“[…] In Section 35(c) of our Constitution, it is stated that the President may be removed from office if ‘… he behaves in a manner that endangers the security of the State…’
“It is pellucidly clear that the President is prohibited from sharing sensitive confidential information, with the national community, relating to national security issues. Furthermore, the sharing of such information could imperil the safety and lives of whistleblowers or, at the very least, lead to their victimisation…”
The following Letter to the Editor on President Paula-Mae Weekes’ refusal to provide details on discussions that preceded Police Service Commission (PolSC) chair Bliss Seepersad’s withdrawal of a merit list for the vacant position of commissioner of police was submitted by Louis W Williams of St Augustine:
I have previously stated—in a letter which was published in the Trinidad Guardian on the 9th October 2021—that the sharing of pertinent information by any member of the Cabinet regarding matters which fall within the purview of a particular independent institution/commission does not amount to interference, unless the Cabinet or some member(s) of Cabinet participates in the decision-making of that body.
Indeed, Cabinet has an obligation to share such information, otherwise the failure to do so may be viewed as reckless and a dereliction of duty. However, having shared the information, Cabinet must then leave the body to deliberate on the contents of the information shared and make its own decision(s) on the way forward.
These independent institutions, after all, play a major role in the determination of who will be employed within their purview and have mechanisms in place for, among other things, the promotion and disciplining of such employees.
The matter concerning the merit list for the appointment of a substantive commissioner of police (CoP) is even more sensitive as it concerns our national security.
Why are we perpetuating the silo mindset?! Have we not learnt from the 1990 attempted coup, where this was a factor in the bungling of our national security?
Confidential information received by some individuals/agencies was not shared with others within the National Security network. Generally, the information was dismissed as being very far-fetched (that cyar happen in T&T). We know the outcome of that silo mindset.
The President in her news media release indicated that a merit list for the substantive position of CoP was prepared by the Police Service Commission (PolSC) and submitted to her on 11th August 2021. However, later that same day before she had the opportunity to submit the merit list to Parliament, it was withdrawn by the PolSC.
It seems apparent that some information came into the possession of the PolSC after the list was submitted that so alarmed its members that they wanted to review their initial decision.
That situation should be of serious concern to every citizen of T&T, having regard to the 1990 attempted coup.
If one of the persons on the list was implicated in wrongdoing, that would be extremely worrisome. Worse, if the confidential information provided by witnesses was fabricated and designed to ensure the selection of someone who was an accomplice of the errant witnesses or someone else who was deemed to be unable to detect their nefarious activities.
Such a matter has damaging consequences for our nation, and ought to be taken very seriously by the PolSC. Accordingly, the matter ought to be properly investigated by the PolSC. To do otherwise would be reckless.
Moreover, it would be unfair for them to simply remove from the merit list, the name of the officer who has been accused of wrongdoing—unless a proper investigation concludes that he was, in fact, implicated in wrongdoing.
For obvious reasons, this is not a matter to be simply left to the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), the Professional Standards Bureau, or the DPP, to deal with in their own time. The employer, through the PolSC, has a very important role in the resolution of this matter.
The Prime Minister has denied having a tripartite meeting with the President and the Chairman of the PolSC on 11th August at President’s House. But it matters not if he did have such a meeting, or someone delegated by him did so, with or without witnesses.
As mentioned above, he is obligated to share relevant information with the PolSC. He is also obligated, under Section 81 of our Constitution, to keep the President fully informed of the general conduct of the Government. This matter certainly qualifies for such attention.
In Section 35(c) of our Constitution, it is stated that the President may be removed from office if ‘… he behaves in a manner that endangers the security of the State…’
It is pellucidly clear that the President is prohibited from sharing sensitive confidential information, with the national community, relating to national security issues. Furthermore, the sharing of such information could imperil the safety and lives of whistleblowers or, at the very least, lead to their victimisation.
The President was absolutely correct in her decision to not disclose, to the general public, any information on this matter other than the submission and withdrawal of the merit list.
We are indeed blessed to have such a sagacious President, of impeccable character who any bishop would be proud of. She is not insipid, aloof or arrogant. But she will not succumb to bullying and intimidatory tactics.
This matter, however, as one commentator indicated recently, highlights the need for an Official Secrets Act. It is my hope that our parliamentarians will give that issue serious consideration.