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Reforming the Police Service

Published: 
Sunday, January 28, 2018

Winding up the debate in the House of Representatives on the suite of legislation that included the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2006, the Police Service Bill 2006 and the Police Complaints Authority Bill 2006, then prime minister Patrick Manning said:

“I thank and congratulate my honourable colleagues opposite for sitting with us and arriving at modifications to the initial proposals that could meet with the approbation of honourable members on both sides. It is a historic day and while we would not expect that there would be a change in the crime situation tomorrow, what this certainly does, it sets the stage for better arrangements in the future and a Police Service in which the national community can have more confidence and levels of crime that would be more consistent with the national aspirations of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Permit me also to thank honourable members on this side, my colleagues for having been so patient in this matter and lending their support to this historic legislation. Thank you.” (Hansard, House of Representatives, March 27, 2006, p 114).

This was a clear recognition of the Government-Opposition consensus that drove the process to amend the Constitution and enact the relevant legislation to give the country a bright future to fight the scourge of crime.

The new process that was enacted met its first challenge when the very first nominee for the post of Commissioner of Police under these new procedures, Stephen Williams, was rejected by the Government of the day.

After an exhaustive process to come up with a nomination, the House of Representatives, on July 4, 2008, voted 22-10 to reject the presidential nomination of Stephen Williams with the vote being split along strict party lines.

The reality is that the process of the Prime Minister’s veto over appointments by the Police Service Commission for the Commissioner of Police was replaced by the will of the House of Representatives. In many respects, this was designed to resemble the Washington model of congressional approval for presidential nominees to high offices of state.

The Washington model is not easily inserted into our political process without some measure of modification. The transfer of the Prime Minister’s veto to the party line vote of the majority in the House of Representatives by simple majority needs to be reviewed.

The Government of the day can veto the nomination once they apply their majority to the vote as they did with Stephen Williams. On the flip side, there ought to be a safeguard to ensure that any person who is appointed should be approved by a three-fifths majority vote to ensure that there can be the likelihood of cross-party approval.

Three-fifths majorities provide safeguards in many legislatures to ensure that there is cross-party approval for measures requiring such approval. This can range from financing the Federal Government in the United States where 60 votes out of 100 are required to avert a Government shutdown to getting consensus on Anti-gang legislation in this country.

We are about to have a presidential nomination being made on the advice of the Police Service Commission fairly soon for the consideration of the House of Representatives for the post of Commissioner of Police.

Whether that nomination will be handled on a bi-partisan basis or there is a hidden political agenda to try to pitchfork a preferred political nominee into the position based on all of the leaking of names that has been going on, we shall see.

These days, there has been a renewed spirit of cross-party consensus that has emerged from the cross-party endorsement of the presidential candidate to the revival of the Anti-Gang legislation by the Opposition who reached out to the Government with a plan of action to revive the legislation in the House of Representatives. A three-fifths majority can diminish any perception of police political appointments.

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