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By Newsday staff Tuesday, February 5 2013

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JUSTICE Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona, SC was yesterday announced as the Government’s choice to become President. As such, Carmona is expected to be voted in as the country’s fifth Head of State when the Electoral College meets on February 15.

The judge had been tipped to be the Government’s choice for the post in an exclusive Newsday report published on Sunday.

At the age of 59, Carmona becomes the youngest President in recent times. The country’s youngest President, however, remains Sir Ellis Clarke, appointed in 1976 at the age of 58.

The announcement of the Government’s choice was yesterday made by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar at a press-briefing held at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, after a special Government caucus meeting.

Persad-Bissessar described Carmona as an “esteemed son of the soil” who has “demonstrated the qualities of human character, experience and distinguished qualifications worthy enough to be the nominee for President of Trinidad and Tobago.”

She said, “Justice Anthony Carmona is an internationally-respected member of the Judiciary, recently elected as a judge of the ICC (International Criminal Court) in the Hague”— a court formed from a proposal by former president, Arthur NR Robinson — and expressed confidence in his ability to serve “with compassion, humanity, fairness and love for us all.”

The Prime Minister said she had informed President George Maxwell Richards, Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley of the choice.

A formal nomination is expected to be submitted by Government Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal to Speaker Wade Mark this morning, after the Prime Minister signed documents naming Carmona as the nominee shortly after her announcement last evening which was greeted by hearty applause by the many Members of Government present.

She was flanked by senior members of the parties of her People’s Partnership (PP) Government - COP leader, Prakash Ramadhar; TOP MP Vernella Toppin-Alleyne and former MSJ leader, Errol Mc Leod, - with NJAC Government Senator Embau Moheni sitting with Government Ministers in the audience.

While bringing her usual sparkle and buoyancy to the occasion, it had clearly been a long day for Persad-Bissessar and her Ministers, who afterwards filed out of the media room to resume their Cabinet meeting in another room.

Government press secretary, Andy Johnson, said the Prime Minister wanted the statement to stand by itself, that is, she would not be taking questions.

She said it had been a long and productive day which began with her consulting an Opposition team led by Rowley, the executives of the PP member-parties, and then the Government’s parliamentary caucus of MPs and Senators.

Persad-Bissessar thanked incumbent, President George Maxwell Richards, for his past decade of distinguished service in an office to which he had brought both his scholastic expertise (as an academic and former principal of the University of the West Indies, St Augustine) and a more people-friendly aspect. Richards had served with honour and dignity and had earned a special and sacred place in this nation. His terms ends on March 17, she noted.

On this seventh occasion of electing a Head of State since Independence, she said this is a sacred duty which must never be taken for granted.

Persad-Bissessar said that when Sir Ellis Clarke took his oath as the first President of Republican Trinidad and Tobago in 1976, he had said how important it is to live in peace, harmony and progress, and some 36 years later the nation now stood as a global beacon of hope, diversity and peace.

“That is the significance of the Office of President,” she said.

In an ever-changing world of evolving human-rights, this post is important constitutionally. “It is much needed to effect proper governance and the democratic tenets which bind us,” she said.

“Far from being a mere ceremonial post as has often been said in the past, the office and role of the President in our Republic is in fact the measure of democracy in our nation; the guide-post of our humanity, wisdom, civility, rationality, compassion, intelligence and progress, as we uphold and respect our democratic principles of equality for all.”

The Government has a duty to select a candidate who has “a range of qualities and qualifications” that befit these characteristics, said Persad-Bissessar.

“I am proud to say that from the bosom of our citizenry there were many sound candidates recommended each in his or her own right eminently qualified for the post.” She said that in her usual style she took on board these suggestions from the entire population. “In fact, I was very heartened when I saw how keenly interested the citizens of our land, of all ages, were and remain in their choice of President.”

As the world achieves democracy, freedom and self-determination, Trinidad and Tobago proudly continues its great tradition of democracy and harmony, and the presidential nominee is a “person who epitomizes this credo”.

She said, “In this context, there was much deliberation and prayerful consideration of all the recommendations advanced.”

Persad-Bissessar said that as is the tradition, she met Rowley to consider his party’s choice (Justice Rolston Nelson) and to brief him on the procedure the Government had adopted to arrive at the best candidate while preserving the dignity and respect of all the citizens recommended.

“Subsequently, I shared with all members of my Government and the leaders of the Partnership the names and views expressed by everyone with whom I had consulted,” she recalled. “In this process, each member was given the opportunity to state his or her view on the preferred choice of nominee for President. At the end of this collaboration the individual chosen as the nominee for the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago emerged.”

She said Carmona “has had a distinguished career in the criminal justice system over the past thirty years serving under several administrations.”

Persad-Bissessar concluded, “So, we go forward today with this great historic process as a people always powerful in its purpose, and we look to a future rich in possibilities, all because we continue to work and strive together, not as members of political parties but as Trinidadians and Tobagonians.”

The selection of a judge returns the Presidency to someone with a legal background, a tradition which appears to have been in place prior to the appointment of President Richards, an engineer by training.

But while there have been lawyers in the post before, Carmona is the first lawyer trained at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and at the Hugh Wooding Law School to be elevated to this high office. He will also be the first High Court judge to take up the Presidency. (Former President Noor Hassanali had been a Justice of Appeal).

Carmona – currently the seventh most senior judge of the High Court – will have to give up the ICC post at The Hague to which he was elected to in late 2011. He received his letter of appointment to the ICC last year and, up to last week had been due to travel to The Hague on a plane ticket booked for March 1.

At the opening of the law term last year, Chief Justice Ivor Archie announced that the Judiciary would be losing Carmona to the ICC and praised his “sterling contribution” to the local bench. The ICC yesterday declined comment on Carmona’s appointment as President.

Perhaps like his name-sake, Thomas Aquinas, Carmona is known for being thoughtful and reflective while on the Bench and has been outspoken about his ideas.

In response to questions from the ICC in 2011 as to why he should be appointed to that court, Carmona had said, “I have been a judge of the High Court for some eight years dealing with complex criminal trials of great national notoriety. I do not run with hounds and the foxes in dispensing justice. My integrity remains unimpeachable. I have prosecuted successfully a Senior Magistrate who was sentenced to two years hard labour for corruption. I exercise my responsibility without fear or favour.”

The virtual President-elect is known for often traveling to and from San Fernando by water-taxi. Last week, he was spotted lining up like any other ordinary citizen to renew a driver’s permit at a Government office in San Fernando. With the release of his name yesterday afternoon, however, all of that looks set to change as protocol and security officials immediately swooped in, making preparations to oversee Carmona’s transition into office.

Carmona yesterday morning began his day continuing judicial duty at the San Fernando High Court, where he presided over the sentencing of a man to five years prison for robbery. He left the court at around 11.30 am, waving to photographers and wearing a jovial look, as he made his way to his home in Port-of-Spain, not far from where the announcement of his selection was made hours later.

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