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Questioning the President

Published: 
Sunday, February 11, 2018

Two Fridays ago, the House of Representatives appointed a Special Select Committee on the “Nomination of a Commissioner of Police and Deputy Commissioner of Police”. According to the Leader of the House, Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, the Special Select Committee is being set up “for the purpose of obtaining additional and particular information to enable the House of Representatives to consider the notification submitted to it by His Excellency, the President, pursuant to section 123 of the Constitution, and…., in addition to the powers as outlined in Standing Order 111, that it be resolved that this committee be mandated to obtain information, documentation and or evidence relevant to and/or touching and concerning the method, process, criteria and considerations utilised by the Police Service Commission and/or the firm employed by the Police Service Commission in the selection of candidates for the position of Commissioner of Police and Deputy Commissioner of Police to enable the House of Representatives to consider the notification submitted to it by His Excellency the President pursuant to section 123 of the Constitution…” (Hansard, House of Representatives, February 2, 2018, p 24).

This is a remarkable turnaround for Dr Keith Rowley who is significantly deviating from his February 1999 philosophy of making Service Commissions subject to the scrutiny of Parliament. In debating the amendment to the Constitution brought by the then UNC administration to make Service Commissions subject to the scrutiny of Parliament, Dr Rowley was vehemently opposed to the idea as follows:

“They can go ahead and pass this and my advice to any person in Trinidad and Tobago who is a commissioner is, if this thing is passed and comes into law, if they want to defend Trinidad and Tobago, refuse to appear before any such parliamentary committee and let them take them to court. Because I want to see, when they pass it and decide to interfere in the commissions and the commissioners refuse to come, where are we? Can you imagine, Mr Speaker? They must refuse to come to the Parliament to take part in any travesty because this, if it is passed without a special majority, must be tested in the court.”

(Hansard, House of Representatives, February 24, 1999, p 568).

Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar was in that UNC administration and she supported the idea of making Service Commissions accountable to parliamentary select committees. Dr Rowley was an opposition MP opposed to that principle.

So when the issue was proposed two Thursdays ago by Mrs Persad-Bissessar that the Police Service Commission should subject itself to the scrutiny of Parliament to explain “the method, process, criteria and considerations utilised” by the commission in arriving at its selection of Deodat Dulalchan as Commissioner of Police, she was reviving the 1999 principle that she supported.

The fact that Dr Rowley made a complete turnaround from his 1999 philosophical position of advising commissioners of Service Commissions to “refuse to come to the Parliament” to subject themselves to any scrutiny is profound.

The arguments made in 1999 have now come home to roost and an independent Police Service Commission is now being summoned to appear (minus a chairman whose term of office has expired and another commissioner who has not yet been appointed) to answer questions about its process.

The only item that is before the House of Representatives is a notification from the President. There is nothing from the Police Service Commission that can stand questioning and scrutiny.

The reality of what is being questioned is the notification from the President. The Police Service Commission has tendered its advice and the House of Representatives wants to apply the Anisminic principle to the Office of the President by going behind it to find out what happened. Will the commissioners heed Dr Rowley’s 1999 advice and “refuse to come” or is it really the Office of the President that is being questioned?

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