Saddled with uncertainty

Mr Philbert has now been appointed as an acting CoP some four times!

He was thrice given six-month terms and now gets a three-month extension. What is striking is that the country is still saddled with uncertainty over the selection process for a CoP, despite the fact of a new Government taking its seat at last Friday’s Opening of Parliament. Of course the confusion is not the fault of the new administration, which to its credit did in fact immediately push the selection process to the fore last Friday when they laid an order in Parliament to debate the nominees for CoP and Deputy Commissioner suggested by the PSC on the advice of consultants Penn State University (PSU). Also to the credit of the Government is their promise to hold consultations with the stakeholders (such as the Police Social and Welfare Committee), which were due to begin yesterday at the Office of the Prime Minister.

However we have several concerns over this latest in the continued reappointment of Mr Philbert, although we must clearly state that we are not criticising the individual, Mr Philbert, but simply the fallout from the selection process that is currently used.

Firstly, in a country where violent crime is the most pressing public concern — with murders now reaching 250 deaths even before halfway through this year — the authorities simply cannot afford to inadvertently cast the Commissioner in a doubtful light such as by employing a selection process that questions his tenure and so undermines his stature. The Commissioner must not become a laughing stock for the criminal element.

Secondly, the continued renewal of a CoP’s tenure, for six months or three months, as done by the former PNM Government unfortunately might have created an impression that he was a creature of the Government of the day and served at their whim.

While we can support the Constitution allowing the Government to veto the PSC’s choice of a substantive CoP — whom we agree should be a person with whom the Government feels they can work with — we reject the idea of a Government keeping an Acting CoP dangling on a string by a series of temporary renewals or “ten days” that are really going to be seen as undermining his operational independence from the political directorate. The only saving grace this time around is that the extension was not given by the Government but by the PSC. Further, reports are that Mr Philbert is expected to step down before September 30 if a substantive CoP can be appointed. Our third concern is over the process used by the PSC itself. While we respect that the Constitution gives the PSC the independence to choose a Commissioner — subject to the veto of the Government and the nod of Parliament — we also note the anomalies thrown up recently and repeatedly by the PSC’s choice.

One would have thought that a cosmopolitan population of 1.3 million people would have contained several individuals who had built a career in the local Police Service and who understand the subtle nuances of this sociologically-complex society and who are in fact now worthy to be considered for the post of CoP. While we don’t wish to tread on the constitutional independence of the PSC, we must ask whether the PSC needs to amend its use of consultants for selecting nominees.

We lament that in the 2009 period in which Mr Philbert was acting CoP, the PSC spent $3 million of taxpayer’s money on a futile first attempt to select a CoP, and $4.6 million on a second attempt where the nominee was ultimately rejected by the former PNM Government who had claimed the process was “flawed”.

Also, in the current case, we ask whether the consultants, Penn State University, in selecting five Canadians on their CoP shortlist but not one Trinidad and Tobago national, are operating under some sort of North American “inclination”.

Meanwhile we expect the Government to reassert its right, just as their predecessors did — to hire whom they think to be the best person for the job.

Newsday on Tuesday reported sources saying that the Government would likely veto the PSC’s Canadian nominees in favour of Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Stephen Williams, who ironically the PSC has nominated to be a Deputy Commissioner.

So, while we trust that a suitable Commissioner (and Deputy Commissioner) will be appointed in short-order, we really think that something must be done to make the selection process less cumbersome and less costly, and perhaps a little more indigenous.


"Saddled with uncertainty"

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