House sits to debate motion against President

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

President Paula-Mae Weeke –

THE House of Representatives will sit in an extraordinary session on Thursday at 10.30 am to debate a motion filed by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar for the appointment of a tribunal to investigate the removal of President Paula-Mae Weekes from office. Persad-Bissessar’s motion is in relation to events that led to the collapse of the Police Service Commission (PSC) last month and the failure of a merit list of candidates for a commissioner of police (CoP) to be sent to the House for consideration.

A House Order Paper for Thursday’s extraordinary sitting released by the Parliament on Monday, said the sitting will deal exclusively with a motion filed by Persad-Bissessar asking that “pursuant to section 36 of the Constitution, a tribunal be established to investigate the removal of Her Excellency Paula-Mae Weekes, ORTT from the Office of the President.”

The motion states that Section 35 of the Constitution provides that the President may be removed from office under Section 36 of the Constitution where the President “willfully violates any provision of the Constitution; and/or behaves in such a way as to bring her office into hatred, ridicule or contempt and/or behaves in a way that endangers the security of the State.”

The motion further claims there have been unrefuted reports of recent events at President’s House of interference in the selection processes undertaken by the PSC and a list of nominees for CoP prepared by the PSC was “recently submitted to the President and she refused to notify the House of these nominees.”

The motion claims the President “has neglected to publicly address those reports and has otherwise failed to faithfully execute her several duties under the Constitution.”

The motion argues that Weekes should be removed from office because she “willfully violated the provisions of the Constitution securing the independence of the PSC in the performance of its functions and also willfully violated section 123 of the Constitution; behaved in such a way as to bring her office into hatred, ridicule or contempt by interfering and/or facilitating interference with the PSC and also by proceeding in the circumstances to appoint new members of the PSC; behaved in a way that has resulted in the endangerment of the security of the State through her inactions and/failure and/or neglect to act and has otherwise failed and/or neglected to execute her duties under the Constitution.”

In announcing her intention last week to file this motion against Weekes, Persad-Bissessar said the motion was signed by all 19 Opposition MPs in the House. This is in keeping with the requirement of Section 36 (1) (a) and (b) of the Constitution, with (b) saying the motion must be signed by at least one third of the House’s membership (which is 14 MPs).

But Section 36 (1) (c) states the motion must be adopted by “the vote of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of the Senate and the House of Representatives assembled together.” The members of the House and Senate form the Electoral College which meet to vote on the election of a President.

Newsday understands the members of the House and Senate will meet on Thursday as well.

A two-thirds vote of the members of both Houses of Parliament equates to 48 votes. The Government has 37 members in the House and Senate combined while the Opposition has 25. The nine independent senators comprise the remainder of the Electoral College.

The announcement of the extraordinary sitting comes a day after Weekes broke her silence on the PSC/CoP imbroglio. In a statement, she said, “I assure the nation that neither the OTP (Office of the President nor I participated in, allowed or encouraged any attempted or actual improper interference, influence or breach of the principle of separation of powers in the operation of the PSC in the matter of the CoP.”

“I did not receive instructions or suggestions from any individual, nor did I give any to the PSC. I certainly did not wilfully violate any provision of the Constitution nor have I behaved in a way that could lead one reasonably to conclude that I have brought the OTP into hatred, ridicule or contempt or endangered the security of the State.”

The President confirmed the merit list reached her office on August 11, but said it was rescinded hours later. She said this meant she could not submit the list to Parliament for consideration.

“The OTP has been advised that ‘the recruitment and selection process for the Office of CoP has not yet been completed.’”

Weekes said while all service commissions were appointed by the OTP, they are “independent even of the President who does not direct, participate or interfere in their deliberations and decisions.”