In the past few days we have had yet more examples of this country’s institutions collapsing. Part of the collapse is due to the elites who have responsibility for the institutions being negligent in their duties to the country; while part is due to the institutions being dysfunctional or even rotten to the core.
The first example was a clear case of negligence. We refer to the fiasco of a letter sent by this country’s highest office holder – The President of the Republic – to the second highest office holder – the Prime Minister, in which letter President Carmona in effect informed the Prime Minister that he intended to replace the sitting Chairman of the Elections and Boundaries Commission, Mr. Mark Ramkerrysingh, with another member of the EBC, Dr. Noel Kalicharan. Such a move – to unseat the sitting Chairman for no apparent reason was unprecedented, if not ultra vires the Constitution - and with only a few weeks left in his term of office, President Carmona’s proposal was preposterous. Subsequent to Dr. Rowley’s objection to this proposal, the President’s office issued an apology stating that his letter contained a typo error and that his intention was not to replace the current Chair with Dr. Kalicharan but to re-appoint him as a member of the EBC.
Given the importance of the EBC it is vital that persons to be appointed as Commissioners are acceptable to citizens generally and to political parties in particular; and also that the process of such appointments follows the Constitution and protocols that will help to underpin good governance. The President cannot lapse in this regard. The letter as signed and sent to the Prime Minister resulted in embarrassment to both Mr. Ramkerrysingh and Dr. Kalicharan; and could have undermined the work of the other Commissioners and the institution that is the EBC. Such negligence by high office holders must not be repeated in the future.
The second example is that of the process of appointing a Commissioner of Police (CoP). This country, which has had well over two thousand people being murdered between 2012 and the present had, during that period no Commissioner of Police. What we had is Mr. Stephen Williams being given no fewer that eleven (11) acting appointments as Commissioner. After several false starts due to the Parliament amending the process by which the Commissioner is appointed and subsequent legal challenges to the amended process, the Police Service Commission (PSC) finally, after many months and many millions of dollars spent, made recommendations to the President on who should be appointed CoP and Deputy CoP. Now that very convoluted process appears to be about to collapse as reports are it is so error filled that it can’t stand scrutiny.
Reported errors include: that the person recommended for the post of CoP never applied for it; that the PSC was divided 2-2 on who should be appointed and that the Chairman of the PSC wrongfully – either in law or as process – used a casting vote to recommend Deputy Commissioner (Ag) Dulalchan for the CoP post; that the PSC is one member short and thus is improperly constituted; and that Mr. Dulalchan has issues that, if not satisfactorily answered, raise serious questions about his suitability to be this country’s CoP
Any or all of these errors will make it unacceptable for the PSC’s recommendations to be accepted by the President and affirmed by the Parliament; both of which institutions are involved in the final decisions as to who should be the CoP and Deputy CoP.
This situation points to both institutional collapse and individuals holding office being negligent. In the latter, the President is responsible for ensuring that there are five members of the PSC. At present there are only four and for his failure of have the PSC properly constituted he must be held to account. The entire PSC membership is responsible for allowing the other reported errors and citizens must hold them accountable for this. Furthermore, the Parliament is responsible for amending the Constitution in such a way as to make it almost impossible for a quick, transparent and fair process of appointment to the absolutely crucial posts of CoP and Deputy CoP. The result of Parliament’s collective error – six years without a substantive CoP. We must hold the Parliament to account for this.
These institutional crises point to one thing: the First Republic as defined by the Republican Constitution of 1976 has collapsed. This is why the MSJ has offered the Vision of “The Second Republic”; in which the institutions of state are reformed; modernized and democratized so that the following objective written in to the Preamble of our nation’s Constitution can be realized – “the people of Trinidad and Tobago have asserted their belief in a democratic society in which all persons may, to the extent of their capacity, play some part in the institutions of national life and thus develop and maintain due respect for lawfully constituted authority”.
Movement for Social Justice