Griffith’s new mission: former police commissioner seeks ‘ground troops’ for new political party

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Former commissioner of police Gary Griffith says anyone interested in being part of his new political party, the National Transformation Alliance (NTA), must be prepared to work and serve their country, not serve themselves.

On April 30, he launched the political entity on social media and says it has already attracted hundreds of supporters. The event took place the day before the Progressive Democratic Patriots, led by Watson Duke, had a glitzy affair at the Hyatt hotel to unveil the leadership of the Trinidad arm of the party, whose Tobago branch trounced the PNM in the December THA elections 14-one.

Griffith served as CoP from August 2018-August 2021, as a national security adviser, government senator, opposition senator and national security minister at different times under the People’s Partnership (PP) coalition between May 2010 and February 2015.

He previously served in the Defence Force for 15 years, reaching the rank of captain, and has a master’s in security management from the Department of Criminology at the University of Leicester, United Kingdom.

Griffith told Sunday Newsday he served his country well and was living “comfortably enough,” even though there were 33 death threats against him and his family while he served as CoP. He said he does not need the stress, so there was no need for him to go back into active politics.

But he said he wanted to continue to serve TT and improve it, so he launched the NTA.

“The only reason I’ve done so was because of the massive amount of support and request from people wanting me to continue to serve my country. That was the reason I reapplied for commissioner, as well.”

He said many citizens have given up hope in the two current major political parties, so they migrated, and do not bother to vote, or vote for “the lesser of two evils.”

Griffith said “most of the political parties” use corruption, incompetence, mismanagement, racism, division, hatred, bitterness, victimisation and other negative traits to try to win.

He has seen leaders mocking, imitating idiosyncrasies and promoting rumours about their opponents. And despite his reputation for attacking people on social media for criticising him while he was CoP, he said the party does not intend to attack, demonise, destroy or discredit political opponents.

Instead, he said the NTA has the political will to turn that around and find solutions.

He said he would get the best minds – citizens, at home and abroad – who want to contribute and create a proper roadmap and policies to meet the needs of the population and improve lives.

“That is why the word ‘transformation’ is in the name of this party. We’re going to transform the country.”

He said he transformed the Ministry of National Security when he was a minister and “drastically reduced crime” as CoP, and it was not coincidental that crime spiked when he left the commissioner’s post.

“Because I know what to do, and it’s based on leadership.”

He said prime ministers tend to believe they are the “be-all and end-all” in decisions on the economy and various fields, but they were not. That is why he intends to recruit and work with experts, whatever their political affiliation.

“This is going to be Team TT, and not a political party that thinks about nothing other than those with a similar party card in their back pocket.”

So he intends to appoint qualified and competent people to state boards rather than those who support the political party. He said unqualified and incompetent people leading state boards have resulted in billions of dollars lost because of mismanagement and corruption.

“What we will be doing is simple things. We will be requesting that the Opposition select 20 per cent of all state boards’ members to ensure checks and balances are put in place to prevent wasteful spending, mismanagement and corruption. Right there alone we could probably save $3-5 billion.

“We will make sure the state boards will be viable, productive, and you have the best-qualified minds in that particular field, making sure the state board can run in a productive manner.”

He also intends to change the Constitution to reduce the power of the prime minister. He said the Constitution ensured “dictatorship via democracy,” with the prime minister having the authority to choose the President, Speaker of the House, Chief of Defence Staff and other high offices.

“You can’t get anything closer to a dictatorship than that. The prime minister controls every single person in a strategic position, so they could do whatever they want. That is a dangerous precedent to move a country forward. There are no checks and balances.”

Another important move for the NTA would be to make sport a major ministry. He said the one time TT was united was when the national football team qualified for the World Cup in 2006. Yet governments have barely contributed to national teams.

“We understand the value of sports. We’re going to make sure that sport is a frontline ministry, making sure our national teams get the training, equipment and support so they can perform. You can’t get more or better promotion and marketing than in sport.”

In addition, as he was a minister and a senator, he understands how a ministry and the Cabinet work. Therefore, he will select the best people to be in Cabinet.

He said usually a political party picks 41 people loyal to its leader for a general election. But then, if they win their seats, they are made ministers even though they may not have the capability to run a ministry. And being a minister with many meetings and responsibilities, they will have no time for their constituents.

“What happens is, when you win seats, the prime minister believes he is obligated to give most of them ministerial roles. When you do that, you’re putting persons in charge of ministries who do not have the qualifications or capability to understand the ministry, and you remove those persons from serving the constituents who put them there.”

So his MPs would not automatically be placed in a ministerial position, and in the Upper House, he would select experts in the field.

Griffith added that his wife Nicole Dyer-Griffith continues to be the “engine room” of their family and is part of the NTA team.

In this 2020 file photo, Gary Griffith addresses a media briefing as police commissioner. Griffith is on a new mission as political leader of the National Transformation Alliance. – JEFF MAYERS

Dyer-Griffith was chair of the Congress of the People (COP) and political leader of the unsuccessful Alliance of Independents, which she formed in 2015. Griffith credited the work she did in Diego Martin for the People’s National Movement (PNM) losing votes and the regional corporation.

“When it is you’re looking at some of the best persons available to serve the country, I would put her as one of the main persons to be a part of this team.”

Griffith believes his “one shot one kill policy,” his harsh treatment of those who criticised law enforcement, his harsh treatment of lawmakers, his determination to clean up the police force, and other firm stands he took as CoP were the reasons why, in a poll by television station Caribbean Communication Network, 89 per cent of respondents wanted him back or had no problem with him returning as commissioner.

He said those who did not want him to return were criminals inside and outside the police service and Parliament, because crime is big business in TT.

“Those 11 per cent were very concerned by my drastic, harsh action.

“But the fact of the matter is what I did resulted in achievements. It resulted in the highest reduction in crime in the history of TT. Because of me not being there, my style, my policies, my actions, my attitude, my leadership, we are now going at over 600 murders per annum.

“Because the criminals had immense respect for me and the police service because they understood I had a job to do. It was nothing personal, but we are not going to allow you to commit crime. And the law-abiding citizens were untouched.”

He said he “stepped on big toes” because he was not a national security minister or CoP to make friends. Instead of doing what was popular, he did what was right and he would do the same as the leader of the country.

He said he would not be false or pretentious, would not “sell out this country” and he is aware it may affect his chances in a general election.

As an example, he recalled “standing up” to Dr Rowley and former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and “paid the price.” Rowley said he lost confidence in Griffith a year into his tenure and complained to the Police Service Commission. Persad-Bissessar fired Griffith after he supported a witness-tampering criminal complaint against then-attorney general Anand Ramlogan.

In August 2021, the Police Service Commission chairman suspended Griffith in the face of an investigation into the granting of firearm user’s licences, but later withdrew the suspension, which had not been sanctioned by the other three members of the commission. The chairman, Bliss Seepersad, withdrew a merit list naming Griffith as the top nominee for the post from the President’s office on August 12, 2021, after a meeting with the Prime Minister at President’s House. Griffith claims the Prime Minister intervened to block his nomination, but the PM says it was his duty to provide the information to the commission.

Griffith said as national security minister under the United National Congress (UNC)-led PP he was pressured to “do the wrong thing,” but refused.

“I lost my job as a minister because of it, but I stood firm and got national support. I didn’t expect that to happen, but it showed the country is not as naive as people think.”

Then, when Rowley implied that the police could arrest people in their private homes, he “stood firm and told him where to get off because of his ignorance in not understanding the laws that he drafted” under the public health regulations to prevent the spread of covid19.

He said Rowley was offended, but he would not allow the constitutional rights of citizens to be breached.

In that vein, as PM he would have systems to measure leadership, performance, accountability and management, just as he did as minister and CoP.

“’Believe’ is our main word. Believe that politicians cannot be corrupt. Believe that we can be honest. Believe that we can turn around the country. Believe that political parties are there to serve people. Believe we could turn around the economy. Believe we can reduce crime. Believe we can improve our health, education, and infrastructure around the country. Actually believe it can happen.”

 

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