Timothy Hamel-Smith: HOPE wants an elected president

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Political leader of HOPE Timothy Hamel-Smith –

THE Honesty, Opportunity, Performance, Empowerment (HOPE) party wants an elected, non-partisan president, plus oversight committees for public spending and economic planning.

So said the party’s leader, Timothy Hamel-Smith, at a briefing at his law firm in Port of Spain on April 8.

Also present were deputy leader Louis Lee Sing and party organiser Deosaran Jagroo.

Hamel-Smith said the party’s proposals were sent to the committee under former speaker Barendra Sinanan which is now hosting public consultations on constitutional reform.

He proposed the president should be someone possessing “certain qualities” but have no political affiliation and be directly elected by the people.

“HOPE will give a substantive job to the president.”

He lamented that whoever now holds the office of president was seen as “the ruling party’s person.”

He said HOPE envisions that the president would name a fiscal council of representatives from academia, labour, business, religion and civil society chosen by him/her as a watchdog over fiscal prudence and accountability.

The president would also name an economic development and advisory committee to establish long-term economic policies.

He hoped such institutions would help curb Trinidad and Tobago’s rampant gangsterism, as he asked, “Where will we be next?”

Hamel-Smith said the running of the Public Service could be made much more efficient by constitutional mechanisms than now need just a simple majority in Parliament to enact.

“It is independent, but does it function?” he asked of the Public Service at present.

Saying the Constitution now confers rights on citizens, he proposed it also lists their duties and responsibilities.

Hamel-Smith proposed citizen assemblies, saying these would have saved the UK from the Brexit episode (its withdrawal from the European Union), which he said resulted from a simple-majority popular referendum.

He proposed to make the criminal justice system work for everyone and said HOPE had proposals to combat corruption via the new post of an independent special prosecutor.

Lee Sing chimed in to say Trinidad and Tobago cannot just plod along whereby only the Prime Minister knew the election date, saying, “We need a fixed date.”

Newsday asked Hamel-Smith if the fiscal council would be a non-elected alternative pole of power to the elected government.

He said it was more of a watchdog as opposed to exercising power and it could make recommendations and do a cost-benefit analysis on various proposals.

He clarified that his proposed president would have “a sort of executive role” but that Parliament would remain supreme. Hamel-Smith suggested a system of preferential voting to elect a president until he/she attained over 50 per cent of the popular vote.

Saying the former People’s Partnership government – in which he was Senate president – had a proposal for Parliament to be autonomous, he lamented that today there is not even a strategic plan for Parliament.

He hoped for a new way for Parliament to consider new legislation, saying this action was “a specialist area.”

Hamel-Smith said HOPE did not intend to join the UNC.

Lee-Sing said HOPE need not contest all 41 seats in the next parliamentary election to be of consequence, but if it won just five seats, would be needed in any new government.