• 19 JAN 2018

Prime Minister Dr the Hon. Keith Rowley on the Occasion of the Election of Justice Paula Mae Weekes

Today, we gather in this august house to clear the way to welcome Madame Justice (retired) Paula Mae Weekes, as the sixth President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Having been moulded and fashioned by our primary and secondary school system and disciplined by a family’s love she graduated with her LLB from the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. Citizen Weekes went on to earn a Legal Education Certificate from the Hugh Wooding Law School (HWLS), St Augustine. She was called to the Bar in 1982.

Her earlier career days saw her honing her professional skills, in private practice, as well as serving in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Justice Weekes is a trained and experienced judicial educator having become a fellow of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute in 2000. Additionally, from 2011 to 2016 she was the Course Director in Ethics at the Hugh Wooding Law School. Over the years she has been responsible for developing and delivering many programs in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

Madame Justice Paula Mae Weekes served for eleven (11) years as a Justice of Appeal of the Judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago before retiring in 2016. Prior to that, she presided in the Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago as a Puisne Judge for a period of nine (9) years.

In August 2012, the Judiciary presented Justice Weekes to act as Chief Justice in the absence of CJ Ivor Archie. Madam Speaker, since then this star citizen was observed to be on a trajectory to this historic zenith, as we, in this honourable House today, are proud to receive and present her as the sole nominee for the post of President of our Republic.

It is noteworthy that Justice Weekes was the fifth female judge to be appointed to the Criminal Division of the High Court. It is even more noteworthy and most definitely trail-blazing, that she is now poised to become the first female Head of State of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

As a young nation, we can indeed be proud of the fact that our democracy and all our governance systems are open to all our citizens. Today, for the first time, a woman is set to hold the highest office in the land. I still remember the excitement I experienced, as a boy when I saw the first woman bus driver, I distinctly remember the pride I felt when we produced the first female commercial pilot and only recently those moments returned when I saw a picture of our first female airline captain (now retired) as she lit up the pages of the national newspapers.

As a man with a wife, sisters, daughters, a grand-daughter, female cousins, nieces and thousands of females whom I represent, I feel especially pleased.

We in Trinidad and Tobago are no strangers to having women hold high office. The tapestry of our nation’s history is woven with the life threads of many formidable women who have helped this nation to develop, to thrive, to overcome and to soar. While many of them may have been well known and their names recorded in history books, countless others would have in the past, and continue each and every day to do yeoman service in helping to build our nation in their homes, on the sporting fields, at their places of work and in their communities.

I see this, Madam Speaker, as the perfect opportunity for the young people of our nation to sit up and take notice. This is a fitting time, as good a time as any, for our young people and indeed each and every citizen, to recommit to being the best that we can be. Justice Weekes’ story serves as a living example that nothing is beyond our reach.   The simple truth is that with hard work, dedication, discipline and good character, in this land of Trinidad and Tobago, no accomplishment, no accolade, nor position is beyond reach. Good woman that she is, today she is selected and celebrated only because she was deemed to be the best person for the job, measured by a variety of very exacting yardsticks; indeed, even as we speak right now in this august chamber, future nominees for the position of President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago may very well be looking and listening and that to me, Madam Speaker, is quite sobering because all that we do here is ultimately meant for their benefit, encouragement and even inspiration.

While it is widely thought of as ceremonial, the job of President does in fact hold significance in the overall governance of Trinidad and Tobago. Unfortunately it is only when things don’t go well and we are faced with the inconveniences and sometimes dire consequences that we are forced to acknowledge that this office of President is much more than a ceremonial humbug.

According to the Trinidad and Tobago Republican Constitution, the President is the Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed forces and the repository of all Executive Authority. Moreover, while the President does not sit in Parliament, he or she is responsible for giving assent to Bills before they become law. The President is also responsible for the summoning, prorogation and dissolution of Parliament. The President is responsible for “casting an eye” on the operations and behavior of the Government.

The President’s authority is exercised within certain constitutional parameters and most of his/her constitutional acts are implemented in accordance with the advice of or after consultation with another authority, usually the Cabinet, the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition. The President appoints sixteen Senators on the advice of the Prime Minister, six on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and nine independent Senators in her own discretion. Certain senior officials and Commissions are also appointed by the President.

These and other responsibilities of the Head of State impact the governance of our nation. As such, it is public service of the highest order. It is my view therefore, that taking up the mantle of service to the public is a clear demonstration of one’s patriotism. Madam Justice Paula Mae Weekes is eminently suited to carry out these duties, to bring calm and confidence to our national governance and to demonstrate that necessary ingredient of good judgement which is the unscripted recipe for a successful undertaking of this solemn assignment.

Public service is expected to be rooted in selflessness and boundless faith in our destiny. Even as there is deep independence in this office, success diminishes the ‘I’ and amplifies the ‘we’.  It exalts nationhood and fuels the fires of hope through prayer as it emphasizes and protects institutions over individual interests.

Public service is noble, necessary and demanding. It is my unyielding hope that all of us gathered here today, we are always cognizant of that, as I am certain, Madame Justice Weekes has been throughout her long and distinguished career.

As the sixth holder of the office of President, Justice Weeks will have the benefit of the respective legacies of those who went before her. She will be able to draw from their good examples and learn from their mistakes, taking from it whatever she can, so as to effectively dispatch her duties as our Head of State.

This joyous occasion of her coming into office should not only be a source of pride for us all but should provide us with an impetus to reflect on our selves, to quietly and inwardly examine our own thoughts, purpose and actions to see how we measure up to the sterling qualities being brought to us by Justice Paula Mae Weekes. We may very well find that even if we are, or think that we are newly minted plastic bottles, it is time for some rethinking and reset in this very House. The nation will benefit from such an exercise and it will be a fitting welcome to a President who will encourage us along the rocky road which leads to and from this place.

Our citizens expect and I dare say deserve representation of the highest quality in every sphere of public service. I for one, am of the firm view that that is exactly what we can all look forward to over the next five years and beyond. The fact that Justice Weeks is unopposed as the sole nominee is a clear indication of this and I thank all my colleagues on both sides for your cooperation and collaboration in this commendable outcome.

Madame Speaker, let me also take the opportunity afforded me here today to thank the outgoing President, His Excellency Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona SC ORTT, for his service to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. As I have previously stated, public service, in all its forms is indeed a noble undertaking and whenever citizens agree to serve in public office, it is more often than not, an indication of their desire to assist our nation to reach its full potential. As such, I wish to publicly thank President Carmona and wish him and his family all the best in the future.

Madam Speaker, less you believe that I am biased in my fulsome praise and welcome of our new President elect, permit me to put on the records of Hansard, some of the views of others who do not have this floor but who have effused their welcome to and satisfaction with our nominee. One public commentator and legal luminary, a colleague of hers said

“In her professional life as lawyer, judge and senior tutor, she has demonstrated that she possesses the necessary ability, merit and integrity in the performance of her duties……she will be an excellent President of the country.” He also said that she will be “fair and fearless”. What more can a people ask for in its President.

Our Bishop holds her out to his country as a citizen who “ would do a good job at whatever the job requires. We know she gets about her business and is not into frivolity.”

She has guided herself, she has guided the Judiciary, she has guided the young people at the Law School, she has guided the Anglican Church now she is called to guide this nation through undoubtedly turbulent times. Her steady hand, her firm demeanour, her humility, her love of nation, all her sterling qualities, are just what this nation needs, particularly at this time. We should be so lucky.

Madam Speaker I am humbled to ask all my colleagues in this place and across this nation to receive this citizen and this moment with positive vibes and let us all go forward with that faith and well founded expectations of good and May Almighty God bless and guide this nation of Trinidad and Tobago.