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Donít pressure me

President Arthur N R Robinsonís address to the nation
( Dec 18, 2000 )

President Robinson
President Arthur Robinson

Posted: December 19, 2000

TONIGHT I want to talk not only to you the adults but also to the children, and especially to the students in our secondary schools, and I want to talk as simply as I can so that I can be very clear in what I say to everybody.

The first thing I would like to do is to make an announcement about the Tobago House of Assembly election.

The Tobago House of Assembly Act No 40 of 1996 provides that the President in consultation or after consultation with the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly and the Prime Minister will fix the date for the House of Assembly elections.

I have done such consultation with the Chief secretary of the Assembly and with the Prime Minister and tonight I want to announce the date for the Tobago House of Assembly Election. And that date is, January 29, 2001. In that case nomination day will be January 8, 2001.

The next matter that I would like to talk about is an issue which has been engaging the attention of the national community for quite some time, I would say since the general election.

Essentially it involves the role of the President of the Republic: what should the President do?

The Constitution is clear on the matter. The Constitution provides that the person who leads the party that obtains the majority of seats in the House of Representatives in the general election must be appointed the Prime Minister of the country, or reappointed as the case may be.

And I want you to note those two terms: appointed and reappointed; appointed if the person is not the sitting Prime Minister and reappointed if the person is the sitting Prime Minister.

What it means is that there is provision also that the Government, the Prime Minister, whoever it is who is sitting, continues to be Prime Minister until his appointment is revoked; he is told that his appointment is revoked. And if he is to be reappointed, that he is reappointed as Prime Minister.

If he is not Prime Minister, then he is appointed as Prime Minister. That provision of the Constitution is clear. What is not clear, what is not provided in the Constitution, is by what means the President is to determine who commands the majority of seats in the House of Representatives; who emerges from the election as commanding the majority in the House of Representatives.

This can be a matter for conjecture. It can be said that the President can look at the newspapers, which in my view is unthinkableóthat the President should have official information of this kind from the newspapers.

The second view which has been expressed is that the President should obtain that information from the Gazette. I want to say that the last Gazette received at Presidentís House was on December 1. The election as you are well aware was on December 11. How could it be possible for the President to obtain information from the Gazette?

It is unthinkable that he should obtain information from journalists writing in the newspapers about the election, or any report in the papers. Where then should the President obtain information? Information which is authentic and reliable and official?

If I leave you to answer that question Iím sure many of you are in a position to answer that question.

There is a body set up by the Constitution, the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC). The EBC is independent of political parties and interference by politicians. It is supposed to be insulated from such interference under the Constitution.

It is the body that conducts the elections, it is the body that gathers the information officially, and it is the body that has the information.

Then what should the President do? An official has suggested that the President should do his own business and leave the EBC to do its business independent of each other.

But how is the President going to do his business? And there is a body established under the Constitution as independent for the purpose of gathering the information and making the assessment, the evaluation.

So I will tell you what has happened.

In the past, as recently as 1995, in the last general election, the Chief Elections Officer compiled the information and sent it to the chairman of the EBC. The chairman at the time was Sir Isaac Hyatali. He knew what he should do. Nobody had to tell him what to do.

Sir Isaac Hyatali had been the Chief Justice; he had been chairman of the EBC, unfortunately he has passed on. Sir Isaac knew what he had to do. So it is nonsense for anybody to say that the EBC has no duty.

Sir Isaac knew his duty. He passed on the information to the President, who was then Mr Noor Hassanali. Within one day the Chief Elections Officer was able to compile the information and pass it on to the chairman of the EBC. And the chairman of the Commission, Sir Isaac Hyatali, immediately passed the information on to the President.

You see when things are done properly there is no problem. Nobody then had to ask, what is my duty? They did what they were supposed to do and the law did not have to tell them to do it. The law does not have to tell you to do everything, you have to look to the law to tell you to do everything.

There are situations in which you must know as a rational human being what is the proper course to adopt.

And speaking to the children I want to say to them not to expect at all time someone to tell you what is your duty. You must be so educated, you must know from your parents and your teachers who instruct you, that you yourself must be able to decide what is your duty at times, when you are not told either by the law or by somebody else somebody else in some position.

I leave you as children to decide for yourselves.

How is it, why is it, something should go wrong? If in one day this could be done in 1995, and within two days the President was in possession of the information, and on November 9, when the election was on November 6, the Prime Minister had been appointed, all because everything went smoothly.

You will remember in 1995 there was a situation with some similarity to the last election on December 11. There was a tie. For historical reasons let me set the record straight. Sometimes the President must speak when he would not otherwise have spoken.

In 1995, I was leader of the NAR, the party that obtained two seats, and then held the balance between the parties which obtained 17 seats each.

I could have bargained for a deal for Tobago; I did not. I entered into no bargain whatever. I decided that in the national interest that Mr Panday should be appointed Prime Minister, and I so informed President Hassanali.

In the last election of December 11, it was reportedóand this is trueóthat I did not vote. Even before the election I was asked by one of two people whom I was voting for. I declined any comment saying a President should not vote. And I did not vote. The reason is that I saw myself, in the position of President, to use an expression the children will understand very clearly, as a referee in a football match or as umpire in a cricket game.

In both cases they are expected to be completely impartial. If I voted I could not be impartial. I had to vote for one side or the other which would indicate a clear preference for one party as against another; for one leader as against another.

So I did not vote. I maintained my position as an umpire, as a referee.

So when the situation arose after the election, the question was, what was I to do? I was called upon immediately to appoint the Prime Minister or reappoint the current Prime Minister, even while the votes were being countedórecounted. There were three constituencies that were still in some doubt and which were being recounted.

No report had been received from the EBC, but pressure was being brought upon me to reappoint the existing Prime Minister, and continues to be.

I leave it to you; I make no comment on that; I merely state the facts. All I can say is that I feel the whole country should appreciate from now that I do not yield to pressure when I think I am doing what is right.

So when Iím acting in the national interest, and Iím convinced Iím right, I do not yield to pressure. From any side. I proceed to do what I consider to be right, even, as you know, at the risk of my life.

So I donít think anybody should try that. Donít try that, I suggest.

I do my duty and I do my duty after hearing what everybody has to say. But as President I have a responsibility which nobody else has in this country. Therefore while I listen, nobody can tell me what to do.

Now if you need me or you need another person who is different, I have no problem with that. That has been my life and will continue to be my life.

When I am about to take serious decision or speak I think of the children of the nation.

I am not saying I am always right.

If I am an umpire obviously there will be sides in competition, and there will be pressures from the crowds and from the participants requiring me to favour them. A President canít do that, in my view.

And if there is an impartial body constituted under the Constitution to give information to the President that is the body to which I think the President should turn. It should consider that it has a duty to inform the President, as has been done in the past.

My position has been that I would wait for the information from the EBC. In 1991 it took seven days.

This time eight days have passed, and I have received no word from the EBC.

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