‘Should PolSC have been left in the dark?’ President says Merit List for CoP was received and ‘withdrawn almost immediately’

EPL Infrafred Sauna

“[…] I confirm that an Order of Merit List in respect of the commissioner of police was delivered on 11 August 2021 to the OTP and withdrawn almost immediately thereafter that day. I therefore had no list from which a notification could issue.

“[…] If there exists apparently credible information that might impact deliberations on an important constitutional function of the PolSC should it be brought to the commission’s attention? Or should the commission be left in the dark?”

The following is a media statement by President Paula-Mae Weekes on the interaction of her office with the Police Service Commission (PolSC) on the matter of the appointment of a police commissioner and acting police commissioner:

Photo: President Paula-Mae Weekes.
(Copyright Office of the President)

The High Court on 14 October 2021 rendered its decision in respect of the interpretation summons brought by Ravi Balgobin Maharaj against the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago and Interested Parties and declared, inter alia, that the appointment of Mr Gary Griffith to act as commissioner of police from 18 August 2021 is void and unconstitutional as being contrary to Section 123 of the Constitution.

I awaited the court’s decision to make this one comprehensive statement on matters surrounding the PolSC and do so now:

Commissioner of Police

I first speak to the issue of the substantive appointment of commissioner of police, since it was first in time.

As much as I respect many of those in the legal, political and public spheres who demanded it, I will not address the question of who came to the Office of the President (OTP) and met or spoke to whom—that is not the practice of this office. Furthermore, I do not consider it helpful in analysing the issues set out below.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2020)

I confirm that an Order of Merit List in respect of the commissioner of police was delivered on 11 August 2021 to the OTP and withdrawn almost immediately thereafter that day. I therefore had no list from which a notification could issue.

To date, no other list has since been submitted. The OTP has been advised that ‘the recruitment and selection process for the Office of Commissioner of Police has not yet been completed’.

I hope that those who do not get the particulars they seek in this statement nevertheless go on to consider the questions raised below.

While I will refer specifically to the PolSC, these matters are pertinent to all service commissions. I take this opportunity to reiterate that while the president appoints and removes members of service commissions, in accordance with specific constitutional provisions, the service commissions are independent even of the president—who does not direct, participate or interfere in their deliberations and decisions.

Photo: President Paula-Mae Weekes (right) presents a letter of appointment to Police Service Commission chair Bliss Seepersad.
(Copyright Office of the President)

It is now in the public domain that the former PolSC initiated an enquiry into matters surrounding the issuance of firearms users licenses, following certain information coming to its attention. In that light, I invite you to consider the following:

(i) If there exists apparently credible information that might impact deliberations on an important constitutional function of the PolSC, 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 PolSC, 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.

Photo: President Paula-Mae Weekes (right) and then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith.
(via Office of the President)

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 PolSC’s independence? Does the source of the information matter?

I raise these questions in the hope that the whole unhappy and regrettable course of events provides a platform for critical discussions leading to viable solutions, including perhaps constitutional reform.

Many statements in the public domain have used the terms ‘political interference’, ‘clandestine’, ‘secret’, ‘subversion of the Constitution’, without any apparent consideration of the need for confidentiality or privacy in sensitive circumstances.

Photo: Leader of the Opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2021)

Our Constitution provides that the party in power nominate the president, often leading to the groundless, unfortunate and dangerous assumption that the president is a tool of that party. The Constitution envisages a non-partisan, apolitical president who not only performs the routine duties and functions of office but can be trusted to, where necessary and appropriate, make decisions in the national interest—of course within the Constitution and the law.

Those who choose to consider and promote the Office as nothing more than a rubber stamp do not admit this important role and erode the very trust that is essential to the Office’s optimal functioning.

Members of the public sometimes write to me and on occasion, after due diligence, are allowed to come to the OTP to speak to me about matters of concern not in the public domain and which touch and concern the national interest.

Some seek advice, direction or action while others just wish to share information that they think the head of state should know. These persons put their confidence in the president’s judgement and discretion. Public officials should expect no less.

Photo: President Paula-Mae Weekes (centre) is flanked by President of the Senate Christine Kangaloo (left) and Speaker of the House of Representatives Bridgid Annisette-George at the first session of the 12th Parliament on 28 August 2020.
(Copyright Office of the President)

In this information age with its demand 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.

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 PolSC 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 PolSC. 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.

Photo: President Paula-Mae Weekes (right) and former Police Service Commission member Susan Craig-James.
(Copyright Office of the President)

Acting Commissioner of Police

By striking down the appointments to act as commissioner of police, the court has effectively returned the status quo to what it was on 12 August 2021 when the then PolSC submitted to me under Legal Notice No 183 of 2021, paragraph four, the Order of the Merit List for the acting position.

As was stated during the legal proceedings, I harboured from the outset serious concerns about the effect and legality of Legal Notice No 183, paragraph four.

After the OTP discussed those concerns with the PolSC and the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel, I did not send a notification forward as I did not think the president was given the power to do so by the specific law under which it was submitted to me.

I replied to the PolSC on the 12th of August 2021.

On the 13th of August 2021, the PolSC appointed an acting commissioner with effect from the 16th of August 2021.

Photo: Then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (right) and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
(via TTPS)

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.

In the matter of an acting police commissioner, I must await a list of nominees submitted by a newly constituted PolSC. As of now, there are three notifications with the Clerk of the House of Representatives, one ongoing consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and the OTP continues to work assiduously to identify a fifth nominee.

The process for appointments to the PolSC provides two opportunities for the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition to express their views on the nominee, first in the consultation process and again in the House of Representatives.

Any list to be submitted must be in conformity with a valid The Commissioner Of Police And Deputy Commissioner Of Police (Acting Appointments) (Selection Process) Order.

Photo: Deputy Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob.
(Copyright TTPS)

The Court’s decision of 14 October 2021, which struck down Legal Notice No 103 of 2009 and Legal Notice No 183 of 2021 paragraph four is open to appeal.

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