Faux pas messes up Rowley’s big day

The error occurred during yesterday’s ceremony at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s, where Rowley was sworn in as T&T’s seventh Prime Minister following Monday’s 23-18 general election victory by the People’s National Movement. Rowley took the oath of office as Prime Minister last yesterday. Dillon took the oath of office first, followed by Al-Rawi, who was sworn in as Attorney General.

But the sequence raised concerns from experts shortly after it occurred, since the Prime Minister is usually sworn in first followed by the Attorney General. Ministers normally are sworn in after those two top positions, which are considered the cornerstones of the Cabinet.

By 7 pm yesterday President’s House had issued a statement confirming, “there was a sequential error in the order of the oath-taking at the swearing-in ceremony of elected Prime Minister Dr Keith Christopher Rowley, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and National Security Minister retired Major General Edmund Dillon at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s.

“This has been immediately rectified and the Oath of Office was retaken by Mr Al-Rawi, MP, and retired Major General Dillon, MP, and new instruments of appointment were reissued respectively at the Office of the President. “This error does not nullify in any way the oath and appointment of the duly elected Prime Minister,” the statement said.

Section 75 of the Constitution states: (1) There shall be a Cabinet for Trinidad and Tobago which shall have the general direction and control of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and shall be collectively responsible therefore to Parliament. 

Section 75 (2) states that the Cabinet shall consist of the Prime Minister and such number of other ministers (of whom one shall be the Attorney General), appointed in accordance with the provisions of section 76, as the Prime Minister may consider appropriate.

One of several Constitution experts, former president George Maxwell Richards, told T&T Guardian he didn’t think yesterday’s swearing-in situation was appropriate from the point of the Constitution. He said the Prime Minister and Attorney General should have been sworn in first and any other ministers should have followed.

Former senior officials of the Prime Minister’s Office in the past PNM regime also concurred. Law Association president Reginald Armour also said the sequencing of the swearing-in was very odd.

Former head of protocol at President’s House, Lenore Dorset, said the status of ministers sworn in before the PM were also in question, since the Constitution stated that the Cabinet shall comprise a Prime Minister and Attorney General and any other ministers as advised by the PM. She said if the National Security Minister, for example, was sworn in when the Prime Minister was not yet sworn in, that could not be a legally binding situation.

Dorset said the Prime Minister had to advise the President who, apart from the Attorney General, he would like to have in the Cabinet. She said while the Constitution was silent on the sequence in which the PM and AG should be sworn in, it is implied that one first had a Prime Minister and Attorney General and then any other ministers.

“Some legal luminaries might say it doesn’t matter once you have a Prime Minister and Attorney General but what is definitely beyond question is that you cannot swear in a minister unless there is Prime Minister sworn in first,” she said. Israel Khan, SC, said: “This was a faux pas of great magnitude and there must be an explanation and if someone advised the President this way, the President is supposed to tell that person they cannot comply with that.”

 

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