PRESIDENT Paula Mae Weekes has broken her silence on the fiasco involving former police commissioner Gary Griffith and the now defunct Police Service Commissioner (PSC) led by its former chairman, Bliss Seepersad.
In a statement published in the three daily newspapers on Sunday, the President said she was not going to address the question of who came to the Office of the President (OTP) despite calls for her to do so by Leader of the Opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar and two senior attorneys, Senior Counsel Martin Daly and Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj.
The three wanted answers from the President.
The Opposition has since filed a motion in Parliament seeking to have the House of Representatives investigate and potentially remove the President over imbroglio.
Daly on Sunday said he was the first to call for full disclosure of who or what was involved in the incident at President’s House on August 12, when Seepersad went to President’s House to deliver the merit list. He then called on the President to account for what happened at President’s House on August 12, “and I maintained the position that giving such an account was the right thing to do.”
“Naturally I am pleased that Her Excellency has accepted the responsibility to give the account called for, and I thank her for giving it.”
He said after spending the day “giving careful consideration and reflection on the contents of the account that has been given,” further commentary will be forthcoming.
Daly said he also believes the President’s explanation revealed the Constitution was breached.
He also said it was not open to her, once the merit list was delivered, to participate or acquiesce in the withdrawal of it. Maharaj could not be reached for comment.
In her statement, Weekes insisted, “I assure the nation that neither the OTP nor I participated in, allowed or encouraged any attempted or actual improper interference, influence or breach of the principle of separation of powers in the operation of the PSC in the matter of the Commissioner of Police.
“I did not receive instructions or suggestions from any individual, nor did I give any to the PSC. I certainly did not wilfully violate any provision of the Constitution nor have I behaved in a way that could lead one reasonably to conclude that I have brought the OTP into hatred, ridicule or contempt or endangered the security of the State.”
The President confirmed the merit list reached her office on August 11, but said it was rescinded hours later. She said this meant she could not submit the list to Parliament for consideration.
“The OTP has been advised that ‘the recruitment and selection process for the Office of Commissioner of Police has not yet been completed.’”
The President said while all service commissions were appointed by the OTP, they are “independent even of the President who does not direct, participate or interfere in their deliberations and decisions.”
She said it was now publicly known that the former commission initiated an enquiry into matters surrounding the issuance of firearm users licences after receiving certain information.
On this, the President posed five questions:
(i) If there exists apparently credible information that might impact deliberations on an important constitutional function of the PSC should it be brought to the commission’s attention? Or should the commission be left in the dark?
(ii) How, and by whom, is it determined whether the information meets the threshold for consideration?
(iii) If yes to the first question in (i), by what means/mechanism is it brought to the commission’s attention given our constitutional framework? And, if not to the commission’s, then to whose? In the case of the PSC, one may think that Parliament is the appropriate body, but Parliament is an open forum and the information might be a question of national security and, what is more, public dissemination of the information might result in irreparable damage to a person’s reputation, especially if the information is eventually not acted on by the Parliament.
Is it a better course that the information be dealt with exclusively within the confidential deliberations of the commission?
(iv) Is merely providing information to a commission “interference” in its operations?
(v) Would receiving unsolicited information, without more, compromise the PSC’s independence? Does the source of the information matter?
She said she raised these questions “in the hope that this whole unhappy and regrettable course of events provides a platform for critical discussions leading to viable solutions, including perhaps, constitutional reform.”
On the High Court’s ruling on Thursday on the legality of the legal instruments used to appoint a commissioner and an acting commissioner, the President said,”I harboured from the outset serious concerns about the effect and legality of Legal Notice No. 183 paragraph 4.”
She said she discussed the concerns with the PSC and the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel, and did not send a notification forward (to the Parliament) since she did not think she was given the power to do so by the specific law under which it was submitted to her.
She said she replied to the PSC on August 12, and the next day it appointed an acting commissioner with effect from August 18. “I take full responsibility for my decision, which was influenced by only my then unresolved concerns. I am satisfied that the court, in its decision, confronted and settled the matters which had troubled me.” She also said the public often met with and wrote to her on issues of national concern and put their confidence in the President’s judgment and discretion. Public officials should expect no less, she said.
“In this information age, with its demands that all be laid bare on the public stage, the nature and function of a non-executive Head of State is perhaps an anomaly, in which exists a tension between the insatiable public desire to know and the very real need, on occasion, for confidentiality.
“The office of Head of State is expected to be one of careful, deliberate, judicious decision-making, sometimes in circumstances that are unprecedented and for which no specific guidance is to be found in the law.”