You often hear our country referred to as the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. But what is a Republic?
Simply, a Republic is a form of government in which members of government are chosen by the country’s citizens. A Republic is an opposing form of a Monarchy – which exists in several countries, such as the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Cambodia. In a monarchy, there’s a “sovereign” who is the head of state, that’s typically the King or Queen. A Republic does not have a King or Queen as its head of state but, as in T&T, but may have a President as its head of state.
In T&T, referring to our Republican Constitution or our Republican Parliament has a totally different meaning to common usage of Republican in the American context – which refers to their membership of the Republican Party or the GOP – the Grand Old Party.
In T&T, our President is elected by the Electoral College, which is just a collective term to refer to all members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives (“the House”). However, not all the members of the Senate and House are required for ‘quorum’, that is, how many members are needed for a valid vote to be taken – in reality, all that is required are 10 Senators, the Speaker of the House and 12 other members of the House.
The head of state is also what you might hear being referred to as the “executive” arm of the government. The executive has a very specific role in a democracy such as ours. These powers are created by the Constitution. Because of the type of government which we have – the Westminster system – in practice the powers of the President are carried out by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, instead of the President – in the Westminster system, the head of state “reigns but does not rule”.
Our Constitution specifically provides that except for specific circumstances, the President must act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or a Minister who acts on the authority of the Cabinet. There are limited circumstances in which the President may act in his discretion, or on consultation with or on the advice on persons or authorities other than the Cabinet.
The President’s executive powers include:
a. appointing of Prime Ministers where there is a clear majority of support by or likely support of the members of the House;
b. appointing Ministers from the Senate and the House on the advice of the Prime Minister;
c. revoking the appointment of the Prime Minister following a successful vote of no confidence by the House;
d. revoking the appointment of Ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister;
e. appointing and revoking the appointment of an acting Prime Minister on the advice of the Prime Minister where practicable;
f. assigning portfolios to Ministers;
g. appointing and revoking the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries from members of the Senate and the House; and
h. appointing and revoking the appointment of the Leader of the Opposition.
In addition to these functions, the President is also generally responsible for:
a. serving as Commander in Chief of the armed forces;
b. appointing 16 Senators on the advice of the Prime Minister;
c. appointing 6 Senators on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition;
d. appointing 9 outstanding persons in various fields as Senators on his own discretion;
e. declaring vacant the seat of a Senator on the advice of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, or on his own discretion;
f. enacting or rejecting (called “assenting” or “withholding assent”) to Bills passed by the House and Senate (in practice, withholding assent is rare due to the system of governance which we use);
g. receiving reports from the Service Commissions which are then laid in the House;
h. appointment, prorogation and dissolution of Parliament;
i. scheduling a general election following the dissolution of Parliament;
j. creating constituencies;
k. appointing and removing members of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission; Elections and Boundaries Commission, the Public Service Commission; the Police Service Commission, the Teaching Service Commission, the Public Service Appeal Board, Special Offices and the Salaries Review Committee (on consultation with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition);
l. appointing the Chief Justice, Acting Chief Justice, Court of Appeal and High Court Judges;
m. appointing the Ombudsman;
n. removing judges from office on the advice of the Privy Council or tribunal;
o. appointing the and revoking the appointments of the Auditor General after consulting with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition;
p. granting presidential pardons; and
q. appointing members to the Advisory Committee on the Power of Pardon after consultation with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.
The thing to remember is when the President is appointing or revoking persons to any significant offices in our Government, such as, the Prime Minister, Ministers or the Leader of the Opposition, the President cannot appoint or revoke appointments based on her judgment or what she believes to be the public’s opinion of the Government – it is based on the requirements of our Constitution.
Similarly, with hot topic social problems, such as crime, the President has limited powers to act or to create policies to stop these problems. This falls to the Government of the day.
How can you find out how or whether the President has exercised her powers? These are published in the Trinidad and Tobago Gazette (an example of which is below) and by subsidiary legislation – legal notices. These are covered on our “Making Laws’ page.