Former top cop merit list withdrawal still a mystery

Andre Norton -
Andre Norton -

THE names have been revealed of those on the mystery August 2021 merit list for Commissioner of Police submitted to President Paula-Mae Weekes and immediately withdrawn by the ex-chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC).

The names are Gary Griffith, Jason Francis, Andre Norton and Erla Harewood-Christopher, in that order.

While an actual copy of the order of merit list was not provided, the names on the list and the accompanying letter to the President were supplied to attorneys for social activist Ravi Balgobin-Maharaj, in response to a freedom of information request made in November last year.

But while the names have now been made public, it remains a mystery why the list was immediately withdrawn by ex-PSC chairman Bliss Seepersad.

Balgobin-Maharaj also asked for copies of all the relevant minutes of the PSC at which the merit list was discussed, finalised and/or approved, but was told no minutes were available for this request.

Seepersad has not responded to questions about the decision to withdraw the list. The current commission has also not responded to similar requests.

The Seepersad-led commission had previously denied Balgobin-Maharaj’s request for information about the 2021 merit list or other information about former commissioner Gary Griffith’s acting appointment and that of current acting top cop McDonald Jacob.

However, he got a response from the acting director of personnel administration, who said there were four names in a letter dated August 11, 2021, submitted to the President by the PSC and immediately withdrawn.

In a public statement last year after the Seepersad-led commission collapsed, the President publicly said the August 11, 2021 list had been withdrawn immediately after it was presented to her.

That list will no longer be used by the commission, now led by retired judge Judith Jones. This was confirmed earlier this month in a media release which said the commission will now start a new selection process to fill the post of top cop.

“The commission considered all the facts in the matter and legal advice received and decided that no further action will be taken with respect to the 2021 selection process for the office of Commissioner of Police.

In her letter to the President to which the 2021 merit list was attached, Seepersad said the names of the candidates were in order of merit after they participated in the “competitive selection process” set out in section 123 of the Constitution.

The disclosure to Balgobin-Maharaj also included a PSC minute, dated August 13, 2021, on discussions about the acting appointment of a commissioner.

In it, Seepersad referred to the President’s response to receiving the list for the appointment of an acting commissioner. Weekes raised concerns about Legal Notice 183 of 2021, and also noted her role in the process, saying she had none beyond receiving the list.

The President was quoted as saying in her letter to Seepersad, the notice "raised for me immediate concern, as nowhere within its four walls does it set out any role or function, power or authority in the President. The President, being a creature of statute, has no inherent jurisdiction and must find all power and authority within some law. I have found none beyond receiving the relevant list."

The 2021 legal notice, for the first time, allowed the PSC to appoint someone who had been on contract to the post of acting CoP.

The President was also of the opinion Legal Notice 103 of 2009, which allowed the PSC to pick an acting commissioner out of the pool of deputy commissioners, was good law.

However, in October Justice Nadia Kangaloo struck down those two notices.

In her statement, Weekes said when the former list was withdrawn there was none for her to send to the Parliament.

"To date, no other list has since been submitted. The OTP (Office of the President) has been advised that 'the recruitment and selection process for the Office of Commissioner of Police has not yet been completed.'" she said.

The process of selecting a new police commissioner was stalled until Parliament accepted Legal Notice 277 of 2021.

This was done last month when the notice, which instructed the PSC to scrap the previous merit list and restart the process, was passed. Parliament also confirmed the appointment of McDonald Jacob as acting CoP, as the law now only allows serving police officers to act as commissioner, as opposed to contract officers.

The PSC’s August 13 minute on the acting appointment said the commission was of the view, based on the President’s response, it would have to make the appointment, as the 2009 legal notice did not provide for sending a list to the President, while clause 4 of the 2021 notice did not provide any direction beyond sending it to the President.

It also said it was empowered to appoint someone to act and the 2021 notice widened the pool from which it could draw a suitable candidate.

It further said “the possibilities of a contract officer being recommended were discussed and it was decided Griffith would be appointed to act as top cop from August 17, 2021, pending the conclusion of the selection process for the substantive post.

Griffith has described the decision to discard the 2021 list and restart the process as “an abuse of a flawed Constitution.”


"Former top cop merit list withdrawal still a mystery"

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