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Hamel-Smith to miss Runoff debate

Wednesday, August 20 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Timothy Hamel-Smith...
Timothy Hamel-Smith...

A preplanned trip to Florida will prevent Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith from presiding over the debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill in the Upper House beginning on August 26. But even if he were here, Hamel-Smith has left quite open whether he would have recused himself from the proceedings.

In a statement last night, Hamel-Smith revealed that prior to fixing August 26 for the debate on the bill, he had already made arrangements to travel to Florida on August 20, and would not be returning to the country until August 28.

The Senate President said: “Having regard to the view advocated by me with regard to the referral of the Bill to a Joint Select Committee some individuals have taken the view that I should recuse myself from presiding on the debate of the Bill despite the fact that I have not expressed any view as to the merits or demerits of the Bill.”

He added, “I have given serious consideration to the question of recusal and while I believe that the argument has no merit, nonetheless I am aware that a high level of emotion surrounds the consideration of this Bill.”

“In the circumstances,” he added, “ I would not like my participation as Presiding Officer to add to the heightening of such emotions and to distract the public, or Honourable Members for that matter, from a fair consideration of the Bill.”

“In light of the foregoing it may well be that I would have made a decision to recuse myself from presiding on the debate of the Bill,” Hamel-Smith said, adding, “The issue however does not arise.”

The issue of Hamel-Smith recusing himself from presiding over the debate first arose last week when former Head of the Public Service and newspaper columnist, Reginald Dumas revealed an email to various people purportedly from the Senate President suggesting and seeking support for the bill to be referred to Joint Select Committee of Parliament.

Dumas questioned how the Senate President could therefore be considered to be neutral when it came to presiding over the debate which would lead to a vote by the Senators on the controversial measures.

But Hamel-Smith countered last night stating, “ I am not subject to any Party Whip nor do I participate in the proceedings of any political party.”

He said all decisions made by him with respect to his role as President of the Senate have been independently made by him on an impartial basis without regard to partisan politics and are based purely on his own personal judgement in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Senate.

Hamel-Smith cited Section 59 (2) of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago which states, “The President of the Senate or other member presiding in the Senate shall not vote unless on any question the voters are equally divided, in which case he shall have and exercise a casting vote”.

The controversy prompted meetings between the Senate President and parliamentarians Roodal Moonilal and Ganga Singh, Government Chief Whip in the House of Representatives and in the Senate respectively, but they declined comment following the discussions on Monday, saying Hamel-Smith would be issuing a statement on the matter.

Hamel-Smith said last night he issued the statement to clarify certain issues, “In light of the comments made in the media with respect to a statement made by him on the question of the referral of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill (the ‘Bill’) to a Joint Select Committee.”

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