EXACTLY one year ago, Paula-Mae Weekes made history by becoming this country’s first female president. Today, we commend her for the tone she has set in office thus far and hold her up as an example all should aspire to.
From the very start, Weekes signalled the superficial trappings of high office were not high on her list of priorities. She declined to take up residence at President’s House in St Ann’s, opting instead to stay at home to care for her elderly mother Phyllis.
In her maiden address, the President demonstrated an understanding of the gravity of her role. “Our destinies, mine and that of our nation, are inextricably linked,” she said. “Be light and see light.” She called for bold action, hope and resilience. Since then, she has practised what she preached.
The President has not shied away from speaking out on issues that affect all of us. She has lamented the problems within the public service; taken note of the deleterious impact of gangs; bravely spoken out against bigotry and the incitement of violence, among other things.
At the same time, Weekes has been mindful that the ship she steers should avoid turbulent waters. She has resisted embroiling her office in scandal. For example, she swiftly denied social media reports suggesting she had refused to appoint a government minister. She dealt with a typographical error made under the tenure of her predecessor with dispatch, even going so far as to praise those who pointed out the error for their “astute observation.”
Weekes’ background as a jurist has added a distinct flavour to her tenure. While people with legal training have served in the post before, she has deployed a uniquely measured and good-humoured approach. That approach was often evident to those attending hearings before her at the Court of Appeal. Going forward, she will inevitably be called to draw upon that training more and more.
The challenges ahead are numerous. With many elections due in the coming months, the nation will be looking for some degree of stable leadership to counterbalance the noisy hustle and bustle of partisan politics.
Weekes has been good to resist the path taken by predecessors such as ANR Robinson, who once refused to appoint opposition senators, and Anthony Carmona, who delayed assent on a national security bill, and has defined her powers in such a way as to respect the Constitution and the imperatives of a democracy where elected officials, and not unelected ones, are expected to carry the burden of executive action.
What a refreshing change!
In a way, it is fitting the President’s one-year anniversary falls within the month in which International Women’s Day was commemorated. Just as her office celebrated the achievements, triumphs, and progress of all women on that day, so too do we celebrate her today.