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The CJ, the PM, the Pres

Saturday, March 17, 2018

In one high forum at least, there was resolution of a matter yesterday.

Though probably not to the satisfaction of UNC MP Rudy Indarsingh who last week complained of a tiff with PNM’s Anthony Garcia.

House Speaker Brigid Annisette-George yesterday blanked Indarsingh’s request for the matter to be probed by Parliament’s privileges team. Prior to that, Government MPs’ only concern on the matter involved picong.

“Garcia, look yuh partner!” PNM’s Darryl Smith motioned to Opposition benches.

“I go hide under the table when I see you,” Indarsingh said (to no one in particular.)

Both Garcia and Indarsingh, however, did their professional best when Garcia replied to a query from Indarsingh later.

Issues in other high quarters haven’t been so easily resolved. Continued contention over Chief Justice Ivor Archie’s aborted sabbatical and planned vacation—has seen Government inserted into the scenario, heading for the courts to interpret the sabbatical; and with added new concern whether Archie’s vacation meets law.

Archie recently bowed to pressure on the sabbatical in the interest of not having authorities fight over it, following looming standoff between Prime Minister Keith Rowley and President Anthony Carmona. This, after Carmona upheld the sabbatical leave which Rowley queried.

Whether Archie intuited the possible fallout of pressing on with sabbatical in such circumstances is anyone’s guess. Timing of his vacation announcement and shift from sabbatical—a day before Cabinet—was however, on point heading off potential negative outcome. Rowley on Thursday said, “Had he (Archie) proceeded there would have been consequences of one kind or another.”

Archie’s stated hope the matter would be clarified in his absence is materialising; though Government has resorted to court, ahead of possible use of sabbatical by him, and also because of conflicting information on it from legal advisers for the PM and the Attorney-General.

AG Faris Al-Rawi was conspicuously absent from among other ministers at Thursday’s briefing where Rowley revealed the two differing sets of advice.

Herein, the matter is “unfolding” (as Rowley said), hardly ended with Archie’s shift to vacation. For all its arguments on the sabbatical, that Government’s resorted to court—ironically CJ’s jurisdiction where it’s also minefielded by opinions for and against him—indicates their word isn’t the last on the sabbatical, referenced in the Salaries Review Commission’s 98th report.

Legal sources cite Cabinet Note 495 (February 13, 14) showing the PP cabinet “agreed to accept the report’s recommendations,” save on Parliamentary offices. They argue the principle of collective responsibility binds future Cabinets and if the Cabinet had power to reverse SRC’s report, the Parliamentary approval it obtained would seem mere rubber-stamping.

While Rowley’s been anxious to show his Government’s adherence to the law, Government is now a major player in the matter, and its handling—including on the separation of powers between executive, judiciary and legislature—is up for as much scrutiny as on Archie or Carmona.

Holding implication for Government’s political stocks, any failure/fumble on a matter of such magnitude could taint the rest of PNM’s 29-month tenure—and beyond.

Probably hence Government’s cautiousness including on Opposition “advice” to invoke Section 137 of the Constitution concerning probe of a chief justice.

Archie who’s faced challenges in other quarters (besting the Law Association) has said his leave was for study, rest and reflection. What the latter could result in ahead, remains to unfold.

Carmona’s ending his tenure ironically with test of the power he may or may not have on the sabbatical—harking back to his 2013 debut statement, “Powers you think I have, I do not. Powers you think I do not have, I do.”

His was a term marked with controversy—from shushing PNM’s Marlene McDonald and PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar during his first Parliament address to issues concerning appointments, spending and accommodation.

Yesterday, Carmona’s staff hosted a party for him. Some leave with him Monday, sources added. Priority future plan for him include spending family time.

Whether President-elect Paula-Mae Weekes’ may have take up the baton on the CJ’s issue remains ahead.


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