Daly Bread: Answers required for accountability in DPP imbroglio

Persons in public life frequently exercise power without accountability. As President Paula-Mae Weekes was recently demitting office, we were reminded of the fate of the merit list for the appointment of a commissioner of police that was prepared by the Police Service Commission—but which was, in August 2021, diverted from reaching the Parliament.

The diversion was a result of events at President’s House that were never properly explained. It remains troubling and a taint on the tenure of President Weekes.

Then President Paula-Mae Weekes (centre) inspects members of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force during the 2022 Independence Day parade.
(Copyright Office of the President)

It is a primary example of lack of accountability for far-reaching manoeuvres, which take place in the shadows and become further obscured by the now notorious blame games.

The revelations currently unfolding over the unsatisfactory state of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (the DPP) are another aspect of our country’s dysfunctional accountability, so glaringly revealed on the abortive merit list occasion.

Over the last three weeks, several persons in the media sought my “comment” on each of the salvoes the Prime Minister (the PM), the Attorney General (the AG) and the Chief Justice (the CJ) respectively fired at the DPP in response to the DPP’s statement about the lack of prosecutors to staff his office, which carries out key constitutionally protected functions.

Director of Public Prosecutions
Roger Gaspard SC.
(Copyright Roger Jacob/ Trinidad Newsday)

The DPP stated that the criminal justice system could collapse as a result of the dire shortages of prosecutors in his department and he questioned the functioning of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (the JLSC), the body responsible for hiring persons for employment in the DPP’s office.

The salvos in response to the DPP all contained factual allegations, the accuracy of which no one on the outside could assess. Without the DPP replying to the factual allegations—either to traverse them or to acknowledge them and explain—there is, in my view, not enough material on which to make an informed judgment on where accountability lies for the alarming state of the DPP’s department.

Unfortunately, in light of some past events for which accountability was evaded, some of those top officials taking on the DPP cannot be said to have unblemished credibility.

In addition, the current controversy arose shortly after the discontinuance of a case against Mr Basdeo Panday and others.

Minister of Rural Development and Local Government Faris Al-Rawi (left) takes a selfie with former prime minister Basdeo Panday.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2023)

This discontinuance and other collapsed prosecutions against opposition personages clearly disturbed the political atmosphere and probably put the fire of frustration into the remarks of the PM and AG.

However, without more, one cannot simply dismiss the CJ’s allegation that the DPP had been inefficient in putting forward names for appointment and promotion.

I disagree that the CJ should not have raised his concerns publicly and that it was an attack. He countered what the DPP had put into the public domain about the JLSC of which the CJ is the head. The CJ also severely criticised the DPP for filing only a miniscule number of indictments.

Therefore, without answers from the DPP to the relevant questions raised, it remains unwise to come to sweeping conclusions—to take sides for or against the DPP and for commentators to be forced into a framework of questions designed to support a notion that the top officials who spoke were “banding together against the DPP”.

President Christine Kangaloo (centre) takes the oath of office while Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and Chief Justice Ivor Archie look on.
(Courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)

In addition to answers on the allegations of the CJ, more information is needed relating to the building which the PM testily told us had been rented at great cost to house the DPP’s department but which remained unoccupied—although few citizens could discern what that had to do with the department being understaffed.

It is acknowledged that the Special Branch has security concerns about the building, situated at the corner of Park and Henry Streets. It may not be sufficiently safe for occupation by a department whose personnel are at serious risk of intimidatory or reprisal attacks.

Did the Government enter into an expensive lease and do renovations without investigating whether the building was fit for purpose? It might also be useful to know which minister took the note to Cabinet for that deal?

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(via Office of the Prime Minister)

When the air in the public domain is cleared, the “mature conversation” which the CJ has proposed in his response to the DPP must take place between those two key figures. The country waits.

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