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PM must take responsibility for choices

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

“The Authority shall comprise a Director and a Deputy Director to be appointed by the President on the joint advice of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.” Section 6.1 of the Police Complaints Authority Act.

The most impenetrable mystery in the furore instigated by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar over her recommendation that David West be made Director of the PCA is the absence of her rationale as to why and through what process she exercised her prime ministerial prerogative to recommend West for the job. 

However, she readily gives information on who recommended West; but not what she did to ensure he was a fit and proper candidate for the job with no baggage, as she would interpret it – that is, being a witness in a case involving her Attorney General and the Leader of the Opposition.

Such refusal to account for her actions is not unlike her four-year silence as to precisely why her administration, herself as Prime Minister and head of National Security Council, appointed junior technician, Reshmi Ramnarine, to the position of head of the intelligence services of Trinidad and Tobago. Then she sought to instruct the questioning reporters to “move on”. Yes, she did apologise and promised it would not happen again; but as to how she and the government could have made such a fundamental error, if indeed it were an error, silence!

The column has returned to the subject in the light of the continuing efforts of the Prime Minister, last Friday in the House of Representatives, to distribute blame but take no responsibility for her actions.

In answering the charge made against him by the Prime Minister that he had a right to inform her and the President about West giving a witness statement on his behalf, Dr Rowley has said as far as he is concerned, West being a witness in the particular matter was immaterial; had nothing to do with the job of Director of the PCA.

Rowley’s conclusion can be legitimately challenged and so too can he be asked what investigations he undertook to agree that West was a fit for the job. But at least he has offered a rationale for his actions. 

All we have from the PM is that it was minister Gary Griffith who recommended West; which, in itself is a left-handed way of seeking to transfer blame to her former national security minister.

Instead, the PM paints herself out to be a helpless holder of a rubber stamp to place West into this absolutely critical job of investigating corruption, misbehaviour and other serious criminal offences allegedly carried out by police officers.

However, contrary to that self-portrait, it has been well-analysed and understood that the constitutional form operated here is essentially a prime ministerial dictatorship. As Prime Minister she has power and authority to conduct due diligence on any possible appointee.

Unlike other instances, the matter she considers to have been hidden from her purview is not one of alleged misconduct done in secrecy and guarded by subterfuge but rather that of David West submitting a witness statement to the court, a very public act.

Compounding her failure to find out about what she has argued could have been a deterrent to West holding office as PCA director, the Prime Minister has often said that she takes into consideration all matters, she investigates them and only acts (in the interest of the people) when she has collected and assimilated the information. Why not on this occasion?

PM Persad-Bissessar said too in the Parliament that she did not ask the advice of AG Ramlogan on the matter, neither did she inform anyone of her selection before making it. 

But did Ramlogan advise her of the West witness statement when it became public knowledge that West had been recommended for the PCA job? If he did not, why did the PM not remonstrate publicly with Ramlogan, as she did with Griffith? If the AG did in fact inform her, why did she not come forward with that concern before the matter blew up publicly?

Why the desperate attempt to relieve herself of responsibility? 

Under the 1976 Republican Constitution, the Prime Minister has the power and authority to have a presidential candidate elected; the Prime Minister has the power to appoint ministers to the cabinet, government senators, the President of the Senate; to have elected the Speaker of the House of Representatives; to recommend the appointment of a Chief Justice; to grant honours to citizens, inclusive of awarding the title of Senior Counsel to attorneys; the PM effectively has the power to have someone appointed as Commissioner of Police -she/he controls the Parliament; she appoints directors to state boards and almost every position of significance in the society and economy. 

Surely, she has the wherewithal to ensure herself of candidate suitability. 

What is the process used by prime ministers, this one included, to perform their constitutional duties? 

Is it that they simply cast around the Cabinet for names of party members and co-ethnics to fill these positions and then go out and chose one that appeals for some unknown, untold reason?


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