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A crisis of governance

Published: 
Sunday, October 2, 2016

The public contradiction by the Prime Minister of the President’s statement that the latter told him on three prior occasions that he wanted to hold a meeting with the Minister of National Security to discuss security matters has placed this country in a crisis of governance.

When two of the highest offices in the land engage in such a public disagreement that goes to the heart of trust between both offices, we know we have arrived at a place of crisis. This is not a constitutional crisis—at least not yet—but rather one of trust and confidence where the working relationship between both offices has now broken down.

We learnt from the Prime Minister that the last time he met with the President in accordance with the provisions of Section 81 of the Constitution was on August 24. We also learnt from Minister Dillon that on August 26 a request came from President’s House for a meeting on August 30, which was inconvenient for the minister. Minister Dillon further stated that a follow-up request was made from President’s House on September 2 for a meeting on September 5. He advised the press conference that his secretary inquired about the nature of the meeting and she was told it was “security related” and he should bring “his advisor.” Over the weekend of September 3 and 4, Minister Dillon said he advised the Chief of Defence Staff and the acting Commissioner of Police that they should prepare themselves for a meeting with the President on Monday. 

On September 5, Minister Dillon went to the Prime Minister’s Office to speak with the Prime Minister in person only to be told he was not there. At around 9.30 am, he then called the Prime Minister, who was in Tobago, to tell him about the meeting.

The Prime Minister said this was the first he was hearing of the meeting and inquired what it was about. He said Minister Dillon told him he did not know and he instructed Minister Dillon to “go and find out.” This is the part of the two accounts that creates challenges. If Minister Dillon’s secretary had already found out on September 2 that the meeting was “security related” and he should bring “his advisor” with him, why would he tell the Prime Minister on September 5 he did not know what the meeting was about?

Additionally, if contact was made with Minister Dillon’s office on August 26 and September 2 by President’s House, why was the Prime Minister not told about all of this at all? Furthermore, why was the Prime Minister not told by Minister Dillon that he had already alerted the Chief of Defence Staff and the Acting Commissioner of Police to prepare themselves to attend a meeting together with him at President’s House?

The Prime Minister said it was only when he opened the newspapers on Sunday, September 11, that he realised both the Chief of Defence Staff and the acting Commissioner of Police had also attended the meeting, as he had not spoken with Minister Dillon after their conversation on September 5 owing to the latter going overseas.

The statements made at the press conference by both the Prime Minister and Minister Dillon have left open more questions than they have provided answers. 

Minister Dillon must explain why the Prime Minister was left in the dark about the people who were going to attend the meeting when he knew who the attendees would be on the morning of September 5. 

Apart from the crisis of governance that has been created by the conflicting versions of both the President and the Prime Minister, there is an obvious communication problem here.

There is clear evidence that people in the Government—Minister Dillon, his secretary, the Chief of Defence Staff and the acting Commissioner of Police—knew what the meeting was about and who were the likely attendees, based on Minister Dillon’s public statement. The only person who apparently did not know was the Prime Minister, based on his public statement.

The Office of the President had clearly communicated on two occasions with the minister’s office. Based on the President’s statement, he had prior approval from the Prime Minister to do so. Based on the Prime Minister’s statement, the President would have acted on his own volition to do so.

Whichever version one may want to believe, Minister Dillon has a lot to answer as regards his failure to give the Prime Minister the complete picture on the morning of September 5, or even before, when he said to the Prime Minister that he did not know what the meeting was about when he knew there were two prior requests for a meeting and he left the Prime Minister to find out on the following Sunday when he read the newspapers about who else attended the meeting.

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