Trinicenter

January 27, 2001 Robinson responds to PM and AG

Nobody will run me

President Arthur NR Robinson has accused Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj of engaging in a "campaign of harassment" aimed at "driving him out of office in disgust." Robinson's accusation was contained in a four-paragraph statement issued yesterday by the Office of the President.

"The Prime Minister and Attorney General have been consistently accusing the President of violating the Constitution and have published legal opinions from eminent lawyers to support their contention," the statement said. "The Constitution provides the procedure and penalty to be applied if the President is accused of a constitutional violation.

"Far from employing this constitutional procedure, these eminent lawyers are now engaged in a campaign of harassment against the Head of State in the hope, no doubt, of driving him out of office," the statement added.

Panday and Maharaj, who are themselves eminent lawyers, "have frequently referred to the presumption of innocence on occasions when they wished to do so." On Tuesday, Panday told the House of Representatives there was a conspiracy afoot by interests opposed to the government to seize power.

He blamed Robinson for precipitating the crisis, saying the country has been witnessing for more than one month "an unfolding conspiracy to defeat the will of the electorate.

"The forces of insurrection now appear bent on exploiting the flagrant and continuing contravention of the Constitution by the holder of the highest office in the land," Panday said.

Robinson's statement took Panday to task for his accusations, arguing that they were made "in a forum where the President was not present and had no opportunity to reply," "What about natural justice?" the President asked.

On Panday's insinuation that the President had acted wrongfully in receiving a petition from persons who had participated in an illegal march, the statement said that at the time, the petitioners were escorted by the police, and conducted themselves in an orderly and respectful manner.

The President was not informed that there was anything improper or illegal about their behaviour, the statement said.
It also defended Robinson against Panday's accusation that the President had breached protocol by communicating directly with Prime Ministers of Caricom, urging their support for the International Criminal Court.

As recently as January 15, the statement said, Dr Kenny Anthony, Caricom chairman and Prime Minister of St Lucia, visited President Robinson with the concurrence of Panday and therefore there was no basis for Panday's accusation.


The Presidentís statement

THE following statement was issued yesterday by the Office of the President:

IN THE Prime Ministerís address to the House of Representatives on Tuesday, January 23, 2001, he accused the President of a breach of protocol by the Presidentís direct communication with Prime Ministers of Caricom on the matter of the urgency for signing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

1. As recently as January 15 this year, the Prime Minister of St Lucia visited the Office of the President on the authority of the Chairman of Caricom and with the concurrence of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago for discussion with the President. There is consequently no basis whatever for the accusation of the Honourable Prime Minister.

2. The Prime Minister insinuated in his address that the President had wrongfully acted in receiving a petition from citizens who, he alleged, were or had been in an illegal march. At the time of the receipt of the petition from three persons whom the President had never met, they were escorted by the police. They conducted themselves in an orderly and respectful manner and the President was not informed by the police that there was anything illegal or improper about their behaviour.

As a matter of historical interest, the President received the petitioners at the same venue where, nearly 50 years ago, the President, then a young man in his 20s with two other petitioners, was received by the then Governor General of the Federation, Lord Hailes. The petition was presented on behalf of the Peopleís National Movement for the return of Chaguaramas from the Americans to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. This was after the famous march for Chaguaramas. Lord Hailes, the Colonial Governor General, received the young man Robinson and the other two with courtesy and with respect. The President did not think that the President of independent Trinidad and Tobago should show any less deference to the citizens of the Republic.

3. The Prime Minister and his Attorney General have been consistently accusing the President of violating the Constitution and have published legal opinions from eminent lawyers to support their contention. The Prime Minister and Attorney General, who are themselves eminent lawyers, have frequently referred to the presumption of innocence on occasions when they wished to do so. What about natural justice? The Prime Minister made his accusations in a forum where the President was not present and had no opportunity to reply. The Constitution provides the procedure and penalty to be applied if the President is accused of constitutional violation. Far from employing this constitutional procedure, these eminent lawyers are now engaged in a campaign of harassment against the Head of State in the hope, no doubt, of driving him out of office in disgust.


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