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BG View: Is a deputy essential?

Let it be clear, I am in no way wish­ing death up­on any of our lead­ers

On Mon­day the world looked on as Queen Eliz­a­beth II took her fi­nal jour­ney.

Fol­low­ing a state fu­ner­al and pro­ces­sion, Britain’s longest-serv­ing monarch was laid to rest along­side her late hus­band Prince Philip at a pri­vate fam­i­ly ser­vice in the King George VI Memo­r­i­al Chapel.

This was the cul­mi­na­tion of al­most two weeks of mourn­ing which was sparked by the death of the 96-year-old monarch on Sep­tem­ber 8.

Up un­til the time of her pass­ing Queen Eliz­a­beth II in­sist­ed on car­ry­ing out her role.

On Sep­tem­ber 6, days be­fore her death, Queen Eliz­a­beth II over­saw the ap­point­ment of Eliz­a­beth Truss as Britain’s Prime Min­is­ter al­beit from Bal­moral Cas­tle in Scot­land as she was too frail to trav­el to the tra­di­tion­al lo­ca­tion of Buck­ing­ham Palace.

But even with the cir­cum­stances fol­low­ing the Queen’s death, one thing was cer­tain, there was no con­fu­sion about who would take over the reins.

At the mo­ment the Queen died, the throne passed im­me­di­ate­ly and with­out cer­e­mo­ny to the heir, her son Charles.

That sense of sta­bil­i­ty must give some so­lace dur­ing an un­prece­dent­ed pe­ri­od.

This was in stark con­trast to what hap­pened when T&T’s first and longest-serv­ing prime min­is­ter Dr Er­ic Williams died in of­fice on March 29, 1981.

Ac­cord­ing to the New York Times’ re­port an­nounc­ing Williams’ death, “Pres­i­dent El­lis Clarke an­nounced the death yes­ter­day and said that af­ter an all-night meet­ing with the Cab­i­net he had named George Cham­bers, Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture, In­dus­try and Com­merce, as the new Prime Min­is­ter.”

It is re­port­ed that Cham­bers along with the oth­er two Peo­ple’s Na­tion­al Move­ment deputies, Ka­malud­din Mo­hammed and Er­rol Ma­habir were sum­moned to Pres­i­dent’s House.

Cham­bers was the PNM deputy po­lit­i­cal leader for pol­i­cy mat­ters, while Ma­habir held the post of deputy leader for par­ty and elec­tions mat­ters, and Mo­hammed was re­spon­si­ble for leg­isla­tive mat­ters.

When Williams an­nounced he was re­sign­ing as PNM po­lit­i­cal leader in 1973, Mo­hammed and Karl Hud­son Phillips were the two peo­ple most like­ly to have been his suc­ces­sor.

So many felt that Mo­hammed would have been se­lect­ed as prime min­is­ter when Williams died more than sev­en years af­ter.

But should there have been a guess­ing game at such a time?

This begs the ques­tion if we are any more pre­pared to­day than we were 40 years ago when we ex­pe­ri­enced first-hand the death of a leader in of­fice.

T&T does not have a deputy prime min­is­ter. So there is no ob­vi­ous tran­si­tion of pow­er if the un­for­tu­nate hap­pens.

Let it be clear, I am in no way wish­ing death up­on any of our lead­ers.

But as one of my for­mer teach­ers al­ways said “if you fail to pre­pare, you pre­pare to fail.”

In this re­gard, ku­dos to the To­ba­go House of As­sem­bly for hav­ing es­tab­lished the post of Deputy Chief Sec­re­tary.

Ac­cord­ing to Sec­tion 33 of the THA Act Chap­ter 25:03, the Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil shall com­prise the Chief Sec­re­tary, the Deputy Chief Sec­re­tary and all oth­er Sec­re­taries, not be­ing more than sev­en, se­lect­ed from among the Mem­bers of the As­sem­bly.

On Mon­day, the day that Queen Eliz­a­beth II’s fi­nal rites were held, Dr Faith B Yis­rael was sworn in as Deputy Chief Sec­re­tary fol­low­ing the res­ig­na­tion of Wat­son Duke from the po­si­tion days ear­li­er.

When Pen­guin (Seadley Joseph) won the Road March ti­tle in 1982 with his song A Deputy Es­sen­tial pol­i­tics was prob­a­bly the fur­thest thing on his mind.

But as a na­tion, we must ask our­selves: is a deputy es­sen­tial?

A deputy prime min­is­ter tra­di­tion­al­ly serves as act­ing prime min­is­ter when the in­cum­bent is tem­porar­i­ly ab­sent or in­ca­pable of ex­er­cis­ing pow­er.

A deputy prime min­is­ter is of­ten asked to suc­ceed to the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice fol­low­ing the prime min­is­ter’s sud­den death or un­ex­pect­ed res­ig­na­tion.

In Jan­u­ary last year, Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley checked him­self in­to the West Shore Med­ical Pri­vate Hos­pi­tal “as a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure” af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some dis­com­fort.

One of the ques­tions that were posed to then Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Min­is­ter Stu­art Young when he vis­it­ed Row­ley dur­ing that hos­pi­tal stay was who was go­ing to hold on for the prime min­is­ter.

“The af­fairs of gov­ern­ment con­tin­ue as ex­act­ly as they are at this stage the prime min­is­ter is the prime min­is­ter I have been in touch with oth­er col­leagues in the Cab­i­net. We all con­tin­ue to pray for him and we all know the job we have to do which is our var­i­ous min­is­te­r­i­al port­fo­lios. All cor­re­spon­dence com­ing out will come of the Of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter go­ing for­ward and we just con­tin­ue to wait,” Young said then.

But this ques­tion and the un­cer­tain­ty sur­round­ing ex­act­ly who would take over if the prime min­is­ter was left in­ca­pac­i­tat­ed could be eas­i­ly avoid­ed.

As my col­league Ke­jan Haynes said in a pre­vi­ous fo­rum, it is not mor­bid to ask such ques­tions. It is not in­sen­si­tive to plan for any even­tu­al­i­ty. Prepar­ing for death is not the same as wish­ing it up­on some­one.

I hon­est­ly wish our prime min­is­ter a long and healthy life.

To be sure since Row­ley be­came prime min­is­ter in Sep­tem­ber 2015, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Colm Im­bert has been tasked with the role of act­ing prime min­is­ter.

His pre­de­ces­sor chose a dif­fer­ent route.

When Kam­la Per­sad-Bisses­sar was prime min­is­ter, she gave var­i­ous of her coali­tion part­ners stints to act in her ab­sence in­clud­ing Jack Warn­er and Prakash Ra­mad­har.

Her pre­de­ces­sor al­so chose a dif­fer­ent route.

When Patrick Man­ning need­ed some­one to act in his ab­sence, he of­ten chose then-Sen­a­tor Lenny Saith. Not an elect­ed of­fi­cial.

Should we leave the role of deputy prime min­is­ter to the whims of our politi­cians or should there be a spe­cif­ic process to en­sure we know ex­act­ly who takes over the reins if our head of gov­ern­ment is ab­sent?

In a 2009 study in Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence ti­tled “What About Me? Deputy Prime Min­is­ter­ship in New Zealand” Steven Barnes iden­ti­fied nine qual­i­ties of deputy prime min­is­ter­ship: tem­pera­ment; re­la­tion­ships with their Cab­i­net and cau­cus; re­la­tion­ships with their par­ty; pop­u­lar­i­ty with the pub­lic; me­dia skills; achieve­ments as deputy prime min­is­ter; re­la­tion­ship with the prime min­is­ter; lead­er­ship am­bi­tion; and method of suc­ces­sion.

There are cur­rent­ly over 60 coun­tries that boast a deputy prime min­is­ter or some­one as­signed as the “num­ber two” to the head of gov­ern­ment.

One of the most re­cent is Thérèse Anne Cof­fey who be­came the Deputy Prime Min­is­ter of the Unit­ed King­dom on Sep­tem­ber 6.

This is not new for or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Or­gan­i­sa­tions recog­nise that proac­tive, dis­ci­plined suc­ces­sion plan­ning is an im­por­tant pri­or­i­ty for cur­rent and fu­ture suc­cess.

Glob­al­ly each year about 10 per cent to 15 per cent of cor­po­ra­tions must ap­point a new CEO, whether be­cause of ex­ec­u­tives’ re­tire­ment, res­ig­na­tion, dis­missal, or ill health.

It’s some­thing that or­gan­i­sa­tions have to plan for.

Isn’t the prime min­is­ter in essence the coun­try’s CEO?