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‘War on democracy’ – Trinidad & Tobago Express Newspapers

‘No debate’: House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George.
Impeachment proceedings today: President Paula-Mae Weekes

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‘No debate’: House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George.
Impeachment proceedings today: President Paula-Mae Weekes
Allow debate on the impeachment motion against the President.
And that House Speaker Brid­gid Annisette-George step aside from chairing the historic impeachment proceedings against President Paula-Mae Weekes ­today.
On the eve of today’s Extraordinary Sitting of the House of Representatives and meeting of the Electoral College, these are the demands of former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who wrote to the Speaker yesterday also requesting that Independent Senator Charrise Seepersad, sister of former Police Service Commission (PolSC) chairman Bliss Seepersad, disqualify herself from today’s proceedings.
On Tuesday, the Speaker (also chair of the Electoral College) issued guidelines to all members of the House and Senate, indicating that there will be no debate today, and that members are expected to vote on Persad-Bissessar’s motion asking for the establishment of a tribunal to investigate the removal of President Weekes.
In her letter, ­Persad-Bissessar took issue with the Speaker’s guidelines indicating that there will be no debate, stating this was an “abuse of power”, a “war on democracy”, and a “coup d’état against the Constitution”.
She stated that should these guidelines stand, it would signal to the world that Trinidad and Tobago is now “officially in a dictatorship”.
Constitutionally
offensive order
Persad-Bissessar stated that Annisette-George should not preside or participate in today’s proceedings, given her critical involvement and responsibility for drafting the “constitutionally offensive” 2009 Order.
She said when Annisette-George served as attorney general, she had the responsibility for the drafting of The Commissioner of Police and Deputy Commissioner of Police (Acting Appointments) (Selection Process) (No 2) Order 2009 (hereinafter called “the 2009 Order”).
The 2009 Order remained in effect until the High Court invalidated it on October 14, 2021, because it breached the Constitution, she said.
Persad-Bissessar stated that the invalidity of the 2009 Order has exacerbated the current constitutional crisis and has left the country without an acting Police Commissioner and a collapsed PolSC.
“All of these matters raise a serious conflict of interest, as the public will not have confidence in your ability to be fair and impartial in circumstances where your Order precipitated the very crisis that has led us to the brink of this disastrous precipice,” she stated.
“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 added.
Persad-Bissessar stated that this bias may have already manifested itself in the drafting of the guidelines where the Speaker shut down debate and scrutiny of these matters.
“We, therefore, ask that you 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 stated.
Familial connection
Persad-Bissessar further urged Annisette-George to use her best efforts to advise Independent senator Charisse Seepersad to refrain from participating in today’s proceedings.
“This close familial connection poses a serious conflict of interest, and Senator Charrise Seepersad should do the honourable thing,” she stated.
Persad-Bissessar said former PolSC chairman Seepersad (B) played a critical role in this constitutional fiasco, as she was responsible for submitting and subsequently inexplicably withdrawing the Order of Merit List for the appointment of a substantive CoP.
She added that Seepersad (B) also submitted an Order of Merit list for the appointment of an acting Commissioner of Police, and was also part of the now-infamous meeting with the President and an unidentified “high public official”, which compromised the integrity and independence of the PolSC.
War on democracy
Persad-Bissessar stated that Opposition members were shocked over the Speaker’s guidelines that there will be no debate today, as she emphasised the parliamentary democratic process to ventilate this issue of high constitutional importance.
“It is absurd to ask members of the House and Senate to vote on such an important motion without a debate,” she stated.
The absence of a debate, she stated, presupposes that Members have come to vote with predetermined positions.
“Is it that you have assumed that Members will toe party lines and Independent senators will be loyal to the President because she was responsible for their appointments? Surely, Members should 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,” she stated.
Persad-Bissessar said the consequences of the Speaker’s “unilateral”guidelines are contrary to the proper functioning of T&T’s democracy. “It is a coup d’état against the Constitution. It follows from an earlier attack in the sanctum sanctorum of our Constitution at St Ann’s (President’s House),” she stated.
“Should your guidelines stand, effectively prohibiting any debate of the Section 36 motion, it will go down in the history of Commonwealth parliaments as one of the most reprehensible attempts to shield a President, a Prime Minister and a dishonoured former chairman of the Police Service Commission, Bliss Seepersad, from robust parliamentary criticism,” she added.
Persad-Bissessar stated that to shut down a debate on the motion will set a dangerous precedent of high public officials continuing to ignore the provisions in the Supreme Law and further undermine the Rule of Law.
“We are of the considered view that these guidelines are ultra vires the Constitution. We therefore respectfully ask you to reconsider those guidelines and allow debate on this crucial Section 36 motion,” she stated.
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