Articles on this Page
- 06/30/18--21:41: _Validating term limits
- 07/07/18--19:55: _Reforming the JLSC
- 07/14/18--20:31: _Veto on steroids
- 07/21/18--21:33: _Message from Barataria
- 07/28/18--21:37: _When secrecy meets ...
- 08/04/18--19:56: _Process worked (eve...
- 08/11/18--21:09: _The midnight reshuffle
- 08/18/18--22:12: _‘Flawed’ process fa...
- 08/26/18--00:06: _A learning moment
- 06/30/18--21:41: Validating term limits
- 07/07/18--19:55: Reforming the JLSC
- 07/14/18--20:31: Veto on steroids
- 07/21/18--21:33: Message from Barataria
- 07/28/18--21:37: When secrecy meets transparency
- 08/04/18--19:56: Process worked (eventually)
- 08/11/18--21:09: The midnight reshuffle
- 08/18/18--22:12: ‘Flawed’ process fallout
- 08/26/18--00:06: A learning moment
Last week, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) delivered a landmark judgment in a case that sought to challenge the validity of a constitutional amendment enacted in 2000 that imposed term limits and other qualifications upon the office of President of Guyana.
The relevant section of the Constitution that was amended read as follows:
“90. (1) A person shall be qualified for election as President and shall not be so qualified unless he or she:
(a) is a citizen of Guyana and is Guyanese by birth or parentage as defined in articles 43 and 44;
(b) is residing in Guyana on the date of nomination for election and was continuously residing therein for a period of seven years immediately before that date; and
(c) is otherwise qualified to be elected as a member of the National Assembly.
(2) A person elected as President after the year 2000 is eligible for re-election only once.
(3) A person who acceded to the Presidency after the year 2000 and served therein on a single occasion for not less than such period as may be determined by the National Assembly is eligible for election as
President only once.”
This case was decided by a 6-1 margin in favour of upholding the validity of the amendment.
One of the critical issues was the implied effect of this amendment upon sections 1 and 9 of the Guyanese Constitution which read as follows:
“1. Guyana is an indivisible, secular, democratic sovereign state in the course of transition from capitalism to socialism and shall be known as the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.”
“9. Sovereignty belongs to the people, who exercise it through their representatives and the democratic organs established by or under this Constitution.”
The premise of article 1 is that according to Marxist philosophy the stages of history unfold in such a way that socialism will naturally follow capitalism. That may not be the case today in Guyana.
The more contentious arguments in this matter revolved around the issue of whether the amendment to section 90 had an implicit impact upon the provisions of sections 1 and 9. The court divided on this issue with the majority opinion led by Chief Justice Byron being expressed this way at paragraphs 19 and 20:
“McLeod identifies irrationalities in implying that the amending legislation in relation to Article 90 should have been passed using the mechanism reserved for effecting amendments to Articles 1 and 9.
The alteration of the qualifications for the President by Article 90, does not imply that the specified procedure or mechanism for altering Articles 1 and 9 should apply, because the alteration of the qualifications does not alter the constitutional provisions relating to the democracy and sovereignty of the people, just as the qualifications relating to membership of the House in McLeod did not require satisfying the deeper entrenchment provisions, for similar reasons.”
The court relied upon the opinion of the Privy Council in the case of Attorney General of T&T v McLeod to buttress its opinion that the textual requirements for amending the Constitution of Guyana had been satisfied in the same way that the Parliament of T&T had satisfied the textual requirements for introducing the crossing-the-floor provisions in section 49 of the T&T Constitution in 1978.
Mr Justice Winston Anderson in his minority judgment argued that section 2 of the act that amended section 90 had amended sections 1 and 9 of the Guyanese Constitution by implication. According to him:
“...section 2 of the act did, in fact, alter Articles 1 and 9 which proclaim Guyana to be a democratic sovereign state in which sovereignty belongs to the people who exercise it through their representatives. Those courts held that an aspect of that sovereignty was the right of the people to freely choose who would represent them as President. As the act had deprived the people of this right by debarring them from electing as their President any person falling within the categories newly prescribed by section 2, it meant that the act was invalid pro tanto.”
The end result is that term limits for the President of Guyana have been confirmed by the CCJ and that Bharrat Jagdeo can never run for the office of President again. As far as the Commonwealth Caribbean is concerned, term limits can be implemented as long as they satisfy the textual constitutional requirements.
The recent Report of the Committee on Judicial Appointments submitted to the Law Association by its chairman, former CCJ Justice of Appeal Desirée Bernard, made some very interesting comments of the reform of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC).
This committee was established in June 2017 by the Law Association of T&T to review the processes of judicial appointments.
One of the problems of the judicial appointment process was encountered by the committee itself, namely the culture of secrecy that operates in the Judiciary. The following excerpt from the report confirms this:
“Members of the committee met with the chairman (Chief Justice) and members of the JLSC on July 17, 2017 at which meeting responses to some of the questions were obtained. However, though promised a written response to the questions, and despite follow-up communication with the CJ and the Director of Personnel Administration, the committee has not received the written responses to the questions as requested.” (p 17).
Welcome to judicial accountability. That one paragraph epitomises the very problem that they were addressing.
They also had a couple of factual inaccuracies in their report, such as this one:
“In Trinidad and Tobago, the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC), the independent body responsible for the appointment and promotion of judges, was established in 1962 under the Independence Constitution and, apart from the change made in respect of the appointment of the Chief Justice by the President in the 1976 Republic Constitution, the JLSC has remained unchanged for over 50 years.” (p 37).
At section 83 of the 1962 Constitution, the specific provisions were that the JLSC consisted of (i) the Chief Justice as Chairman, (ii) a Judge appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, (iii) the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, (iv) two other members appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister of whom one should be a former judge and, in respect of the other appointment, there was a requirement for the Prime Minister to consult appropriate bodies and organisations in respect of that one. There was no specific requirement for legal qualifications and removal of such person could have been accomplished on prime ministerial advice, except if the person was a judge.
At section 110 of the 1976 Constitution, the composition was changed so that the JLSC now consists of (i) the Chief Justice as chairman, (ii) the chairman of the Public Service Commission, (iii) a judge or former judge appointed by the President after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, (iv) two people appointed by the President after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, both of whom must have legal qualifications and selected after the President has consulted such organisations as the President thinks fit and, one of whom is not in active practice.
The fact that the committee got this simple exercise of fact-checking wrong is hugely significant. They failed to recognise that the 1976 reform sought to tighten the noose around the requirement for legal qualifications in a manner that the 1962 Constitution did not.
Their proposed reform for a Judicial Appointments Commission to replace the JLSC is as follows:
The JAC should comprise seven people as follows:
“(a) Chief Justice, Chairman
(b) Retired Judge of the Court of Appeal
(c) Senior Attorney of not less than 15 years call who is a practicing member nominated by the Council of the Law Association
(d) Attorney of not less than 10 years call not in active practice appointed by the President
(e) Human Resources professional
(f) Two members drawn from outstanding persons from civil society, academia, or national organisations representative of business or community interests.” (p 39).
The committee advances an erroneous reason in their report as to why they have little confidence their recommendations will be implemented:
“The committee recognises that several of its recommendations will require legislative change and constitutional change. In fact, a special majority will be required. It appreciates fully that securing a special majority would be challenging in the country’s deeply fractured politics” (p 53).
The Government and the Opposition have united unanimously on FATCA legislation (2017), Anti-Gang legislation (2018), and the Anti-Terrorism legislation (2018) over the last year, all of which required special majorities, so the committee is wrong. The core issue is whether the judicial establishment really wants these changes.
In 2006, in piloting the Constitution Amendment Bill that changed the way the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners of Police were to be appointed, then prime minister Patrick Manning had this to say about the replacement of the prime ministerial veto with a majority vote in the House of Representatives:
“What the legislation now before the House proposes, is that the prime ministerial veto disappears but that the name, as identified by the Police Service Commission, will itself come before the Parliament and also will be the subject of affirmative resolution. The difference between this one and the appointment of the members of the commission is that the police officer who is going to be the commissioner of police will be, in fact, a public servant and has no way of defending himself. In fact, whereas individuals can say, I do not wish to serve on the Police Service Commission and, therefore, I do not want to subscribe to that, a police officer who has served in the service and has legitimate aspirations to be commissioner of police really does not have available to him the option of saying, well, I am not going to subscribe to that process and submit myself to that level of scrutiny which could be abused. If he takes that position what, in fact, he does, he passes up the opportunity to serve the police service at the highest level. That option really is not one available to him and, therefore, this process too suffers from a disability. Again, however, Mr Speaker, we have decided in all the circumstances to go along with this process as identified in our discussions and we are prepared to give it a chance to work to see how in practice it will operate.” (Hansard, House of Representatives, March 15, 2006, p 9).
In responding to Prime Minister Manning on this subject of the removal of the prime ministerial veto, then leader of the Opposition, Basdeo Panday, had this to say:
“I have read certain criticisms on the removal of the veto, coming from wannabe politicians, that the Prime Minister still has the power of veto which he can exercise by his majority in Parliament. Firstly, to insist otherwise than a simple majority—that there be a special majority—would in effect be transferring that veto to the Opposition. The Opposition would now be able to veto the Commissioner of Police. I am talking about the positive resolution as opposed to the special majority. We decided against that because the Government has the responsibility to deal with crime and, therefore, it cannot put the responsibility to appoint the commissioner on the Opposition. They must be responsible at every turn. We thought that was a good suggestion; that insisting on a special majority was not the right thing to do.” (Hansard, House of Representatives, March 15, 2006, p 12).
In dissecting these two views about the removal of the prime ministerial veto for appointments to the offices of Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners of Police, it is clear that Manning was concerned about the inability of applicants for these positions to defend themselves against anything adverse being said about them in the Parliament.
On the other hand, Panday took the view that it was important to leave the confirmation of a Police Commissioner to a simple majority of the House of Representatives because he linked that to the responsibility of the Government of the day to be responsible for dealing with crime and that no opposition should be able to frustrate the will of a government on this issue.
After 12 years, the Prime Minister today, Dr Keith Rowley, is describing this process as a “veto on steroids.” It appears that the Government of today wants to have a second look at this constitutional amendment.
In light of the caveat expressed by the late prime minister Manning who said, back in 2006, “to give it a chance to work to see how in practice it will operate,” that is good.
In doing a review, one must appreciate that the Police Service Commission searches for an agency that will carry out the procedural human resources process for its consideration. The issues that have arisen recently have nothing to do with the debate and vote in the Parliament, but everything to do with the pre-parliamentary process for which the Police Service Commission is solely responsible.
Last Monday the voters of the electoral district of Barataria sent a message when they installed Sharon Maraj-Dharam as the United National Congress (UNC) councillor for their area. The significance of the victory was that they had changed from People’s National Movement (PNM) to UNC in a district that has swung between these two major parties.
In the July 2010 local government elections, the UNC won the district with 2,570 over the PNM with 1,562 votes. In the October 2013 local government elections, there was a swing back to the PNM by 2,130 to 1,406 with the ILP getting 771 votes. In the November 2016 local government elections, the PNM held the district by a 1,898 to 1,506 margin. In Monday’s by-election, the district swung back to the UNC by a margin of 1,933 to 1,825 votes.
This particular district is what would be considered a swing district and would normally be used by political scientists as one of those areas where one could take the political temperature of a certain region to assess what is happening on the ground.
The size of the electorate is always a critical marker and in this by-election the size of the electorate in Barataria was 10,207, a drop by ten votes from the last time. The other analytical tool is to go inside the numbers in each polling division in the district to assess how the parties actually fared on the day of the by-election.
Of the 17 polling divisions, the UNC increased their actual numbers in all over 2016 except for one where they got exactly the same as in 2016. The PNM increased their vote numbers in seven of the 17 polling divisions and decreased in nine while remaining exactly the same in one.
The outcome was balanced on a knife’s edge going into the final two ballot boxes from Polling Divisions 1335 and 1336 that were being awaited according to media reports. The PNM was leading in nine polling divisions and the UNC was leading in six with only Polling Divisions 1335 and 1336 to come in. That is where the election made its final tilt towards the UNC. In 2016, PD 1335 was won by the PNM 197-72 and this time it went again for the PNM 226-86. However, it was a different story in PD 1336 which had gone 251-101 for the UNC in 2016 and now went 305-101 for the UNC last Monday.
The final margin of victory was 108 votes in favour of the UNC overturning a 392-vote deficit. There is speculation about a Muslim backlash to actions emanating from the Government towards the Muslim community which may have played itself out in this particular electoral district. There is no conclusive way to prove that, however, it was very significant that Nafeesa Mohammed, a prominent member of the Mohammedville community in that district and a former deputy leader of the PNM, gave a media interview that basically said that there was a Muslim backlash.
Political strategists will want to search for possible reasons for the swing. In four polling divisions, there was a reversal of fortunes for the PNM in relation to the 2016 result. In PD 1325 there was a reversal from a PNM 2016 lead of 107-64 to a UNC lead of 76-75. In PD 1375 there was a reversal from a PNM 2016 lead of 61-28 to a UNC lead of 56-48. In PD 1380 there was a reversal of a PNM 45-31 lead in 2016 to a 55-36 UNC lead. In PD 1395 there was a reversal of a PNM 67-61 lead in 2016 to a UNC lead of 76-59 last Monday.
These granular details are useful to get a sense of what happened on the ground in such a close election. The general trend was towards the UNC and that is what must be understood.
There has been a lot of commentary about the leadership of Kamla Persad-Bissessar ever since the UNC lost the general elections of 2015. However, she has won two leadership contests in the party (2015 and 2017) and after Monday’s by-election victory that subject is likely to recede.
If the UNC had lost this by-election in Barataria, there would have been rumblings in the party. But defeat did not happen. The Belmont East by-election result was expected. The PNM internal elections are in September. That will be the next attraction.
The House of Representatives meets tomorrow to decide on whether or not to accept the fourth nominee on the Merit List provided by the Police Service Commission through an official notification to the House sent by the President of the Republic for the position of Commissioner of Police.
This change to the Constitution in 2006 converted the non-public veto of the Prime Minister into an open debate in the House of Representatives with a vote on a nominee selected by a process controlled by the Police Service Commission and notified by the President.
This reform has forced secrecy to meet transparency and that has not been an easy transition. It forces those who have a majority of seats in the House of Representatives to vote to ensure that a nominee is either rejected or confirmed.
On page 41 of the report of the Special Select Committee that was appointed by the House of Representatives to inquire into the process by which the PSC arrived at its conclusions, the following is stated:
“Additionally, having regard to the observations and findings set out above, the Committee considers that in many respects the manner in which the entire process was conducted by the PSC was defective and unreliable and may expose the PSC to allegations of arbitrariness and lack of transparency.”
There is nothing that will prevent the House of Representatives from voting to confirm Gary Griffith as Commissioner of Police. The controversy will come from this conclusion of the Special Select Committee expressed on page 41 of the Report:
“The Committee recommends that the Order made pursuant to Section 123(2) of the Constitution should be subject to urgent review with the view to the establishment of well-defined guidelines for the selection of a CoP and DCoP.”
There is no doubt that Gary Griffith has the military training that may bring a different approach to policing in the current environment of Trinidad and Tobago. How his insertion into the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service at this time will be received by the rank and file officers is unknown. Back in 2010, Dwayne Gibbs and Jack Ewatski were inserted into the TTPS from overseas. The difference here is that they were also career police officers. In this instance, Griffith has a different background in his training which is that of a soldier and not a policeman.
All of these arguments have been made over the last week ever since the news broke that the Government was likely to support the nomination of Griffith, notwithstanding the ministerial statements about the process being a flawed one.
It is the issue of political judgment that must be understood. Gary Griffith himself was a parliamentarian having served as a Cabinet Minister during the period 2013-2015. His departure took place under very controversial circumstances. The Government will be mindful of the political challenges that may arise having regard to a matter that is currently before the courts in which he may be a potential witness and what his cross-examination under oath might be like.
The issue at the heart of this is whether the Government will suffer any negative fallout from adopting the view that the process that produced the nomination of Gary Griffith was flawed, but despite that, they have no objection to Gary Griffith, the individual, to serve as Commissioner of Police.
This conundrum is best captured by the Leader of Government Business, Camille Robinson-Regis, as follows:
“Madam Speaker, before moving the adjournment of the House, I must advise on a matter which concerns the business of the House. I am informed by the Clerk that a document has come to the Parliament regarding a notification for the appointment to the office of Commissioner of Police. Madam Speaker, you will recall that in this very House we have determined that the process of the Police Service Commission in this matter was lacking in transparency and that one can come to no other conclusion that the Commission did a job which cannot be explained and which was wholly unreliable and appeared to be flawed.
Consequently, Madam Speaker, any recommendations coming out of that flawed process cannot and will not be accepted. In the circumstances, Madam Speaker, as Leader of the House, I have instructed the Clerk that this matter will not be proceeded with. [Desk thumping].” (Hansard, House of Representatives, July 3, 2018, pp. 33-34).
Last Monday, the House of Representatives voted by a majority of 19 votes and 13 abstentions to appoint Gary Griffith as Commissioner of Police. The process that was approved in 2006 when the People’s National Movement and the United National Congress parliamentarians of the day came together to create this new system worked after some hiccups.
In removing the secrecy of the Prime Minister and the Police Service Commission (PSC) having their own back and forth to find someone suitable to a sitting Prime Minister behind closed doors, there was the full transparency of a debate and a vote-no more secrecy.
Those 30 MPs who voted for this process on Monday, March 27, 2006, according to pages 106 and 107 of the Hansard for the House of Representatives for that day were:
K. Valley, P. Manning, K. Rowley, C. Imbert, J. Narine, R. Boynes, P. Beckles, J. Rahael, A. Roberts, H. Bereaux, E. James, E. Hart, S. Callender, D. Seukeran, E. Job-Davis, F. Hinds, F. Khan, L. Achong, E. Williams, G. Singh, W. Dookeran, K. Persad-Bissessar, M. Ramsaran, H. Rafeeq, C. Sharma, A. Nanan, N. Baksh, R. Moonilal, F. Khan and G. Lucky.
They have provided the country with a process that allows for far greater public awareness about the process to choose a Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners of Police than had previously been the case.
There were concerns about the process when it first started because of the potential to produce a foreigner as a Commissioner or Deputy Commissioners of Police. That was a matter of some debate when Canadian Dwayne Gibbs was chosen as Commissioner of Police in 2010. According to the Hansard for the House of Representatives for July 2, 2010, the People’s Partnership MPs of the day supported the notification for Gibbs, while the then PNM Opposition MPs abstained.
Fast forward to last Monday, the PNM MPs voted for Gary Griffith and the UNC MPs held the party line and abstained. The actual history of the process that has produced three votes for a Commissioner of Police over the last ten years has ended up with the following results:
1. July 4, 2008 - Stephen Williams nominated for Commissioner of Police and negatived by the House of Representatives (22 MPs against and 10 in favour).
2 July 2, 2010 - Dwayne Gibbs nominated for Commissioner of Police and approved by the House of Representatives (25 MPs in favour and 11 abstained).
3. July 30, 2018 - Gary Griffith nominated for Commissioner of Police and approved by the House of Representatives (19 MPs in favour and 13 abstained).
Slowly but surely, the process is beginning to grind its way into some kind of functionality on a transparent basis.
The fact is that no longer can a Prime Minister refuse a nomination from the PSC behind closed doors. The entire process undertaken by the PSC can be made public (as happened in this case) and elected parliamentarians are called to account.
The PSC previously had to deal with a foreign agency (Penn State University) doing the assessment and recommendation of persons for the job. After the departure of Dwayne Gibbs in 2012, the PSC did not source an agency to undertake a fresh search for whatever reason, because the Government (the Executive branch) cannot do it.
After December 2015, the possibility of a foreigner becoming Commissioner of Police was greatly reduced by the effect of a Legal Notice that changed some of the fundamentals associated with the process. It really does not matter whether a foreigner or a local citizen becomes the Commissioner of Police. What matters is really their ability to demonstrate the leadership and competence required to do the job.
However, before anyone can get the job, they must be able to earn the political favour of a majority of elected MPs in the House of Representatives by whatever criteria that that majority seeks to use in arriving at their collective decision.
Last Monday, both the Government and the Opposition were able to demonstrate political discipline in different ways. For the Government MPs, the whip was lifted and they all supported the nominee. For the Opposition, there was a whip in place and it held for the actual vote, despite some post-vote remorse from a few opposition MPs.
Political discipline is alive and well and the process worked - eventually. Now the challenge is there for Griffith to turn the crime situation around.
For the ninth time in 35 months, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has made changes to his government (January 27, 2016, February 1, 2016, March 17, 2016, October 31, 2016, June 29, 2017, July 2, 2017, April 9, 2018, April 10, 2018, and August 6, 2018). This time he made a major reshuffle by reassigning Edmund Dillon as Minister of National Security to become Minister of Housing and Urban Development and replaced him with Stuart Young who retained his portfolios of Minister of Communications and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, while vacating his other junior ministerial posting of Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs.
These changes came on the heels of the Prime Minister moving the motion to approve the presidential notification in the House of Representatives on July 30 for Gary Griffith to become Commissioner of Police. It would appear now that the Prime Minister has put his core national security team in place.
It is quite possible that the Prime Minister asked that the party line whip be lifted for the vote in the House on July 30 because he detected that there was division in the ranks of his MPs over the Griffith notification. Every PNM MP who was present, and voted, supported Griffith.
Whether moving Dillon from Knox Street to South Quay will be the answer to the Government’s problems on crime together with the departure of Stephen Williams from Sackville Street and his replacement there by Gary Griffith, we have to wait and see. There is still uncertainty (at the time of writing) about when Griffith will actually assume duties as the substantive Commissioner of Police. Stuart Young has already started his tour of duty as Minister of National Security based on official photographs released in the media.
So why did Prime Minister Rowley move against one of his most trusted Cabinet ministers in favour of another trusted Cabinet minister in a midnight reshuffle? That will remain a mystery for the general public however, Dillon has had to put a brave face on his reassignment based on the tone of the media interviews that he has given.
At the final PNM campaign rally in September 2015, Rowley promised the population that his government would hit the ground running from day one on the issue of crime. He had two brigadiers and a former assistant commissioner of police among his slate of candidates so there was every reason to believe that the PNM had the wherewithal to launch a credible attack against the crime epidemic in the country.
No one really expected, during the heat of the election, that 35 months later that one brigadier would be a backbencher, the other would be tending to the affairs of the nation’s housing stock, and the former assistant commissioner of police would be a Parliamentary Secretary in National Security.
On January 27, 2016, Rowley appointed the Foreign Affairs Minister, Dennis Moses, as a junior minister in National Security in addition to his duties as Foreign Minister. On February 1, 2016, Rowley added Glenda Jennings-Smith as Parliamentary Secretary in National Security. It was obvious he wanted to address the crime problem seriously however, the strategy has failed to date. On July 18 instant, the National Crime Plan was launched by Dillon and now he is no longer there to oversee it.
With two years to go before a general election, it is clear that Rowley is making a final roll of the dice to see if he can get it right in the fight against crime. Perhaps, the best clue to whether these changes are being welcomed internally in the PNM will come this week when people who are interested in standing for office in the internal elections of the party can declare their candidacies.
The PNM internal elections have been shifted from September 16 to September 30, so there is now a longer campaign period. Will there be challengers across the board or will there be unchallenged positions in a majority of cases?
The removal of Dillon from National Security and the replacement with Stuart Young has completed a shift of power in the Government and party towards a Young/Al-Rawi/Imbert axis of dominance.
Doing the reshuffle just after midnight on Sunday and immediately going on vacation on Monday meant that Rowley did not really want to talk about it. Why?
According to the late Patrick Manning: “This country owes a debt of gratitude on this matter to Sir Ellis Clarke and the team of technocrats whom he led from T&T, the region, and the United Kingdom. It was a dedicated group of technocrats who sat for long hours and hammered out an arrangement which this evening was the subject of approval of hon members. 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 hon 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 T&T. Permit me also to thank hon members on this side, my colleagues for having been so patient in this matter and lending their support to this historic legislation.” (Hansard, House of Representatives, March 27, 2006, p. 114).
In reply to this appreciation of support, Opposition MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar said:
“We thank those on the other side and our side for some very novel and innovative ideas that have come forward…However, whilst we record that we have completed; done a lot of work and all those who have assisted, at the end of the day, it is the implementation. It would not be easy. I ask the hon Prime Minister to put a dedicated committee in place to oversee the implementation. If it sits there it is not going to happen. The Police Service and the commissioner are very busy. For this to work it is the implementation. I request respectfully, that a dedicated committee be set up for implementation of the legislation.” (Hansard, House of Representatives, March 27, 2006, pp. 114-115).
Both Manning and Persad-Bissessar were right. The enactment of this package of legislation (Constitutional Amendment, Police Service Bill and Police Complaints Authority Bill) was regarded as a landmark occasion to bring about fundamental change to the Police Service.
However, Persad-Bissessar envisaged the need to oversee the implementation of the legislation. That is exactly the fault line that has appeared. The pre-parliamentary process was exposed in this round of implementation insofar as the process was described by the Government as being “flawed”, while the Opposition did not subscribe to that view.
Today most of the challenges of implementation have come home to roost. The pre-parliamentary process had its challenges with the issue of talent pooling of people who did not apply for the job of commissioner being advanced for the job. Secondly, the discrepancy that has arisen between the Salaries Review Commission salary for a commissioner from inside the service and the contract negotiations for a commissioner from outside the service. Thirdly, the leak of the interview process that revealed that Gary Griffith did not emerge on top the interview list certainly hit him a political blow before he even got started on the job.
Section 7 of the bill that amended the Constitution to remove the Police Service Commission from the day-to-day operations of the Police Service has not had the kind of implementation yet that the legislation envisaged based on the recent Manpower Audit Report.
According to that section:
“123A. (1) Subject to section 123(1), the Commissioner of Police shall have the complete power to manage the Police Service and is required to ensure that the human, financial, and material resources available to the service are used in an efficient and effective manner.”
The Police Service Commission was replaced by the Commissioner of Police in exercising the functions of appointment, promotion, confirmation, transfer, and discipline of all officers except the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners of Police since 2006.
What Parliament did in 2006 was to remove the prime ministerial veto, replace secrecy with transparency, replace the Police Service Commission with the Commissioner of Police for everyday operations, and make the appointment of a Commissioner of Police subject to a professional search by the PSC and political endorsement by the elected representatives.
The problematic fallout, so far, is the resistance of the existing administrative and political cultures to accept this transition.
Last week the society was jolted in more ways than one. After 56 years of independence we came to the realisation that many of us are indeed ignorant about the beliefs and culture of many other citizens. In many respects, the whole “sari skit” episode and its aftermath revealed degrees of ignorance at the highest levels of government which were blamed on a faulty education system.|
When people complained that they felt disrespected, it was portrayed as seeking to promote divisiveness and regarded as foolishness. Why? Well, we got our answer in the realm of ignorance. For all these years the Hindu community has been misunderstood purely because they have a different value system and beliefs from others in the society can now be understood today because it has been ignorance lurking as the culprit that that has divided our society all along.
The fact that there are people in this society who have a different sociology and anthropology should not be any surprise to anyone. The fact that that ignorance has led to their core beliefs and values being ridiculed on the altar of being different so “they” are the problem was all unravelled in a skit at a family day under the premise of undressing a woman to prove a point about political hegemony.
Never mind that undressing the woman was an act of violence in its own right, the apology ended up being confined to the religious and ethnic domain and the broader gender sensitivity was ignored as well as the portrayal of certain men in animal costumes was not addressed.
One little piece of “fun” has, fortunately, turned into a major learning moment for our society. We have struggled to find a “one-size-fits-all” theory to put ethnic, religious, and other differences to bed so that “all ah we could be one”. The skit showed that there is still a deep-seated desire to advance the cause of political hegemony over and above the cause of political unity. The reality is that we are all one national family with different beliefs, values, and traditions however, the problem is acceptance of diversity on an equal plane across the board.
The Indian members of the Government were taunted about being asked what they thought of the skit. Really? No one ever heard from them during the movement of the controversy from foolishness to ignorance. What was significant was that there was no post-Cabinet media briefing two Thursdays ago. Why? Were there divisions in the discussions around the table?
In addressing the ignorance of the story of Draupadi in The Mahabharata there was a learning moment. Those who enacted the “sari skit” found a way to express their political hegemony by completely undressing the woman at the centre of their attention to reveal the rise of the PNM over the UNC in the Tabaquite constituency.
That was the fake version. Because the real story of Draupadi is that when she was being undressed she prayed to Lord Krishna to protect her modesty and the unravelling of her sari never ended and she won in the end.
The deeper psychological issue being exposed here is that when “fun” skits are being researched for presentation at a political family day event, there should be greater sensitivity to what is being intended. It is true that this is politics and anything goes. Sometimes, that approach causes setbacks from what was intended, like in this instance.
A division arose in the executive of the PNM constituency group in Tabaquite. The chairman and the vice chairman had different perspectives on the event based on reporting by Gail Alexander in the Guardian on Saturday, August 18, at page A6. The chairman was not inclined to apologise at that stage and the vice chairman apologised in his personal capacity.
It was clear that there was growing division in the ranks of the party and later that night came the apology from the Prime Minister himself. So where are we now? There is a realisation that ignorance was the culprit on the religious front. The stereotyping of the Afro-male and the violence against women angles remain unanswered perhaps waiting for another day when they can be addressed.
It is now time to celebrate independence. Hopefully, the shortcomings in our education system identified by the Prime Minister will be addressed through curriculum review.