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Friday 17 August 2018
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Striking the right notes

PRESIDENT-elect Paula-Mae Weekes struck the right notes when she set out her views on the constitutional role of the president in an interview with Newsday last week.

Terrified or no, her acknowledgement of the limits of her powers coupled with her signal that she will seek to do good not by executive action but by supporting worthy causes is a sign that she is more than fit for the job. She has set out a blueprint all public officials should follow.

In the interview, Weekes noted the Constitution allows little leeway for independent action by the president, who “in some respects at the end of the day is a glorified rubber stamp.”

Far too many presidents have failed to appreciate what Weekes, who is not even formally in the post, clearly knows.

A president must generally act on the advice of the Cabinet and, therefore, the prime minister.

Even when the president has a discretion to act, that discretion is fettered by the availability of resources supplied by the State. Still, Weekes understands that while she is limited in certain respects, she has the power to effect change by using moral suasion.

“I’m hoping there are small things that I can get moving,” she said. She has already begun to do exactly this.

The retired Justice of Appeal’s call for a special legal department for the Office of the President is instructive. It confirms what has long been merely a suspicion: the president is bereft of proper legal support. While in theory the post-holder may draw on the expertise of any silk in the country at will, in practice such an arrangement is too informal and lacks the degree of transparency that should accompany public office. Furthermore, it is somewhat unfair on practitioners who should be paid for their work.

It is hoped the State has taken note of the comments of the president-elect. Steps should be taken to bolster the legal support provided to the Office of the President before Weekes is formally sworn in.

In interviews with other media houses, Weekes has also set a good example. She noted the protections of the Constitution apply to all, “whatever their gender, whatever their sexual orientation, whatever their race.” Coming from someone who has been deeply involved in the affairs of the Anglican Church, this is particularly heartening. It is an acknowledgement that the new president is prepared to serve all.


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