Former President Paula-Mae Weekes. FILE PHOTO – File Photo/AYANNA KINSALE
GLEANING insight from her time spent as the country’s sixth and first female Head of State, former President Paula-Mae Weekes said she would like some degree of investigatory authority added to the role and functions of the office-holder.
She made the statement in a pre-recorded interview which was aired on i95.5 FM’s Eye on Dependency programme on Sunday. She spoke of her time in office, some of the challenges faced, the President’s role and racism on social media, among other things.
This is the second pre-recorded interview Weekes did for that radio station with the first being aired last week and which also reported on in the Sunday Newsday.
Asked by interviewer Garth St Clair what she would like to see added to the President’s role, Weekes said, “If you are asking the President to be responsible for identifying people nominated to hold certain independent, very responsible and very weighty offices, I think the President should be enabled to do more than go shoo-shooing around, asking people, ‘what you know about X?’
“If the President had a mechanism where certain checks could actually be made, where officially, the President can send out people to talk to the person’s co-workers, if necessary their neighbours, all of these things, then it would help the President have a clearer picture and a better grasp of the people before they are nominated.
“To me, that would be the biggest of the things that should be done at the Office of the President.”
This view also came after she outlined some of the powers the office-holder does not have.
On March 20, Christine Kangaloo was sworn-in as the new President.
ROLES VERY LIMITED
Weekes said that contrary to what some may believe, the President has very limited powers and authority. She reminded that the President is not a member of the Government.
She added that the President is a representation of the nation and exists to have a clear separation between Governmental powers and certain agencies which TT desires to have and keep independent such as the commissions.
Speaking to appointments, Weekes said the President is required to act as advised.
“The president is advised and as long as the legal requirements are met, the president must act as advised. You will have questions about, ‘how the president could appoint so and so as a minister?’ Because the president was so advised by the authority to advise that office.
“The person met the legal requirements – it may have to do with age or qualifications and, therefore, the president has to do it.”
Weekes said the President gets a little bit of power in certain appointments and can identify the person they wish to nominate and then consult with certain bodies about that person.
“The general and most popular consultation is with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. Whenever the President consults with the Prime Minister, the President also must, by law, consult with the Leader of the Opposition.
“So a name is sent forward for a particular position and then both of these parties are invited to let the President know what they think.”
NO INVESTIGATIVE APPARATUS
Weekes said the President’s Office is not provided with any kind of investigative apparatus to look into the people the President is going to put forward for certain national roles.
She said the individual’s qualifications can be objectively verified, but the President must rely on third parties to find out about the character and conduct of the nominee.
“Which is not the most effective way because you might ask a person who is either very much in favour or very much against that individual (being considered). The information you get can be skewed, depending on the source of your information,” Weekes explained.
Weekes said the President’s office has had to “tiptoe” its way through information and make the best it could of it.
“When you consult, it gives the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition their chance to do their little investigations, so the President has the benefit of its own investigations, anything that the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition have to bring to the table to see whether or not this is a suitable candidate.
“The President, of course, is free not to follow the opinion of either of those consulting parties, but that would be foolhardy,” she said.
She said if the parties bring something and can demonstrate or say why, then it gives one pause for cause, allowing one to check and come to some decision.
Weekes said the only appointments the President has absolute discretion on are independent senators, lay assessors of the Equal Opportunity Tribunal and the sentencing commission.
“If persons understand these limits and that the President is a creature of statute (they would understand) the President can only legally do what is written down in law. The President cannot act outside of the law, in terms of legal unconstitutional duties,” Weekes said.