Opposition Leader and UNC Political Leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar

The parameters for today’s unprecedented motion to remove the President, set out by House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George, has been labelled a “war on democracy” by Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Persad-Bissessar yesterday also said that Annisette-George is disqualified to chair Thursday’s impeachment proceedings as she was the attorney general who drafted the 2009 Order for the selection of a Police Commissioner which was overturned by the High Court last week.
Persad-Bissessar said to chair this impeachment would be a conflict of interest.

Persad-Bissessar is also calling for Independent Senator Charrise Seepersad to recuse herself on the basis of her relationship with former Police Service chairman Bliss Seepersad.
On Thursday, Annisette-George laid out the guidelines for today’s motion, which instructed that there would be no debate and no amendment when the electoral college meets today for the motion to impeach President Paula-Mae Weekes.

“The absence of a debate presupposes that Members have come to vote with predetermined positions. Is it that have assumed that Members will toe the party lines and Independent Senators will be loyal to the President because she was responsible for their appointments?” Persad-Bissessar asked in her letter to Anisette-George.

“Surely, members have come to listen to the debate with an open mind, receptive to arguments and suasion-to presume otherwise breaches the fundamental and sacred tenets of our democracy,” Persad-Bissessar said.

Persad-Bissessar accused the Speaker of abusing her power and using that authority to “stifle” the debate.

Annisette-George’s guidelines make it clear that when Persad-Bissessar proposes the motion today, the House “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”.

From here the 18 other Opposition Members of the House who have already signed in support of the motion, would be required to confirm their support by standing in his/her place and confirming his/her signature when called upon to do so by the Clerk of the House.

Only then is the House is suspended and the Electoral College convened.

The chairman would then call on each member of the Electoral College to vote and each Member may vote either “yes” or “no”. If any voter is abstaining, they are required to remain silent.

Persad-Bissessar sad those guidelines were a “gross affront to our Constitution, our Standing Orders and the foundational principles of Parliamentary democracy”.

“Should your guidelines stand, it would signal to the world that Trinidad and Tobago is now officially a dictatorship where our Constitution has been mangled and disrespected to serve the interest of the party in power,” she said.

“The Parliament is now being prevented from performing its sacred constitutional function of debating and deciding on a motion that we have proposed,” she said.

Persad-Bissessar said that shutting down the debate will “set a dangerous precedent” for the high officeholders to continue to ignore the provisions of the law.

She said Annisette-George’s guidelines were ultra vires to the Constitution.

With regards to Annisette-Georges conflicted interest, Persad-Bissessar said that “the fair-minded and informed observer would also conclude that there is a real possibility that you would use your office as Chairman/Speaker to avoid scrutiny and debate on the issues surrounding the President’s conduct”.

“Which would undoubtedly involve your legal faux pas,” she said.

Persad-Bissessar said Annisette-George’s “bias” was already evident in her guidelines.

“We, therefore, ask you to revisit the same principles that prompted you to resign as Attorney General due to a conflict of interest and search your conscience to determine whether presiding over this sitting is justified,” she said.

On the matter of Independent Senator Charrise Seepersad, Persad-Bissessar said that as sister to the former PolSC chair, there was obvious conflict.

“The close familial connection poses a serious conflict of interest,” Persad-Bissessar said, and called on Senator Seepersad to do the honourable thing”.

PM: Opposition would not succeed.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley weighed on the issue, saying that it was the Constitution that did not permit the motion to be debated.

“Go and read Section 34 to 36. Then you will want to know why this self appointed Senior Counsel is so foolish and mischievous,” he said yesterday.

“It is not “no debate is allowed”, the Constitution does not permit it. The fool kept promising debate because she and her imps and advisers think,” he said.

The Prime Minister said that the Opposition leader was using this motion as an “opportunity to castigate and denigrate the President”.

He said the Opposition’s aim was to undermine the confidence in the Office of the President, but “they will not succeed”.

Ex-Speaker agrees with Annisette-George

Former House Speaker Nizam Mohammed yesterday agreed with the position taken by Annisette-George that a debate was not necessary for the motion to impeach the President.

In a telephone interview, Mohammed said that today’s meeting for consideration of the motion is not a sitting of the House of Representatives but one of the electoral college.

“It is the first time in our history, as far as I recall, that the electoral college has been summoned for the purpose of entertaining such a motion,” he said.

“On all previous occasions, the electoral college met for the election of a President,” he said.
Mohammed said it was up to the House Speaker to convene the electoral college.

“As far as the election of a President is concerned, the Constitution says that the College may regulate its own procedure but this is not a meeting for the election of the President,” he said.

Mohammed said that the motion for removal of a President must emanate from the House of Representatives and must state the grounds for removal.

“The motion has to be adopted by not less than two-thirds of the total membership of the Senate and the House of Representatives assembled together,” he said.

When asked about the contentious topic of whether to not a debate is permitted in these matters, Mohammed said, “the motion, in its very structure, requires that it contain full particulars of the grounds of which the mover of the motion is relying on, it does not have any room for a debate”.Section 36 of the Constitution

(1) The President shall be removed from office where—

(a) a motion that his removal from office should be investigated by a tribunal is proposed in the House
of Representatives;

(b) the motion states with full particulars the grounds on which his removal from office is proposed, and is signed by not less than one-third of the total membership of the House of Representatives.

(c) the motion is adopted by the vote of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of the Senate and the House of Representatives assembled together;

(d) a tribunal consisting of the Chief Justice and four other Judges appointed by him, being as far as practicable the most senior judges, investigate the complaint and report on the facts to the House of Representatives;

(e) the Senate and the House of Representatives assembled together on the summons of the Speaker consider the report and by resolution supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of the Senate and the House of Representatives assembled together declare that he shall be removed from office.

(2) Where a motion is adopted as is provided for in subsection (1)(a), (b) and (c) the President shall cease to perform any of his functions as President and the President of the Senate shall act temporarily as President.

(3) The procedure of the tribunal shall be such as is prescribed, but, subject to such procedure, the tribunal may regulate its own procedure.

(4) Upon the adoption of the resolution in accordance with subsection (1)(e) the office shall become vacant