Electoral College defeats Opposition's motion to impeach President in TrinidadThursday, October 21, 2021
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) – The Electoral College Thursday voted down an opposition inspired motion aimed at impeaching President Paula Mae Weekes, with opposition legislators consistently disrupting the proceedings and shouting that “democracy is dead” in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Electoral College, comprising the 72 members of the House of Assembly and the Senate, voted by a 47-24 margin to dismiss the motion filed by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar, who wanted a Tribunal established “to investigate the removal” of Weekes, a former Appeal Court judge in Trinidad and Tobago and the Turks and Caicos Islands, from the Office of the President.
Section 35 of the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution provides that the President may be removed under section 36 where she “wilfully violates any provision of the Constitution and/or behaves in such a way as to bring her office into hatred, ridicule or contempt and/or behaves in such a way that endangers the security of the State”.
Persad Bissessar, who in the past has been calling for the resignation of the Head of State, said that the motion became necessary following the imbroglio regarding the appointment of a new Police Commissioner after the incumbent Gary Griffith's three-year contract had ended in August.
Griffith was appointed to act as deputy, but the High Court ruled that his appointment was null and void.
The situation regarding the appointment of a new top cop led to the resignation of all the members of the Police Service Commission (PSC) amid allegations from the opposition that their list of nominees had been withdrawn following the intervention of a senior public official.
In her motion, Persad Bissessar claimed that the Head of State “wilfully violated the provisions of the Constitution securing the independence of the Police Service Commission (PSC) in the performance of its functions and wilfully violated section 123 of the Constitution” and that “she behaves in a way that endangers the security of the State” and “has otherwise failed and/or neglected to execute her duties under the Constitution.
On Tuesday, the Parliament issued guideline regarding the motion, noting the member “shall only propose the motion and state with full particulars the grounds as set out in the motion, on which the removal of the President from office is proposed.
“Following the proposal of the motion in the House of Representatives, the Members who signed the motion shall be required to confirm their support for the motion by standing in his/her place and confirming his/her signature when called upon by the Clerk to do so.
“After the motion is proposed and supported, without amendment or debate, the House of Representatives shall be suspended/adjourned for the convening of the Electoral College for the vote on the adoption of the motion in accordance with section 36(1)(c) of the Constitution”
The guidelines note that In accordance with section 36(1)(c) of the Constitution, the motion requires a vote of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of the Electoral College and that at the meeting of the Electoral College, “the Chairman will call upon the Members of the College to vote on the adoption of the motion without amendment or debate”.
“Each Member may vote either “yes” or “no”. A Member who wishes to abstain from voting shall do so by remaining silent when called upon by name.”
“The motion succeeds if it is adopted by the vote of at least two-thirds of the total membership of the Electoral College. If the motion is adopted by the vote of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of the Electoral College, the Speaker shall forthwith inform the Chief Justice of the adoption of the motion by the Electoral College.
“The Speaker shall also forthwith inform the President of the adoption of the motion by the Electoral College. If the motion is defeated, the Speaker shall so inform the President,” according to the guidelines.
Persad Bissessar, who theatrically tore up the guidelines, described the proceedings at both the House of Representatives and the Electoral College as “a death announcement” joining her opposition colleagues in their coordinated disruption of the proceedings by demanding answers to questions, even though the Speaker, Bridgid Annisette-George, urged legislators to adhere to the rules.
The Opposition Leader said that the opposition was participating in the proceedings under protest, adding “I want to make that very clear” and that the guidelines were done “unilaterally”.
Earlier, the Speaker, who was forced to temporarily suspend the sitting of the House of Representatives, dismissed Persad Bissessar's view that a debate should be allowed before the motion is put to both the House of Assembly and the Electoral College, saying the Opposition Leader was “personally free to hold such a view.
“But this position is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution. Section 36 (1) C does not contemplate a debate by the Electoral College at this stage. Section 36 (1) B identifies the motion as a document containing the full particulars and the grounds on which the complaint is based together with the requite signature.
“It was for the Honourable Leader of the Opposition to ensure that her document contained sufficient details, that is to say full particulars to assist the Electoral College in determining whether her complain and investigation by a tribunal.
“Interestingly, Honourable Members, the Constitution provides that upon the receipt of the report of the tribunal headed by the Chief Justice, the Electoral College and the summons of the Speaker considers the report”.
The Speaker said it is at this stage the Constitution provides for a debate to take place by the Electoral College.
“Admittedly, a motion to trigger the removal of a President is rarely invoked. In fact the framers of the Constitution intended when the provision is invoked the complaint and the particulars must be so sufficiently weighted that it will be likely to succeed.”
The Speaker said that she “was astounded by the allegation of bias” made against her by Persad Bissessar, saying she is even “perplexed by the factors in support of same.
“I am of the opinion these issues do not arise. It is absurd to suggest that any person who has participated in processes that are not the specific subject of this motion should be disqualified from participating in these proceedings.
'The claim of the Honourable Leader of the Opposition taken to its logical conclusion suggest that even the proposer and the members who signed in support may be perceived as bias and should be disallowed from participating as well,” the Speaker said, dismissing also a call by the Opposition Leader for her to recuse herself.
Opposition legislators shouted that the Speaker's actions were a “total abuse” of Parliament reminding her, “Madame the people voted for us. Who voted for you?”
But, the Speaker noted that for example, a privilege motion does not trigger a debate.
“At this stage, the Constitution does not provide, expressly or by implication, for a debate,” she said, adding that “the Leader of the Opposition's letter also seems to suggest that the debate she desires should take place in the Electoral College. Indeed, the Member asserted that “it is absurd to ask the Members of the House and Senate to vote on such an important motion without a debate,” she said.
“However, it is strikingly odd that the Leader of the Opposition would refer to a clear provision of the Constitution as “absurd”. All of us assembled here swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, the very Constitution that the Member is now labeling as absurd because it is at variance with her misguided opinion.”
“I cannot, and I will not assume upon myself, the power to construe the words of the Constitution in a way which is inconsistent with its clear intention, simply to appease the competing interests of those involved,” she said.