Madam Chair, I thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My esteemed colleagues, today is truly a historic one for our country.
Madam Chair, today as I stand to give support to a distinguished daughter of our soil, it cannot go unnoticed that we usher in a President-elect in the very week that our grateful nation paid tribute to a former head of state, our fourth President, Professor George Maxwell Richards.
This moment in time sees us elevating into history our sixth President while celebrating the life of our fourth.
It is our hope that Madame Justice Paula-Mae Weekes will be inspired by the dedicated service and commitment to fairness and impartiality of the late Professor Richards.
On behalf of the Opposition, I wish to welcome President-elect Weekes, and express our confidence that she will discharge her duties and responsibilities as our Head of State impartially and with compassion, striving at all times to enhance our democracy.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank His Excellency Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona, SC for his service to Trinidad and Tobago as our fifth President. He has served our country dutifully and with distinction.
I also commend his efforts in ensuring that a Procurement Board, in accordance with the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act No 1 of 2015, as amended was established. This Board is critical to ensuring transparency and accountability in the procurement of goods and services by the Government.
Madam Chair, forty-one years ago, Trinidad and Tobago adopted a Republican Constitution, giving us the right to elect our own Head of State, to govern ourselves and chart our own destiny as a sovereign nation.
Significant progress has been made in building our democracy and our public institutions, but we have much to do to ensure that our citizens are adequately served.
We must continue to focus on improving transparency and accountability, and in working to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our institutions.
The Opposition maintains its commitment to collaborating with stakeholders in making this a reality, for the benefit of our people.
Madam Chair, just two weeks ago, in that spirit of collaboration on this most important matter – the election of our sixth President, one that affects each and every citizen of our country, we agreed to accept the Government’s invitation to discuss the way forward.
A team from the Opposition met with the Prime Minister, the Honourable Dr Keith Rowley and his team, and we carefully considered the government’s nominee, given the important Constitutional role of the President in ensuring good governance and protecting our democracy.
We maintain that the person elected to this office must be independent and fair, and possess the strength and courage to discharge the functions of the office in a manner that adheres to the Constitution and the rule of law, and preserves the separation of powers.
In deliberating on the nominee, the Opposition consulted widely and listened carefully to all of the diverse views expressed.
We took the decision to support, given that Madame Justice Paula Mae Weekes’ record; her experience and her qualifications demonstrate that she was most suitable and deserving of the office.
Today the great party which I have the honor to lead, the United National Congress joins with those in the government in supporting both a process and a candidate to become our head of state.
Our stated position of non-objection and support runs against the propaganda peddled by a few that we oppose for opposition sake. If a nominee is worthy we support, if a law is good we pass it.
While some in the national community will continue a fervent debate on our Constitutional framework and the relevance and value of existing state institutions, we commend this process while encouraging dialogue on change and development to meet the traditional imperatives of democracy while giving expression to the new ideals of nationhood.
It gives me particular pleasure to speak on this historic juncture of the election of a first female head of state. By God’s grace and by the will of the people, I was honoured to serve as the first female Attorney General, leader of the Opposition and humbled to be the first female Prime Minister, and maybe the second as well…
Madam Chair, President-elect Paula-Mae Weekes has had a distinguished career, spanning several decades. After earning her LLB at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, and a Legal Education Certificate from the Hugh Wooding Law School (HWLS), St Augustine, she was called to the Bar in 1982.
She then served in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for 11 years, and then in private practice from 1993-1996.
Most recently, in 2016, she was appointed a Justice of Appeal in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Prior to that, she was a judge of the Appeal Court of Trinidad and Tobago for eleven years, from 2005 to her retirement in 2016.
She became the fifth female judge in the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago in 1996, serving for eight years.
In addition to this, the President-elect was a Course Director, Ethics, Rights and Obligations of the Legal Profession at the Hugh Wooding Law School.
She is a Member of the International Association of Women Judges, and a Member of the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association.
She is also Chancellor of the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago.
As she takes up her new position, we trust that President-elect Paula Mae Weekes will seek to protect the democratic rights and interests of the citizens of our beloved nation.
Most importantly, we expect that the President will ensure that any potential excesses and abuses by the Executive are curbed.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this historic occasion, as a woman becomes our nation’s sixth President. I have long advocated for greater participation by women in politics and in leadership roles.
It is our view that no society can achieve its potential until our women take up leadership roles and contribute as equals in advancing national development.Equity at all levels will enhance our democracy and ensure that our nation achieves its true potential.
I am certain that today’s election of our country’s first female President will serve to inspire our girls and women. Today, our girls can find examples of women at the highest levels of our nation’s political sphere, and that is something of which we can immensely proud.
Madam Chair as I close, our country is facing a challenging period, on many fronts. But as we are all aware, our motto is that together we aspire; together we achieve. It is time for us to work harder to truly reflect this maxim. It is time that we come together and heal our country.
Each of us has a role to play, and we must unite in our effort to make our country a better place, one of which we can truly be proud.
Together, we can meet the challenges that lie ahead and work towards solutions to them. Let us all draw on our resilience and imagination as we seek to succeed in this challenging environment.
I welcome President-elect Paula Mae Weekes and look forward to working with her in the months ahead.
May God continue to bless our great nation.