Retired Court of Appeal judge Paula Mae Weekes could soon make history as the first woman to be elected President of TT.
Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young officially announced Weekes as the Government’s nominee for President, at a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s yesterday.
The conference followed a 35-minute meeting at the same venue between Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
Speaking to Newsday on Thursday, Rowley said all nominees proposed by the Opposition would be considered.
Describing the meeting as very productive and co-operative, Young said Government told the Opposition Weekes was its sole presidential nominee and Persad-Bissessar’s reaction to Weekes was “a very positive one, a very buoyant one.”
He said Persad-Bissessar indicated the Opposition had no nominees to propose at this stage, but she indicated she needed to caucus with Opposition members and would contact the Government on Monday morning.
Young reminded reporters that for someone to be considered as a presidential nominee, Section 30 of the Constitution stipulates that 12 or more elected MPs must sign the nomination form. Section 30 also says that form must be delivered to the Speaker no less than a week before the Electoral College convenes. The college is set to meet on January 19. Speaker of the House of Representatives Bridgid Annisette-George is chairman of the Electoral College.
Young said Rowley told Persad-Bissessar that Government will leave some spaces on the nomination form for Opposition MPs to sign “in a co-operative manner” with Government MPs. He added the latter will sign the form after the Prime Minister does so. He hoped the form would be signed by noon on Monday and subsequently transmitted to Annisette-George, and while Government has sufficient MPs to sign the form on its own, Young said it would be a good signal to the country if Government and the Opposition agree on a single presidential nominee.
Young added the deadline for submitting the form was 4 pm on Monday.
He explained that once a nominee is unopposed, that individual is automatically the President-elect. But should the Opposition decide to propose its own nominee, 12 of its MPs must sign a similar form and submit it by 4 pm on Monday.
In those circumstances, Young said the Electoral College will meet and vote on which of the nominees should be elected.
Asked if Government had conducted thorough background checks to ensure there was nothing which could disqualify Weekes from being a nominee and being elected, Young replied, “Yes.”
Young said Government agrees with Persad-Bissessar that the President should not be a puppet of the government of the day.
He said Weekes had had a stellar career as a jurist in TT, serving as a Justice of Appeal for 11 years and retiring in 2016, and Government was thankful and grateful she had agreed to make herself available as a presidential nominee.
He said Weekes also had “a very great professional career” at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, spent a short time in private practice and served as a puisne judge in the 1990s before being elevated to the Court of Appeal. A former Bishop Anstey High School student, she recently served as an appeal court judge in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Asked how Weekes reacted when Government asked her to be its nominee, Young said he would not breach that confidentiality, and Weekes would speak for herself in due course.
Young said before Rowley advanced Weekes as Government’s nominee, he asked Persad-Bissessar about incumbent President Anthony Carmona continuing in office for another five-year term. Government thanked Carmona for his service over the last five years,Young said, and the public must congratulate anyone who decides “to give public service at any level to TT.” Carmona and Arthur NR Robinson (deceased) are the only individuals to serve one term as President. All of this country’s other presidents (Sir Ellis Clarke, Noor Hassanali and George Maxwell Richards) served two terms.