But at the same time, the revocation triggered a vacuum at the key commission which acts as the watchdog over the police as, under the Constitution, the PSC is not fully constituted without a chairman.
The President’s exercise of his powers also called forth a new conundrum which the State now faces: what type of candidate can be put in the job without triggering further controversy on race?
The search for a suitably qualified candidate is now on. Who next is earmarked for the post? A dougla? Chinese or Syrian? Only time will tell.
Richards exercised his powers under sections 122 A (1)(d) and (f) of the Constitution to remove the PSC chairman on the basis of “a lack of competence to perform his duties” and that he failed “to perform his duties in a responsible manner.”
The announcement came via an e-mailed press release issued by the Government Information Services (GIS), just over a week after Mohammed raised the issue of a racial imbalance within the upper ranks of the Police Service at a meeting of the PSC’s watchdog body: the Municipal and Service Commissions Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament.
At that JSC sitting Mohammed presented statistics showing that there are no Indo-Trinidadians in most top posts with Afro-Trinidadians filling most higher ranks. The press release noted that Mohammed was not only relieved of his duties as chairman but also removed entirely from the commission as ordinary member.
“His Excellency George Maxwell Richards, TC, CMT, Ph.D, President advises that he has, with immediate effect revoked the appointment of Mr Nizam Mohammed as chairman and member of the Police Service Commission,” the media release stated. “In so doing, His Excellency has exercised the power vested in him by Section 122A (1) (d) and (f) of the Constitution (as amended), all other powers thereto enabling.”
The President, who met with Mohammed last Friday at President’s House, St Ann’s, for just under an hour, described this meeting as “cordial.” He said the decision to revoke came, “after a most cordial meeting with Mr Mohammed on Friday April 1, 2011 when the business of the Commission was discussed.”
However, the one-paragraph media release did not explicitly link Mohammed’s removal with the controversy surrounding his remarks on race in the Police Service. In an immediate reaction Mohammed in an interview with Newsday, said he would seek legal advice on the issue. Maintaining that he has done nothing wrong, Mohammed argued that the President is under an obligation to “tell the public precisely what went wrong.”
“His Excellency must say precisely the particulars of the wrongs that I have committed,” Mohammed said. Citing the official letter of revocation which he received at his offices at San Fernando at about noon yesterday, Mohammed said the reasons given by the President were “vague.”
“The letter is very vague and I am baffled simply because I continue to maintain that I have done nothing wrong. Nothing that warrants such a revocation,” he said. “I think that the President is under an obligation to tell the public specifically and precisely what wrong I have committed.”
Mohammed stuck to his statements about racial imbalances within the Police Service before the Parliament JSC.
“I spoke the truth,” he said. “The issue is still alive and it will not die by trying to destroy people who honestly and sincerely want to tackle it in a civilised and responsible way.” Mohammed said the Government – which joined with Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley in condemning his remarks – appears to have fallen into a trap unwittingly. “Rowley was able to harness their support to get rid of me,” Mohammed said. At the same time, Mohammed warned that his revocation will have implications for future chairmen of commissions. He warned that there could be a “chill effect” on their willingness to air issues at Parliamentary JSCs.
“It would be interesting to see how commissioners from the various commissions will behave when they appear before JSCs from here on,” he said. Asked if he would rule out serving in public office again, Mohammed, a former Speaker of the House, said: “I am always willing to serve the public.”
Any legal action contemplated would have to overcome one major crippling hurdle: the President is immune from civil suit under the Constitution. Asked when he would clear out of the offices of the PSC, Mohammed said, “I have no clue...they never even gave me a chance to settle there.”
And just as he was relaxed last Friday after leaving President’s House, Mohammed yesterday appeared upbeat. He said he spent the day “relaxing” at his law offices at Gordon Street, San Fernando. Privately, he assured some close acquaintances that the revocation was something of a relief after all of the controversy.
The President’s revocation of Mohammed’s appointment yesterday created a constitutional vacuum which could put pressure on the State to fill the post as soon as possible, lawyers noted.
Under Section 122 (1) of the Constitution, for the Police Service Commission to be properly constituted, it must comprise of a chairman. The section reads: “there shall be a Police Service Commission for Trinidad and Tobago which shall consist of a chairman and four other members.”
Notwithstanding this, three persons appointed to serve as members of the commission yesterday indicated that they remain empowered to act on behalf of the PSC and will this Thursday hold a meeting of the PSC to discuss the issue of the vacancy in the post of chairman and implications for the commission.
The Government, nursing a string of controversies which has arguably eaten into some pockets of its popular support, now faces a new challenge of filling the post in a way that will not further inflame the controversy about race. A candidate who is Afro-Trinidadian or Indo-Trinidadian is bound to provoke reaction from among the two largest racial groupings in the country, political observers noted yesterday.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, speaking on the issue in Washington, USA where she is on official state business said: “As you would recall, I met recently with the President and indicated that the decision rests with him. The President has now acted and I will abide by his decision.”
The Office of the Prime Minister last week condemned Mohammed’s statements and Persad-Bissessar raised the issue at her weekly audience with the President.
Before being appointed to the PSC, Mohammed served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1987 to 1991. He was also once elected as MP for Tabaquite as was a member of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR). The revocation of his PSC appointment was the culmination of a tenure at the PSC which has been marked by controversy from day one.
Mohammed, a member of the Congress of the People (COP), was appointed by then Acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith in a ceremony at President’s House, St Ann’s, on July 21, 2010. That ceremony was controversially closed-off from the media, even as questions over the appropriateness of Mohammed’s appointment to an apolitical post were raised.
About a month after his appointment last year, Mohammed despatched a letter to then Acting Police Commissioner James Philbert calling on Philbert to pack up and demit office early. The controversial move remains unexplained and has triggered legal action on Philbert’s part.
Then, on December 2, 2010, Mohammed was on his way to a meeting of the PSC when he had an exchange between two police constables at Independence Square Port-of-Spain. Minister of National Security John Sandy later, on January 20, 2011, at Parliament, said the incident had been investigated by Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs and all parties involved were cleared. “From the information gathered, it was determined that the incident has resulted from a misunderstanding during a period of high traffic congestion,” Sandy said.
Sandy continued, “based on the findings of the investigation, it was recommended that no action be initiated against either of the parties involved on the basis that it was appropriately resolved.”
However the findings of Gibbs, whose performance falls under the purview of the PSC, did not end the public controversy and a campaign–comprising politicians and even one NGO — was launched calling for Mohammed’s removal. The controversy created tensions within the PSC, with some members penning a letter to Mohammed on March 10, 2011, expressing reluctance to endorse Mohammed in writing on the basis of not wanting to get dragged into the controversy. Up to yesterday, this issue remained fresh on the minds of three persons appointed as members of the PSC (Martin George, Jacqueline Cheesman and Kenneth Parker) who held a press conference at the Marriott Hotel, Mucurapo and who said they stood by Mohammed despite the traffic incident.
“I have received a tremendous amount of support, a lot of commiseration,” Mohammed said yesterday. He argued, “this whole incident stemmed from a racist distortion of what I said in Parliament.”
THE NIZAM CHRONICLES
MAR 25: Then PSC chairman Nizam Mohammed appears before Parliament’s Municipal and Service Commissions Joint Select Committee (JSC) to discuss the operations of the PSC. Mohammed says out of ten assistant commissioners of police, three deputy commissioners, 15 senior superintendents, there are no officers of Indian origin. He says this racial imbalance should be dealt with given the need for confidence in the police.
MAR 26: Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner slams Mohammed saying he has done the country a disservice.
MAR 27: Members of the Police Service executive condemn Mohammed’s statements and call for his removal. So too does former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj.
MAR 28: The Office of the Prime Minister issues a press release describing Mohammed’s comments as “reckless and senseless” and condemns the statements as unacceptable. On the same day Local Government Minister Chandresh Sharma urges debate on the issue before condemnation of Mohammed. Sharma later reverses this position after the Office of the Prime Minister’s release is circulated. The COP – the political party of which Mohammed is a member – condemns his remarks.
MAR 29: After her weekly audience with President George Maxwell Richards at President’s House, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar says hard decisions sometimes need to be taken, and this will be done in the interest of preserving social cohesion. On the same day Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley also meets with President Richards reaffirming the Opposition’s view that Mohammed’s appointment should be revoked. Labour Minister Errol Mc Leod adds his voice to the chorus saying: “I condemn out of hand, the position taken by Mr Mohammed.”
MAR 30: In an interview with Newsday Mohammed says he will not resign and stands his ground adding that he wants to complete his three-year mandate as chairman.
MAR 31: At a post-Cabinet press briefing, COP member and Sports Minister Anil Roberts says of Mohammed, “he is a big man and knows what he has to do.”
APRIL 1: Mohammed meets with President Richards. Coming out of the meeting he appears relaxed and upbeat and says he will be back to work the next day. He says the President has not fired him.
APRIL 2: The President indicates that he will issue a press release in the coming week on the issue.
APRIL 4: The Office of the President issues a media release announcing that Mohammed’s appointment has been revoked under provisions of the Constitution. No replacement is announced.