Kamla warns on PSC nominee process: ‘Same khaki pants again’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Photo by Sureash Cholai

OPPOSITION Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar warned that the moves to appoint five people to constitute a new Police Service Commission (PSC) could result in the same situation which caused the last PSC to collapse in September.

She issued this warning in her contribution to debate in the House of Representatives on a motion filed by the Prime Minister to approve the nominations of replacements.

The nominees were retired Justice of Appeal Judith Jones, Maxine Attong, Ian Kevin Ramdhanie, Maxine King and Rajiv Persad as PSC members.

“We have nothing personal against any of the nominees. They are good, distinguished men and women of our soil.”

But Persad-Bissessar said, “My issue comes down to again…relating to fit for purpose…and the fact that this service commission must be like Caesar’s wife…must not have any taint…must not have any doubt that they will not be independent…that they will be non-partisan.”

She also said, “I believe the motion is procedurally flawed because we are dealing with all the nominees in one crop. I do not believe that is what the Constitution intended, that we deal with this motion in that manner.’

Persad-Bissessar said nominees to serve on the PSC must not just be qualified, but have experience to go with their qualifications.

She warned, “They must be…and seen to be independent..and if you have persons who will not be seen to be independent…then we are putting ourselves up for another fall..we will end up in the same khaki pants as they say, where we were before…what happened with the previous PSC.”

While accepting earlier rulings by Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George about making speculative comments about any of the nominees, Persad-Bissessar said, “It is not wise for us…not to bring to the light..matters that will give the impression to John Public…the man on the PTSC bus…the man in the maxi taxi…the ordinary citizen…it must be brought their attention because..in the interest of the public…we must know there is no cause for worry.”

After saying the Opposition will not be bullied and will continue to speak on this issue, Persad-Bissessar claimed the conditions which created the perception of political interference in the PSC still exist.

While acknowledging the constitutional importance of the PSC and Dr Rowley’s point about the need to appoint members of a new PSC expeditiously, Persad-Bissessar said the public must be reminded how this point was reached.

“We are hear because they (members of the last PSC) all resigned…en bloc…en masse. It was like a meltdown. All the blocks came down..like Humpty Dumpty I guess…just shatter…the PSC.”

Persad-Bissessar reiterated the UNC’s claim that the catalyst for “this sad state of affairs” began a year ago when the Prime Minister “by his own admission…said he wrote the PSC…to indicate his displeasure” at commissioner of police (CoP) Gary Griffith.

Persad-Bissessar asked what happened to the order of merit lists for CoP and deputy CoP nominees that were submitted to the President, then withdrawn before the PSC’s collapse.

“Where is the list today? We don’t know.”

She also said questions remain about the public official who allegedly met with President Paula-Mae Weekes on August 12 “and who interfered in the process of delivering the list of nominees to the President.”

Annisette-George advised Persad-Bissessar against continuing along this path.

“I understand where you’re going, but I really don’t want this debate to turn into something that it is not.”

Heeding Annisette-George’s ruling, Persad-Bissessar said the legal status of the withdrawn merit list must be determined.

“This new service commission will have to consider those matters.”

She believed the list was still valid “because when it was prepared by the service commission then…they were legally in office..and did no wrong at that point in time.”

Persad-Bissessar also believed a recent upsurge in crime may be related to the fact there is no substantive CoP or deputy CoP.

After noting there were a total of two million interceptions of commuinications between 2012 and 2017, Persad-Bissessar said this was one of several operations that only the CoP could authorise the police to carry out. She also said matters such as variation of curfew times under the state of emergency and approval of firearms user’s licences were matters which only the CoP could authorise.