Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP, on the Establishment of A Special Select Committee of the House of Representatives to look at the issue of appointments to the office of Commissioner of Police and Deputy Commissioner of Police
The Government today accepted the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP, to establish a Special Select Committee of Parliament to look at the process of selection of a nominee for the position of Commissioner of Police.
In responding to the Government’s motion during today’s sitting of the House of Representatives, the Opposition Leader reminded members of the reasons for her proposal to the Prime Minister, emphasizing that the Special Select Committee is the best mechanism to examine the process utilized, to ensure that it was fair, transparent, open and subject to the highest degree of scrutiny.
Below are excerpts of the Opposition Leader’s presentation:
Madame Speaker, the Honourable Member for Arouca/Maloney has given very little reason why this is to be done. But we do see merit in having a Special Select Committee set up, because the Office of Commissioner of Police is one of the most important offices in the country when it comes to our democracy and the enforcement of law and order.
So important is this office that since independence, the power to make this appointment has been one that the framers of our Constitution guarded very jealously. The Constitutional provisions are very clear – the power to appoint a Commissioner of Police must be one that is protected from political interference. Put another way the process and the body vested with the power to make this appointment was politically insulated.
And those provisions were amplified in many decisions coming from the Privy Council and our own courts – indeed recently in the case of Harridath Maharaj v Attorney General, where we had to take the legal notice of 2015, the Order for the Selection Process, several parts of that Order were struck down as unconstitutional, and in some ways interfering with the independence of the Police Service Commission.
Parliament in 2007 saw the wisdom of transferring most of the powers formerly vested in the Police Service Commission to the Commissioner of Police himself to enable him to better manage and exercise control over the officers of the Police Service. This transfer of power amplified the powers of the Commissioner and it is now imperative that the process that is engaged to arrive at any nomination coming before us and for us to approve – that that process was transparent, fair, and must be such as to preclude any taint or interference.
That is what the law provides and that is why this Special Select Committee is so vital. Because there have been all kinds of allegations in the public domain over the past few weeks with respect to the reporting on the process engaged by the Police Service Commission in arriving at the list of proposed nominees that were submitted to His Excellency and thereafter to this Honourable House. It is not for us to judge the truth of these allegations, but what it is for us to do, is to ensure that there was a transparent process. If there is any flaw or taint in the process, there will be no trust, no confidence in the office of Commissioner of Police. This Committee will be able to determine fact and law in this issue.
While the media has a constitutional right to highlight matters that affect the public interest, for which we are grateful, we must all be cautious that we do not pass judgment before being in receipt of all of the facts.
Some of the allegations that are now in the public domain are quite serious and it is for this reason that I wrote to the Honourable Prime Minister in answer to his invitation for a meeting between the Government and Opposition on his matter and proposed that a Special Select Committee be established by this House to inquire and report into this matter.
I also suggested to the Prime Minister that this matter be jointly brought to the attention of His Excellency to whom the Commission reports.
I think it is important for me to place on the record of Hansard my response to the Honourable Prime Minister in this matter as it contained the position of the Opposition on this matter.
31st January 2018.
The Honourable Dr. Keith Rowley,
Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Office of the Prime Minister,
Dear Prime Minister,
Re: Your request for meeting between the Government and Opposition with respect to the parliamentary appointment of a Commissioner of Police.
I refer to the matter at caption and thank you for your email dated January 30th 2018 inviting the Opposition to meet with the Government on the matter at caption.
I have taken careful notice of the matters that have been reported by the media with respect to the process that was engaged by the Police Service Commission in arriving at the proposed nominees that were submitted to His Excellency for consideration for appointment to the post of Commissioner of Police and Deputy Commissioner. Whilst the Opposition is indeed grateful to the media for highlighting issues touching and concerning the process and the suitability of the proposed nominees, in discharging its duty as the fourth estate, it is respectfully not of the view that, “what is now awash” in the public domain should be the catalyst for a meeting between the Government and Opposition on such an important matter to the democracy of our country. As you are aware there are many other critical matters that are now, in your words, “awash in the public domain” for example the bloodiest month in the history of our country, the issue of the conduct of the Honourable Chief Justice and others, that have not necessitated a meeting between the Government and Opposition.
The appointment of a Commissioner of Police is a matter of great and general public importance not only to the Opposition, but to each and every citizen of our Republic. The importance of this appointment was amplified by the changes made by the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2007. The public of Trinidad and Tobago will only repose trust and confidence in a Commissioner who has been appointed by a process that was fair, transparent, open and subject to the highest degree of scrutiny. If the matters that have been reported in the public domain are credible I am sure you will agree that the process employed to select the proposed nominees falls far short of this standard. This has resulted in the trial of the proposed nominees in the Court of public opinion even before they are subjected to the process that the law provides for their consideration by the Parliament that is the ultimate decision maker. What “is now awash” in the public domain raises more questions than answers with respect to the process employed and the proposed nominees.
Whilst the Opposition fully respects the independence of the Police Service Commission and the requirement of ensuring it is insulated from political interference in the performance of its functions, the Opposition is of the view that any meaningful dialogue between Government and Opposition on this matter in the present circumstances can only be achieved if there is full disclosure to both Government and Opposition of the details of the process that was employed by the Commission in selecting the proposed nominees. To adopt any other course would not, in the view of the Opposition, be a proper discharge of our duty to uphold the Constitution and the law, abide by the rule of law and protect the public interest. Embarking on any debate in the Parliament on this matter without full disclosure will also be futile, in the present circumstances.
Our present constitutional arrangements do not vest in either the Government or the Opposition the power to compel the Police Service Commission to disclose the details of the process that was engaged in selecting the proposed nominees and the information that was considered by the Commission in arriving at their decision. In those circumstances a meeting between the Government and Opposition will achieve little if anything at all.
Having carefully considered all that has transpired I respectfully suggest that the public interest requires that there be full disclosure by the Police Service Commission in this matter. This can be achieved by both the Government and the Opposition approaching his Excellency with a suggestion that the public interest requires that the Commission make full disclosure of all the material that was considered in this matter to both the Government and Opposition in order for the Parliament to effectively discharge its duty in this matter.
Further, a Special Select Committee of the House of Representatives should be established to inquire into and report to the House on this matter. Such a Committee will be empowered under the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives to summon the Commission before it and to secure the disclosure of all relevant material that was considered by the Commission in arriving at its decision. I trust that you will see the wisdom of adopting these approaches.
The appointment of a Commissioner of Police is a matter that must be addressed forthwith especially in light of the unprecedented level of criminality that our country is experiencing since the start of 2018. For the reasons that I have outlined herein I am respectfully of the view that any meeting at this time will not be productive and our time would be better utilized by adopting the suggested approaches.
I await your response.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar MP, SC
The role and function of this Special Select Committee is to make inquiries, ask questions of persons and call for documents to ensure that the process engaged by the Commission was one that was in accordance with the law. This can only be achieved, as I indicated to the Prime Minister by the Commission making full disclosure of the process that was engaged in arriving at the list of proposed nominees and all documentation considered in arriving at the list of nominees.
The Committee that we seek to establish today should be limited in its terms of reference to ensuring that the process that was engaged by the Police Service Commission was in accordance with the law.
Our country is presently under siege by the criminal element. We have just experienced the bloodiest month in our country’s history. Despite the best efforts of law enforcement we are losing this battle and the casualties are our citizens.
We cannot have another month like January 2018. We are breaking records for the wrong reasons. The Police Service is the organization tasked with protecting the life, limb and property of the people of our country and we cannot continue to allow this organization to continue to be led by an acting Commissioner.
We need to get this right now; we need to find a solution to this problem. In doing so we must act within the law and where the law does not facilitate a process that is in the public interest then we must change the law.
I do hope that the government and the public understand the position of the Opposition in engaging in this process and that together we can find a solution to this problem in the interest of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.