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
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?