Quasi-ceremonial president not an executive president

President-elect Christine Kangaloo -
President-elect Christine Kangaloo -

THE EDITOR: Former US president John Adams aptly quipped countless years ago but his words are still relevant today: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

With the election of former Senate president Christine Kangaloo to the exalted office of President of the republic, there has been much brouhaha once again about the President-elect’s plans to do things relegated to the executive arm of the State – fight crime, diversify the economy, ameliorate the unemployment level and prepare for some Armageddon of sorts to deal with the current Government. Kangaloo has to operate within her constitutional crease like all her predecessors.

The outgoing President stated emphatically in her first press conference in 2018 that she would act in accordance within the remit of the Office of President. Being a lawyer, former prosecutor in the Office of the DPP, a Court of Appeal judge at home and abroad, she clearly knew “the powers which she has” and has, like the epitome of a lady, told us tactfully, unspeakingly, “powers you think I have, I do not.” TT’s President is largely ceremonial.

According to our Constitution, executive power rests with the Prime Minister as opposed to countries like the US where executive power rests with the President. We pattern a Westminster system where the head of state, the President, just like the monarch of England, performs a largely ceremonial role.

US presidents acquire their executive power from Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which states that “executive power shall be vested in the President of the United States,” making the president the head of the executive branch of the central government.

Sections 2 and 3 enumerate specific powers granted to the president, which include the authority to appoint federal judges, ambassadors and other high-ranking government officials, veto legislation, call Congress into special session, administer the law and to embark upon war.

The president of the US even has the “power of impoundment,” which is the refusal of a sitting president to expend funds appropriated by the central government (Congress). President Thomas Jefferson in his third annual message to Congress stated that US$50,000 which Congress had appropriated for 15 gunboats in Mississippi had been unexpended.

President Franklin Roosevelt at times refused to spend money for the purposes appropriated by the central government. Successive presidents expanded upon these precedents including Richard Nixon and Donald Trump (withholding of funds for a popular energy programme).

TT’s President has no such power. In many key areas of operations for governance, the President either acts on advice from the Prime Minister or has to consult with both the PM and the Leader of the Opposition before execution.

The President has sole prerogative in a few areas, such as the appointment of Independent senators or appointments to independent bodies that are to be insulated from political interference, such as the Integrity Commission and the various service commissions.

In our parliamentary republic, the President’s role is largely ceremonial as outlined previously. Countries with a quasi-ceremonial president apart from us include England, Austria, India, Greece, Iceland, Albania, Bangladesh and Malta, to name a few.

Countries like the US with a presidential system of government where executive power rests with the president include Brazil, Colombia, Panama, Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Kenya, Nigeria, Philippines, Paraguay, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Liberia, Venezuela and Uruguay.

Let us not conflate duties and responsibilities of public officeholders and especially expropriate duties from one and assign to the other – this would be unconstitutional.

Until the TT Constitution is amended to facilitate an executive president, as one of our late renowned prime ministers attempted to do through the right channels, let us in the laity repeat as gospel the following with the powers we know we have:

“Here every creed, race and officeholder find and know their place/And may God bless our nation.”


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"Quasi-ceremonial president not an executive president"

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