'PRESIDENCY NOT IMPOTENT'
By Andre Bagoo Tuesday, March 19 2013
ANTHONY Thomas Aquinas Carmona, His Excellency the President, yesterday called for “real change” and declared that his office is not impotent as it still has powers which he will have no hesitation in enforcing.
Minutes after taking the oath as the fifth Head of State at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port-of-Spain, Carmona, 60, appeared to set the tone for his five-year tenure.
In an inauguration speech which threw the crowd of thousands of dignitaries and school-children gathered into rapturous applause, he boldly and dramatically outlined his vision of the scope and role of his office.
“Powers you think I have, I do not. Powers you think I do not have ... I do,” Carmona declared. His words threw the crowd gathered into a frenzy, delivered as they were in the slow, deliberate style of a master orator.
Carmona promised to uphold the Constitution and appeared unafraid to wade into controversial territory, making specific mention of the supreme law’s Section 81, which calls for the Prime Minister to keep the President fully informed of matters of State. The section was most recently invoked by his predecessor, George Maxwell Richards, at the height of the Section 34 affair.
“I may not have a magic wand, but the Office of the Presidency is not impotent,” Carmona said. “Section 81 of the Constitution mandates the Prime Minister to keep the President fully informed of the general conduct of the Government and, at the President’s request, to submit information with respect to any matter relating thereto. As a judge, I swore to uphold the Constitution and the law and ‘do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill will’. This I have done unflinchingly.”
Carmona continued, “As President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, my remit is wider and greater, for I have sworn ‘to preserve the Constitution and the law’ and to ‘devote myself to ‘the service and well-being of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.’ This I shall do without compromise or reservation, holding fact to the following fundamentals: integrity, transparency, inclusiveness and reverence to God Almighty.” Carmona called for a bi-partisan approach to the crime problem.
“We as a nation, we the Parliament of the people, must no longer engage in tired politics on this issue. Waffle abounds. What is needed is a truly collaborative effort among the stakeholders to address the crisis that is crime.”
“As I embark on this new journey, I ask for your continuing support and prayers that I may discharge my responsibilities with integrity and sensitivity,” he said. The former judge’s speech threw the crowd in the sheltered stands into a frenzy, prompting cheers and applause.
“Preach man! Talk like a big man!” one crowd member shouted.
The speech came after a more than three-hour long inauguration programme. But the crowd had little opportunity to be listless during that time. From the moment Carmona and his family arrived at 5.06 pm, people began to cheer and clap.
Carmona held his wife Reema’s hand as they both walked the length of the 100-metre track of the stadium, stopping near the finish-line, where a special stage had been set up for the proceedings. In a symbolic move, during yesterday’s ceremony the organisers had Carmona look away from the densely packed sheltered stands where thousands were gathered, and out towards the East, the outer stands: the general public at large. Speaker Wade Mark began the proceedings, calling upon those gathered including Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, to stand as Chief Justice Ivor Archie administered the oath. By 5.08 pm, Carmona swore to, “conscientiously and impartially discharge the functions of President” and devote himself “to the service and well-being of the people”. As he signed his name onto the instrument a tremendous applause swelled as he became President.
“Congratulations, Your Excel-
lency,” the Chief Justice said to his former colleague, hugging Carmona over the shoulder. Immediately after all of this ceremony, the new President was also intent on underlining his humility, jumping over a fence to touch hands and greet school-children specially invited and mingling with persons in the covered stands as he was escorted, at one point, to the VIP section of the Stadium.
Though he served as a judge for decades, the tenor of Carmona’s speech yesterday was at time more akin to a preacher’s.
“For many, many years the ship called the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has left its safe moorings of integrity, accountability, responsibility, transparency and inclusiveness,” he declared. “We are good at sound bites and labelling. We can be excellent wordsmiths. But if we are to establish a better, more progressive, more humane society, real change must be invoked.”
He rejected, “biases and prejudices” that are “promoting narrow group loyalties that serve to only deny us the magic of community, to steal from us the courage and the wisdom that are principal building blocks of this small and complex nation.” If the President, a Roman Catholic, at times sounded like a preacher, perhaps this was because he was in good company.
Father Clyde Harvey, at a special invocation, called for a moment of silence for the President.
“As we begin this moment of prayer for our country and the fifth President, I invite you all, security helicopters notwithstanding, to observe a moment of silence.”
Later, he prayed for Carmona to have, “wisdom and understanding so that he may be able to discern each day what is just and right.”
A member of the Hindu faith prayed: “Protect our President as he takes up the mantle of this responsibility.” A member of the Muslim faith said, “We pray that as we swear in our fifth president, you bless him with good leadership, strength and prosperity and help him to take up the mantle of leadership.”
Carmona promised to re-invigorate the place of the national watchwords.
“The mandate of my presidency will be to infuse new life into the watchwords: Discipline, Production, Tolerance.” He told the nation that responsibility and accountability must be a “two-way street”.
“Fulfilling the objective of the watchword discipline entails an acceptance of personal responsibility for one’s actions, a willingness to be held accountable,” he said. “Let me make it clear that being responsible and accountable does not only apply to people in high places, to ministers of Government and other elected officials. Our leaders are all those persons who command positions of influence in our society...One cannot justly demand that those in authority be disciplined, responsible and accountable and not invoke the same standards of conduct in our own daily lives.”
He urged citizens to live up to the watchword of production, “to demand a fair day’s pay but, at the same time, to commit to giving a fair day’s work; to search out lawful opportunities to be less dependent on the State; to distinguish between service and servitude.” Of tolerance he, called for “empathy, compassion and respect for others.”