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Order of precedence

Tuesday, January 29 2008

Government’s decision to review the current Table of Precedence, an Order rooted in Trinidad and Tobago’s colonial past and the influence of this country’s first Prime Minister, the late Dr Eric Williams, is as welcome as it is long overdue. There are two immediate areas of concern which could readily be addressed as amendments to the Table of Precedence without waiting for the finalisation of what promises to be a long drawn out process.

The two areas, one of which is already suggested by Section 27, Sub Section (1) of the 1976 Republican Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago, concern who is next in precedence after the President and the somewhat clumsy, if not insensitive, retention of the placing of the Office of Roman Catholic Archbishop of Port-of-Spain, currently eighth, above the Anglican Bishop of Trinidad and the Chief Representatives of the Hindu and Muslim Religion and the Chief Representative of the Council of Evangelical Churches.

For the record there are no listings for the Heads of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and the Presbyterian Church, nor that of a Chief Representative of, say, the Spiritual Baptists.

Section 27, Sub Section (1) of the Constitution states, “Where the office of President is vacant or the President is incapable of performing his functions as President by reason of his absence from Trinidad and Tobago or by reason of illness, the President of the Senate shall act temporarily as President.” This conveys that whoever is President of the Senate is considered under the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution to be second in order of succession and precedence.

Meanwhile, because of the influence of Dr Williams, who was Prime Minister when the Republican Constitution came into effect in 1976, it may not be unreasonable to assume that a People’s National Movement dominated House of Representatives (Dr Williams was then Political Leader of the PNM) would not have considered placing the President of the Senate above that of Prime Minister in the official Table of Precedence. A new Table, however, should position the President of the Senate second after the President, with the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice third and fourth in that order.

An agreement, which President of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), Pundit Mukram Sirjoo, has stated was reached with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on August 10, last year that “all Heads of religious bodies be given the same standing in terms of rank of office holding” should, along with the President of the Senate being placed next after the President, be effected as early as possible. Already, the not putting into effect of the August 10, 2007 Agreement dealing, specifically, with that of Heads and Chief representatives of religious bodies is unacceptable.

The placing of the Roman Catholic Archbishop highest in the Table of Precedence is an extension of the old colonial attitude of the British, who when they gained Trinidad from the French under the Treaty of Amiens in 1803 had the Archbishop as a member of the then Legislative body.

Today, more than 200 years later, and with Independent Trinidad and Tobago committed under its 1976 Republican Constitution to recognise and protect “Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms”, including the right to continue to exist “without discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex” the tacit placing of Anglicans, Hindus and Muslims is a contradiction.

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