PM defends government involvement in CoP appointment

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher. – File photo by Roger Jacob

The government must be involved in the appointment of a commissioner of police (CoP).

This was the assessment of the Prime Minister as he spoke with media at the Piarco International airport on Sunday afternoon after he returned from a 12-day trip to Ghana and India.

While Dr Rowley was away, Cabinet decided to extend the service of current Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher by a year.

Speaking about the decision, Rowley said, “The Cabinet would have looked at all the options that are available and would have made the most reasonable option, which was to extend the commissioner’s tenure while the service commission goes through the, I should say, long and arduous process of finding someone to substantively occupy the post.

He added, “We were initially hoping that during the period when Mrs Christopher was there, the commission would have moved to some stage to be able to act earlier. It didn’t happen.”

He said he could not understand the issue with the government’s involvement in Harewood-Christopher’s appointment.

Harewood-Christopher was confirmed in the post by Parliament on February 3, 2023 and Cabinet extended her term by a year after she reached the retirement age of 60 on May 15, 2023.

In June 2023, political activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj challenged the extension, claiming it was null and void as the Cabinet sidestepped the appointment process outlined in the Constitution and infringed on the doctrine of the separation of powers.

High Court judge Justice Ricky Rahim dismissed that challenge on January 16, and ruled that Cabinet had the power to extend the CoP’s term.

Earlier this month, Appeal Court judges Prakash Moosai, Mark Mohammed and James Aboud unanimously dismissed Maharaj’s 12 complaints of Rahim’s findings and vindicated the Government’s decision.

“We might be the only country in the world where the appointment of a commissioner of police gives the country so much trouble. I don’t know anywhere else where the appointment of a commissioner of police causes all this ra-ra.”

Asked if he believed the laws should be changed so the government was removed from the appointment altogether, Rowley said the appointment was the government’s responsibility.

“The government cannot remove itself from its responsibility. When it’s all said and done, the government has the responsibility.”

Rowley was also asked if he was satisfied with the Police Service Commission rating Harewood-Christopher’s performance as “good.”

“I did not do the analysis and it is not for me to be satisfied. This is for me to be cognisant of and for the government to be informed by.”

He thanked Harewood-Christopher for her service over the past 15 months, “because I do know that anybody who is there, who has been there, they have become fair game for the negatives.”

Rowley said he was not satisfied, though, with the crime levels, adding, “I don’t think anybody in the country is.”

Speaking specifically about crime in Tobago after the island’s tenth murder for the year, Rowley said he was disappointed to see it becoming like the rest of the country.

“The criminals have freedom of movement, freedom of association, and they look for opportunities in Tobago. Unfortunately…the same type of people do the same type of thing, but (are) choosing to do it in Tobago.”