activist President bids to take charge
fickle world that, one month before was falling over itself
in admiration for the T&T Soca Warriors, was, by last
week, seeing in this country only cause for ridicule.
For the careful historian, the fig-leaf adverb, allegedly,
should modify all the verbs in that first sentence.
Such a historian will also note that one conspicuous witness
to the ups and downs of world favour is President Max Richards.
It was President Richards who, as Soca Warriors camp follower-in-chief,
had basked in the adulation of things T&T after the Sweden
No urgent matters of public business had beckoned the head
of state back from Germany to his desk at Queens Park
As one Web publicist reported: Now that the world is
standing up and taking note of the Soca Warriors from the
land of carnival and fun in the Caribbean... (even) the English
team is treating the Trinidadians like the defending champions,
while the Trinidad and Tobago President has cancelled his
flight back to the land of the hummingbird in anticipation
of the team getting through to the finals.
What was essentially pappyshow, coming out of Germany, allegedly
gained a derisory edge as the T&T reputation for unseriousness
shortly reasserted itself.
Last week, amid deepened foreboding, President Richards lamented
image of our beloved country has suffered, and continues to
be the subject of ridicule in some quarters internationally.
Once again, his speech writers or their editors had bungled
the presidential syntax. But enough came across in his address
to signal a sudden comedown from the Kaiserslautern highs
to a Port-of-Spain crisis reality, in which the President
felt bidden, somehow, to take charge.
For what he had apprehended about the national condition,
crisis was, indeed, the Presidents strongest
word. He beheld an hour of crisis that was deep
But it was its impact on the President himself that he was
asking the nation to sympathise with. President Richards is
a worried man.
He depicted himself as caught by a dilemma, using
the word in the Trinidadian way to mean he was troubled and
confused. He failed to identify the two equally unpleasant
choices before him that the standard usage of dilemma
Whatever it was, the President had it bad. Worse, he suggested,
than had been experienced by any other: I venture to
say it is a dilemma which has not confronted any head of state
in the history of any Commonwealth country.
That was a historically reckless characterisation. Still within
easy recall is Ellis Clarkes epoch-making 1981 choice,
upon the sudden death of Prime Minister Eric Williams, among
Kamaluddin Mohammed, George Chambers and Errol Mahabir.
Last week, the usual people assembled at the Red House to
remember Eman Carters 1990 choice between amnesty for
Yasin Abu Bakrs blood-stained jihadists and death for
the hostage Prime Minister ANR Robinson, much of his Cabinet,
and the crew of the single TV station.
In December, 2001, the still-resonating dilemma
of President Robinson was to choose between the incumbent
Basdeo Panday, with 18 seats and the larger popular vote,
and the challenger Patrick Manning, also with 18 seats.
Real agony can more readily be imputed to the context of such
decision-making by predecessor presidents.
On Tuesday, the exaggerated historical, and geographical,
scale against which he measured his own undefined dilemma
achieved for President Richards only an unfittingly pompous
This is, after all, a frontliner in the Soca Broadways, in
the North Stand at Panorama, in the Poison Carnival band,
and among the Soca Warrior cheerleaders.
This is the Max Richards the country knows, and even loves.
The Max Richards who puts on Presidential airs,
and professes to feel some sense of national civic pain, and
even adopts the Patrick Manning conceit of speaking of himself
in the third person, is an evolved and unknown quantity.
Or, a put-up job: an actor given lines to intone about agonies
For it is indecision that he finally conveys, having surveyed
the present state of affairs involving the Honourable
He speaks of arriving at a decision, after exhaustive consultation
and reading of reports. His language reflects the themes made
familiar by Attorney General John Jeremie and Israel Khan,
must be one law for all, rich or poor, big or small.
Still, the President claims not to have formed an opinion
of his own, even after reading Police Commissioner Trevor
Pauls phone taps of who had called which judge from
the Chief Justices residence on July 14.
forming a view on these matters, I have concluded that the
public interest requires a thorough investigation forthwith,
Two days later, as I write this, no word has come of the investigation
advertised as necessary to take place forthwith.
Yet, action is another emphasis. His promises
of measured action and certain courses of
action inevitably stirs in the public mind a question:
has the executive presidency already arrived?
His listeners last week were caused to wonder: what resources
for action are in the possession of President Richards?
Arthur NR Robinson had pioneered the model of the activist
president who used the power of delay and the power of rhetoric
to confound, frustrate and, finally, doom Basdeo Panday.
But Senior Counsel Robinson proved on notable occasions to
have been insufficiently learned in the law, and to have seriously
Todays activist President is, among predecessors, easily
the least learned or seasoned in public affairs.
If the quality of his speech-writing reflects the quality
of his chancellery, he may be also the least well-advised.
Attorney General Jeremie need not write the Presidents
President Richards can be depended on to know from where to
take his cues. Without needing to conspire, the newly-aggressive
Attorney General and the newly activist President work like
a team, among other things, to deny newly mendicant Chief
Justice Sharma debt relief for his million-dollar legal bills.
The value of such teamwork vindicates the Manning foresight
of installing at Presidents House a political weapons
system in reserve.
President Max Richards on Friday night
suspended CJ Sharma and appointed Roger Hamel-Smith as acting