PROBE THEM ALL
The Prime Minister criticised the apparent failure of Griffith to inform her of his role in the matter as well as reports he may have received in the matter, and said she had asked both men to resign to avoid their offices – both charged with administering law and order – from being further embroiled in controversy.
The Prime Minister further noted the PCA is an independent institution and is supposed to be apolitical. She questioned the failure of West and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley to disclose to herself and the President allegations now made against Ramlogan, and the fact that West was a defence witness in a defamation lawsuit filed against Rowley by Ramlogan. The Prime Minister said the non-disclosure in the matter raised the spectre of a possible attempt to hoodwink the President and herself.
“There are more questions than answers as to whether there was any deliberate attempt to hoodwink His Excellency and the Prime Minister in making the appointment by such non-disclosure,” the Prime Minister said in a highly-anticipated statement on the matter. “I urge that an independent probe be conducted into these circumstances involving the Attorney General, the Minister of National Security, the head of the Police Complaints Authority and the Opposition Leader. And so let the chips fall where they may.” She called for West’s immediate resignation or removal by the President.
Section 6 of the PCA Act states, “(1) The Authority shall comprise a Director and a Deputy Director to be appointed by the President on the joint advice of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.” Rowley last week confirmed that all three post-holders agreed to West’s appointment. Persad-Bissessar on Friday, speaking with reporters during the Parliament tea-break, said she did not have remit over the post of PCA director West.
Section 12 of the PCA Act states it is for the President to revoke an appointment. That section reads, “12. The President, acting in his discretion, may revoke the appointment of a person as Director or Deputy Director where he is satisfied that the person — (a) has, without reasonable excuse, failed to carry out his prescribed duties for a continuous period of three months; (b) is unable to discharge the functions of his office, whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause, or for misbehaviour; or (c) has become a person who would be disqualified for appointment pursuant to section 8.”
Disqualification for the post includes being a member of any House of Parliament, being a police officer, bankrupt or convicted of a criminal matter.
The Prime Minister’s statement came after a series of convoluted political developments in the wake of the publication of a newspaper article. The article implied that Ramlogan had attempted to induce West, an attorney, to withdraw a statement in defence of Rowley in defamation proceedings brought by Ramlogan, in exchange for accepting the post of director of the Police Complaints Authority, a job which draws a salary of $38,540 per month, excluding perks. West was sworn in as PCA director last November, one month before his statement was filed in court by attorneys who act for Rowley.
Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams last Thursday announced the start of a police investigation into, “an allegation of an attempt to pervert the course of justice” against Ramlogan, after West walked into Police Administration Building, Edward Street, Port-of-Spain, and submitted a signed statement. The investigation is led by Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Harold Phillip, who is also an attorney and previously served in the Fraud Squad and the Criminal Investigation Department.
However, another question in the affair arose over the involvement of National Security Minister Gary Griffith on the issue. Last Thursday, the Prime Minister revealed the matter related to the conduct of not just Ramlogan but another minister, now understood to be Griffith.
As the Prime Minister announced that she had asked Ramlogan and Griffith to resign over their handling of the matter, she further took the opportunity to disclose wider Cabinet changes. But in her statement, she focused on the two Cabinet office holders whose posts she said had become embroiled over the last few days.
The Prime Minister said while Griffith had apparently confirmed phoning West on the matter last year, Griffith never reported the matter to her, nor did he consult with her. Furthermore, she said, Griffith never reported the alleged interference by Ramlogan to her.
Persad-Bissessar said, “The situation today would have been very different had such a request not been made and this matter been brought to my earlier attention.”
The Prime Minister said she asked for reports from both Ramlogan and Griffith on the matter and while they conflicted, what was clear was the need for the offices responsible for the administration of law, to be protected.
“While I am not in a position to determine neither guilt nor innocence in this matter, it is of grave enough consequence to warrant serious consideration and immediate action,” Persad-Bissessar said. “I cannot and will not sit idly by while the Office of the Attorney General and that of the Minister of National Security and the head of the Police Complaints Authority are being compromised and brought into disrepute by such allegations that have warranted a police enquiry.”
At the same time, the Prime Minister expressed equally grave concern over whether West’s position was tenable and called for his resignation or removal. She said his position as police watchdog raised a conflict or perceived conflict given the fact of a police probe in relation to him was ongoing. Persad-Bissessar further said West’s position had been compromised by his delay in reporting the alleged approach of Ramlogan, done almost three months after it was allegedly made.
“The question must arise as to why he did not make it known to me or to His Excellency President Anthony Carmona when the position of heading the PCA was offered to him in November,” the Prime Minister said. “Further, why did he wait until now to make public this matter?” But also, Persad-Bissessar was equally concerned by the role of Rowley, the person on whose behalf West is testifying.
“If the Opposition Leader also knew of the issue at the time when he was consulted about the appointment by myself -we had discussions- and the President, it would also have been obligatory upon him to have informed His Excellency,” the Prime Minister said. “Failure by the Opposition Leader to do so at the time does create doubt to any independent observer as to why no mention was made at the time of appointment and why was there such a delay between November and when the appointment and now in making known the matter.”
The Prime Minister continued, “Given the political sensitivity and nature of the alleged incidents it would have been not just prudent but mandatory that both myself and His Excellency, the President be informed. Withholding such information has seriously compromised the appointment of the Director of the PCA.” The Prime Minister noted that the PCA is an independent institution.
“The head of the Police Complaints Authority has the responsibility to investigate complaints against police officers. He would find himself doing so now while he himself has filed a matter for investigation to the Commissioner of Police,” Persad-Bissessar said. “The threat of conflict of interest or perception thereof clearly emerges and compromises the role of the head of the PCA.”
Of Rowley, Persad-Bissessar said, “Further, questions also arise on the role of the Opposition Leader in the matter. Did the Opposition Leader not have a moral if not legal obligation to inform me as Prime Minister and His Excellency the President about the personal involvement of a witness in a defamatory statement involving himself, the Leader of the Opposition?
“One has to be mindful that public office is not used for private gain. Had there been a disclosure by the Opposition Leader of the personal interest in a legal matter involving himself and the Director of the PCA at the point of his nomination to be head of the PCA, the conflict of interest would have been declared.”
The Prime Minister had initially been scheduled to make yesterday’s statement at 4 pm at the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair, according to a notice sent out from the Office of the Prime Minister on Saturday afternoon. But by 12.43 pm, officials said the statement had been pushed back to 7.30 pm and the new venue was the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s.
Hours before the Prime Minister was due to make her statement on the Attorney General, another situation mushroomed. Communications Minister Vasant Bharath issued a media release condemning Griffith for supposedly claiming Cabinet last Thursday had attempted to pressure him.
On Sunday evening, Griffith issued a trenchant reply: he spoke with newspaper reporters and issued comments live to television news broadcasters accusing the Communications Minister of acting too hastily. In reply that evening, Bharath stuck by the statement, re-issuing it with only a slight correction in relation to a date but no other changes. Yesterday morning, Griffith fired yet another volley at Bharath. In a media statement emailed at 10.49 am, Griffith accused Bharath of “either mischief or incompetence”.