Erla stays in charge – Cabinet extends CoP’s tenure for one more year

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher. – File photo by Jeff K Mayers

COMMISSIONER of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher was given a one-year extension of her position, said a statement in the evening on May 13 from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

It said Cabinet earlier on May 13 advised President Christine Kangaloo under the Police Service Act (section 75(a)) to extend Harewood-Christopher’s service for a year starting May 15.

Newsday was unable to contact Harewood-Christopher for a comment on what she hopes for in her second year compared to her first.

When Harewood-Christopher  reached the retirement age of 60 on May 15, 2023, Cabinet gave her a one-year extension up to May 24, 2024.

At that time, Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds said the Police Service Act (section 75) let the President grant a post-retirement-age extension if it was in the national interest.

On May 13, he explained the decision, speaking to Newsday after the House of Representatives had adjourned.

However, Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein, also leaving the Red House, strongly queried the CoP’s reappointment.

Hinds made the point that the extension had been done after consultations with the Police Service Commission (PSC) on Harewood-Christopher’s performance. More so, he said the PSC was continuing its ongoing exercise to recruit a CoP but in the meantime, someone had to fill the post, thus Harewood-Christopher’s extension. He also said crime was a multi-faceted issue.

He said the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution and Police Service Act were the guides in this matter, along with some interpretation of these by the courts.

Hinds said a past court ruling said it was the PSC that appointed a CoP, while that day Cabinet had advised the President to give her a further extension.

“So it really was about following the law, and it would have taken into account a number of other things. So altogether, it is the operation of law.”

He recalled the PSC’s advertising the CoP position, with applicants then submitting themselves.

“The application process would have closed recently, and those matters are being contemplated, evaluated, processed by the PSC.

“In the meantime, the public interest demands that there be a CoP.

“So all things considered, in the best judgement of the Cabinet and the advice that was given to Her Excellency, the service of Mrs Harewood-Christopher would have been extended while the PSC conducts the process, and we will take it from there.”

He said meanwhile, he would continue to provide all resources required by the police service that TT could comfortably afford, and encourage police officers under the CoP’s leadership to exert their best efforts to go full throttle to give a “blanket of security and protection that TT cries out for in the burgeoning crime experience we are now having…

“The situation is multi-faceted, as everyone knows, bar the foolish talk and pretence.

“The Government is directing all resources available to it to dealing with the multi-faceted approaches to dealing with crime, not the least creating stronger and better opportunities for our young people so they can choose a more positive pathway rather than a life of crime.”

He said Government was recruiting 1,000 more officers to boost the strength of the police service, while constantly recruiting for the defence force and other agencies.

Hinds said overall, the Government was providing required resources, setting up agencies and encouraging those who were responsible to exert their best efforts in protecting the people of TT.

Newsday asked if the extension would necessarily run for one year or until the PSC had found a new CoP.

Hinds replied, “If you read the Police Service Act, it actually speaks about an extension to a maximum of three years, one year at a time.

“Cabinet would have taken the opportunity to solicit the views of the PSC as it relates to the review of the last year of the commissioner, and found in the response of the PSC that Madam Christopher’s report was good.

“As a consequence, among other things, we gave the advice to Her Excellency that we did.”

Hosein: Is CoP’s extension lawful?

Hosein queried the CoP’s extension, citing two grounds, namely lawfulness and deservedness, speaking to Newsday.

“First, we have to determine whether it is a lawful extension.

“She would have been engaged for a contractual period. We would have raised issues with respect to her retirement age when she was just appointed, so we have to determine whether or not Cabinet can extend the contract, also having regard to Parliament’s approval.

“It takes us into a new dimension in that the act provides for an extension of her service, but the contractual period may have come to an end and she may have to seek parliamentary approval again.”

Hosein offered a second argument against her extension, citing what he called “practical reasons,” namely her past year’s performance.

“We have seen the murder rate climb to the highest levels. We have now seen that gangs are monitoring police stations. Really, her performance is abysmal.”

Hosein said the Police Service Act allows Cabinet via the President to extend her term “in the national interest.

“Is it really in the national interest to extend Mrs Harewood-Christopher’s tenure? These are questions we have to ask based on that performance I’ve just outlined.”

Last January, in the High Court, Justice Ricky Rahim rejected activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj’s challenge to Harewood-Christopher’s first extension.

Rahim held the year-long extension was not unconstitutional and did not trespass on the functions of the PSC.

On May 9, three Appeal Court judges (Prakash Moosai, Mark Mohammed, and James Aboud) unanimously supported Rahim, saying the 2023 extension did not amount to an appointment.