From Ravi Maharaj
During the lead-up to the election of the current President, there was much discussion on whether or not H.E. Christine Kangaloo would be able to bring some semblance of impartiality to the office given her long and storied career as a PNM politician. But really, under the PNM government who have turned the highest office in the land into a rubber stamp, the question of how independent can a rubber stamp be now seems a tad ridiculous in hindsight doesn’t it? But this is what makes the recent reshuffling of the Independent bench of the Senate somewhat fascinating because there is no way of knowing exactly how the persons removed and the persons introduced were chosen. Was it entirely the choice of the President or did she seek “advice” from elsewhere?
So let’s first assume the first argument is correct, and the President sought to change the lineup of the Independent Senate bench entirely on her own accord. Well, the fact that she only replaced four of the Senators and retained five seems to send a message that some sort of performance assessment was conducted and some of these members were not up to scratch. This is extremely interesting for the simple fact that prior to her being elected to serve as President, H.E. Kangaloo served as President of the Senate for the past eight years. This means that any assessment must have taken into account her opinions being formed while she was sitting at the Head of the Senate. This begs the question of whether any underlying bias or prejudice was being built up against these particular individuals within H.E. Kangaloo during her term as President of the Senate which she chose to exert after becoming President of the nation.
Again, I don’t think that this argument would hold water if she had merely wiped the slate clean and appointed a fresh batch of Senators to serve on the Independent bench, but the handpicked selection of who was booted must merit some explanation of why others were kept. It has been often repeated that Independent Senators are meant to represent no one, up to and including the President who appoints them. Well, if that is indeed the case then why do incoming Presidents even have the ability to reshape the bench midterm, if these Senators are not representing the Office of the President in any capacity? If a Senator is to remain independent of the President after their appointment then doesn’t the power of recall belonging to the President undermine that, and make these Senators dependent upon the President for the continuation of their contract?
Of course, there also exists the possibility that the President was guided towards this decision by the government that elected her to office. As the PNM have been hard-pressed to pass legislation through both houses and especially in the form that they want, it is no secret that their intention is to become more aggressive on the legislative front with an extremely competitive general election on the horizon. As such, it would make some amount of sense that they would want to replace certain Independent Senators whom they have criticised for being too sympathetic to the UNC cause or that of the national population.
Recently the Prime Minister had become extremely critical of comments made by persons such as Dr. Varma Deyalsingh, who had advocated for the protection of citizens in the face of the mounting crime. It should therefore have not been a surprise when Dr. Deyalsingh’s name was announced as one of the Independent Senators being replaced, despite emerging as one of the most hard-working members on the bench and especially on the numerous sub-committees on which he served with distinction. While the average member of the public might usually be hard-pressed to name any member of the Independent bench of the Senate, Dr. Deyalsingh enjoyed rare popularity among the masses for his advocacy of mental health care and other health issues which he frequently opined on in the media. As such, whatever the reason for his ultimate dismissal, I can tell you that the Independent bench will be all the poorer for it.
I have to say that it was genuinely funny to see that in his absence the President has appointed an incoming Senator with a similar background in psychiatry, almost to suggest that he was serving in some capacity that required a one-for-one replacement. And the reason that’s funny is that, in 2018 when Dr. Deyalsingh was appointed it was to replace Mr. Dhanayshar Mahabir, an economist, who had resigned from the bench one month earlier, and whom former President Paula Mae Weekes had initially stated she would replace with another economist. So here you have this seat in the Senate informally assigned to an economist by one President now being somewhat formally reassigned as a seat for psychologists simply because of how well Dr. Deyalsingh performed in his duties. But no matter how you cut it, this all sends a bleak message to all Independent Senators that it doesn’t matter how competent they may be in their seats because if their ideals and vote don’t align with the PNM government, they can be replaced just as easily.
Ravi Balgobin Maharaj
Mob: +1 868 476-6181