THA to elect new deputy tomorrow
…confusion over the legality of Duke’s resignation
A special sitting of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is scheduled for tomorrow at 10:30 am to elect a new Deputy Chief Secretary.
This, according to the Office of the Chief Secretary (OCS), will be done “in accordance with Act 40 of 1996 Section 8, which says inter alia” … the Assemblymen shall elect from among their number, the Chief Secretary and the Deputy Chief Secretary in accordance with Section 11 and following such election, the President shall administer to the Chief Secretary and the Deputy Chief Secretary respectively, the oath of office set out in the Third Schedule.”
A release from the OCS stated that this follows the resignation of Assemblyman Watson Duke as Deputy Chief Secretary on September 15. Duke subsequently intimated this in writing to the Chief Secretary, Farley Augustine.
Duke founded the PDP in 2016 and following recent public contention between him and Augustine, he resigned as the THA’s Deputy Chief Secretary last week.
The OCS advised that “the Executive Council acknowledged Duke’s resignation and the letter was forwarded to the offices of the President and the Presiding Officer for appropriate action”.
President Paula-Mae Weekes is currently attending Queen Elizabeth’s funeral in London, and Senate President Christine Kangaloo is acting in her absence.
The OCS thanked Duke for his service over the past nine months and stated that the OCS and the THA remain committed to ensuring effective governance for the people of Tobago.
Meanwhile, there is a conundrum over the legitimacy of Duke’s resignation as Deputy Chief Secretary of the THA.
Chairman of the Tobago Business Chamber and attorney Martin George in a public statement questioned the legality and validity of Duke’s resignation saying that while Duke tendered his resignation to Augustine, to be legally valid, however, the letter should have been presented to the President of the Republic.
Sunday Guardian columnist and University of the West Indies (UWI) Professor of Political Science Dr Hamid Ghany, on the other hand, expressed “grave concerns” about the resignation letter offered by Duke to Augustine as he said there are grey areas that need to be cleared up. He said the letter should have been sent to the presiding officer of the THA.
Ghany said, “Under the THA Act of 1996, both the Chief Secretary and the Deputy Chief Secretary are elected by the Assembly unlike the other Secretaries in the THA who are appointed by the President on the advice of the Chief Secretary. The THA Act of 1996 only provides for the Chief Secretary or the Deputy Chief Secretary to cease to hold office after (i) they cease to be a member of the Assembly, (ii) they are to be re-appointed to a new term, or (iii) they lose a motion of no confidence against either of them in the Assembly, and they can either resign within two days failing which they can be removed from office by the President.”
He said in the absence of these conditions in the THA Act of 1996, a provision is made in the Constitution Act section 142 for any of the officials of the THA named in section 141 to be able to resign.
However, a letter written by such a person will have to be addressed to the person or authority by whom they were appointed, elected or selected–in this case, the presiding officer.
“Duke’s letter was addressed to the Chief Secretary who did not appoint, elect or select him. This needs to be clarified,” Ghany said.
According to Ghany, a court will have to rule on the validity and the President will have to decide if she will swear into office a new Deputy Chief Secretary.
George, in his statement, said whether Duke’s resignation was legal or not it is of “national importance”.
“It is of national importance because if there is no Deputy Chief Secretary, then, according to the THA Act, there can be no Executive Council because when one looks at the legislation in terms of the THA Act and you see what constitutes the Executive Council, it says it shall include among the posts that include the Deputy Chief Secretary.
“Section 33 of the THA Act says the Executive Council shall comprise and among the posts listed that of the Deputy Chief Secretary. So if there is no Deputy Chief Secretary at present, there is no Executive Council capable of running and managing the affairs of the THA legally. It is a conundrum that must be addressed. The question is whether that resignation is effective at all.”
He said when one looks at the purported resignation letter that Duke tendered and proffered, it seems to be that the letter is addressed to Augustine in his capacity as THA Chief Secretary.
“If one considers that Mr Augustine is not the one who appointed Duke as Deputy Chief Secretary, and he is not the one who administered to Mr Duke the Oath of Office as Deputy Chief Secretary, then it begs the question as to whether a letter to Mr Augustine purporting to resign the post as Deputy Chief Secretary is effective at all.
“That may be as effective as Mr Duke writing to a family member or a neighbour and saying I tender my resignation. The President according to the THA Act is the one who administers the oath of Office to the Deputy Chief Secretary.”
He added that in the past people wishing to leave that post have sent their letters of resignation to the President.
George also said that he has not seen any evidence that Duke tendered his resignation to the President.
He also warned of “legal entanglements” if another person assumes the office of Deputy Chief Secretary, although legally Duke still holds the post.
“These are not issues to take lightly.”
SECTION 142 OF THE CONSTITUTION
142. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, any person who is appointed or elected to or otherwise selected for any office established by this Constitution, including the office of Prime Minister or other Minister, or Parliamentary Secretary, may resign from that office by writing under his hand addressed to the person or authority by whom he was appointed, elected or selected.
(2) The resignation of any person from any such office shall take effect when the writing signifying the resignation is received by the person or authority to whom it is addressed or by any person authorised by that person or authority to receive it.
Duke and Augustine did not respond to calls and text messages sent to them yesterday.
By: Raphael John-Lall