration of allegiance to such a country”.
In this case, the question arose as to whether Madam Justice Weeke’s judicial oath, which she took when she was sworn in as a judge of the Turks and Caicos Islands Court of Appeal applies.
I raised these matters with Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Stuart Young, and he has indicated, in writing, that the Government is satisfied that its nominee meets all the requirements under the Constitution.
Other reservations that have been expressed in the public domain, some of which may be justifiable because of our history, the experiences of people under this regime, and more so because of the lack of faith and trust some have in this government.
While I understand the caution that many have urged upon me, we took this exceptional action at this time, in the interest of all of the people of our country, to have a united view in the election of the first female President of Trinidad and Tobago.
I trust that Madam Justice Weekes will understand the faith that the country has placed in her by the collaborative support given for her election and that she will, in the discharge of her duties and responsibilities fulfill the expectations of all the people of this land, by virtue of her unwavering, uncompromising and impartial execution of those duties and responsibilities.