The current Government, having voted in Parliament for the appointment of Gary Griffith as commissioner of police (CoP) on the occasion of his first appointment, clearly no longer wished to have him returned to that office.
This should not have been a problem. Griffith had been appointed on a fixed-term contract, which expired on 17 August 2021 and ultimately the Government could vote in Parliament against any recommendation of the Police Service Commission (PolSc) to re-appoint him. However, much political and legal hell broke loose.
In an expeditiously delivered judgment on 14 October 2021, the High Court set aside Griffith’s acting appointment made at the end of his contract to cover the failure to complete the process for a substantive appointment in time.
Before that, on 11 August 2021, the merit list prepared by the PolSC for a substantive appointment was mysteriously ‘withdrawn’ as a result of clandestine events at President’s House which were not fully explained in the statement from President’s House on 17 October 2021.
Consequently, Griffith’s name, which was at the top of the withdrawn list, never reached the Parliament for debate on a substantive appointment—as it should have if the appointment process had not mysteriously, and unconstitutionally in my view, been aborted.
We first had intimations of two reasons for the Government’s mindset, because of high-level leaks of documents and other information and titbits contained in affidavit evidence filed in the related public law litigation.
Last week, pursuant to the grant of Freedom of Information requests, which had at first been refused, one of the reasons became more concrete. The other reason, revealed by leak, became plausible to some degree.
The first reason was Griffith’s vitriolic public responses to the Prime Minister’s concern about the lack of enforcement of the Public Health Regulations at a time when a pool party at posh Bayside residences was exposed in fleshy glory in early September 2020.
This reason has become more concrete, now that the letter dated 12 September 2020 containing the Prime Minister’s complaint to the Police Service Commission has been officially released.
Unfortunately, there are times in the execution of high public duties when restraint, especially in self-praise or denigration of critics, is required. Griffith is not the only one among our leaders who lacks restraint, but his talkative nature, whatever its populist appeal, may be a tragic flaw.
In the words of the Prime Minister, the then CoP’s public and private aggression and insulting and disrespectful language towards him over the Prime Minister’s concern about the enforcement of the Public Health Regulations ‘gave me cause for serious concern with respect to the suitability of Mr Gary Griffith continuing to hold the office of commissioner of police’.
The Government was also concerned about allegations of irregularities in the proliferation of firearms users licences (FULs) issued during Griffith’s tenure. That appears to be the second reason for not wanting Griffith re-appointed because the Government reportedly set about having the matter investigated in December 2020.
Belatedly, in September 2021, the PolSC retained regionally respected, retired Trinidad and Tobago Court of Appeal judge Justice Stanley John to investigate the FUL issue although the Commission had already put Griffith at the top of the merit list.
The John report was leaked last week in order to disclose detailed and grave FUL allegations, obviously thereby to do immediate and insidious reputational damage to Griffith as well as to justify the coup against the Bliss Seepersad-led PolSC.
Justice John’s appointment followed the goings-on at President’s House. It leads to the inference that it is those goings-on at President’s House that caused the Commission’s sudden awakening to the FUL issue, the mysterious withdrawal of the merit list and Justice John’s appointment.
It remains concealed who stimulated the Commission’s awakening.
Good governance required that the Government deal with the merit list in Parliament by openly stating its reasons and voting against the recommendation contained in the merit list.
Good governance also requires that we hear something very soon about the next steps arising out of the John report.
Otherwise, we will continue to reap a bitter and murderous harvest from governance limited to manoeuvres and leaks.