PM dismisses as 'mischief' CoP merit list claims, duty to meet President

President Paula Mae Weekes greets Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at a reception held at the President's House, St Ann's on December 17, 2019. Rowley has dismissed that he met the President about the Commissioner of Police nominees' list. -
President Paula Mae Weekes greets Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at a reception held at the President's House, St Ann's on December 17, 2019. Rowley has dismissed that he met the President about the Commissioner of Police nominees' list. -

The Prime Minister has dismissed suggestions of political interference in the appointment of a Commissioner of Police as "mischief."

Commenting for the first time on claims that he was the unnamed public official who met with the then chairman of the Police Service Commission Bliss Seepersad at President's House on August 12 on the cusp of the Order of Merit List being submitted to the President, Dr Rowley said while he was a frequent visitor to President's House he was not getting involved in that "bacchanal story."

He responded to a media query on the issue during a vaccination drive in his Diego Martin West constituency on Saturday.

“I, unlike the last prime minister, I carry out my duty under the constitution. And that duty involves the oath of office I took and one of the things I’m required to do is to keep the President informed on the state of affairs in TT. So all the mischief-makers and the unmaskers and whoever else, they’re on their own with that. I keep the President informed, I keep the Cabinet informed, and I do my duty without fear or favour, malice or ill-will."

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has repeatedly called on the Prime Minister to say if he was the public official who stepped in to provide information to Seepersad which in effect derailed the process to appoint a substantive CoP.

There is conflicting information about whether the Order of Merit List prepared by the PSC reached the President's desk on August 12.

Former PSC member Roger Kawalsingh in leaked correspondence claimed Seepersad told him that she withheld the list after being provided with information she could not ignore by an unnamed public official but acting Director of Personnel Administration Corey Harrison has sworn on affidavit in the interpretation summons that the Order of Merit List was submitted to the President.

It was on the basis of the information provided by the public official that the PSC appointed retired judge Stanley John to probe the allegations based on a report commissioned by the National Security Council, of which the Prime Minister is the chairman, on the same issue. The police and the Police Complaints Authority are doing parallel investigations and the entire firearm unit has been shut down during the probe.

Officers assigned to the unit are reportedly assisting investigators as well as an internal audit.

John is also looking into the possible interference in the investigations against Christian Chandler, the head of the legal unit, who was intercepted by the Coast Guard and the Coastal and Riverine Unit on August 5, allegedly in breach of public health regulations.

That matter which was being investigated by officers assigned to the Western Division has since been reassigned to the Professional Standards Bureau.

Under Gary Griffith's three-year tenure, over 5,000 firearm licences have been issued, with about 100 for semi-automatic rifles, a stark increase of what previous CoP's approved with an average of 200 licences for pistols and shotguns a year.

The collapse of the PSC surrounds its decision to launch an investigation into allegations of corruption in the granting of firearm licences under Griffith's term in office. Griffith, along with six other nominees, were shortlisted by the PSC to be considered as candidates for CoP.

Meanwhile, in just five short days, the Government will have to approve a legal mechanism to appoint an acting commissioner of police to keep the law enforcement agency working as it is unlikely the President can appoint a PSC by then to approve any extension of the current office-holder.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Mcdonald Jacob -

Even though the Prime Minister said last week the most senior officer, deputy commissioner McDonald Jacob, can continue to act in the top post after October 15, when his acting stint expires, senior lawyers disagreed saying that the absence of a PSC to authorise such action proves to be a significant hurdle.

While operations such as patrols, arrests, and other normal day-to-day operations can go ahead without the authority of a CoP, senior lawyers said the top cop is the chief accounting officer of the police service and must authorise payments for goods and services, which includes fuel and food.

Jacob was appointed to act as the top cop until October 15 by the PSC before the four members – Seepersad, Kawalsingh, Dr Susan Craig-James and Courtney McNish – resigned one after another amid calls for a police enquiry into the now unlawful suspension of Griffith on September 17.

Legal sources said in the absence of a functioning PSC, it was up to the Attorney General to find a solution by bringing specific legislation to appoint Jacob to act in the interim but that will require the Opposition's support.

Another blockade in the way is the likely ruling of Justice Nadia Kangaloo on October 14 on whether the PSC can appoint an officer to act as CoP without the approval of Parliament.

Government has already taken the position in an interpretation summons filed by social activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj that Parliament needs to approve any acting commissioner's appointment as submitted by the Attorney General, through his legal team.

Another possible solution, another senior lawyer suggested, was for the Attorney General to invoke the doctrine of necessity to appoint an acting CoP to prevent a disruption in the police service.

Head of the Police Association acting Insp Gideon Dickson said the public should have no fear in relation to the organisation's ability with respect of its mandate and strategic goals even if there is no leader after October 15. He was responding to queries about any potential impact on the public's trust and confidence in the police service in the absence of a substantive or acting CoP.

Former Police Commissioner Gary Griffith -

Dickson referred to two periods in the past where the service operated without a substantive CoP but noted on this occasion after October 15, the situation was different as there was no PSC.

He said from a practical point of view the police service is a para-military organisation which acknowledges that the most senior person in rank will lead until an appointment is made but he acknowledged that the issue of payment for goods and services was not a matter which that officer had any control over.

"What we have control over is our operations and that issue will have to be sorted by those who have the authority to sort that," he said, in reference to the government and Parliament.

Dickson said not because the PSC had fallen flat, the police service had also fallen flat.

"We will do what we supposed to do."

He is also hopeful that the court ruling on October 14 will provide some guidance on the way forward.


"PM dismisses as ‘mischief’ CoP merit list claims, duty to meet President"

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