PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Aug 2, CMC – The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), a former partner in the coalition People’s Partnership government, says it is “deeply concerned” at the resignations of the two top police officers, as the state announced a multi-million dollar ex-gratia payment to them.
In a statement, the MSJ said the resignations of Canadians Dwayne Gibbs and Jack Ewatski as Police Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner respectively “raises many flags.
“Why was the announcement made by the Prime Minister? What necessitated an emergency meeting of the Cabinet? What was the link between one media story on Sunday that Gibbs and Ewatski were to go, with their resignations being announced on Monday? And how do these resignations tie in with the sustained criticism of their performance by the new Minister of National Security?”
MSJ, which groups mainly the trade union movement here, said that “the answers to these questions point directly to political interference resulting in the premature departure of the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner.
“Indeed, it is our view that the two Officers were politically harassed and given virtually no other alternative but to resign by a Government desperate to shore up its image on crime. Their removal will not by itself bring the crime situation under control because they are not the cause of violent crime in this country. And citizens must be told the cost of the “golden handshake” that they must have been offered to terminate their contracts early.”
A statement from the Attorney General’s Office said that the state had agreed to an ex gratia payment of nearly TT$2.5 million (One TT Dollar=US$0.16 cents) to the Canadians, who in 2010 signed a three year contract, but resigned 14 months before their term came to an end.
Acting Attorney General Ganga Singh said that ex gratia payments were “recommended to, and approved by, both the National Security Council and the Cabinet” after “consideration of all relevant facts and is in keeping with applicable industrial relations practice and the highest standards of governance.
“In a tense and highly challenging environment, both Dr Gibbs and Mr Ewatski performed their duties courageously. Their premature departure leaves an unexpired term of 14 months under their contracts of employment, with a before tax value of TT$1,684,557.33 and TT$1,590,073.33 respectively. The agreed ex gratia payments are intended to assist both gentlemen in their resettling efforts,” Singh said.
However, in its statement, the MSJ said that the politically inspired resignations of the top police officers have “implications for our democracy.
“For the benefit of all citizens, the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago spells out in very clear terms the separation of powers between the Executive (Cabinet) and the other key arms of the state such as the Judiciary, the Parliament, the Independent Service and other Commissions and the security forces. In particular, Section 122 of the Constitution identifies the Police Service Commission (PSC).
“The Police Service Commission is appointed by the President after consultation with Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, thus the members of the PSC are NOT political appointees. Under Section 123 of the Constitution the PSC is the sole authority for assessing the performance of the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner.
“The Cabinet has absolutely no role in this whatsoever. If the Minister of National Security has a difficulty with the Commissioner or if the Cabinet does not think that the crime fighting strategies of the Commissioner are effective then they cannot remove those Officers.”
The MSJ said that the constitutional protection of the heads of the Police Service is there for good reason.
“It is a buffer against the security forces of the country being used by the government against its political opponents. However, when the heads of the Police Service can be harassed and virtually hounded out of office, then the constitutional protection becomes worthless and therefore we are vulnerable to the development of a police state.”
“This very dangerous scenario is more real than imaginary, more possible than most citizens may appreciate,” the MSJ, pointing out that since his appointment as National Security Minister Austin “Jack” Warner “the country has been witness to major breaches of his authority.
“In spite of calls for Minister Warner to be censured for these actions, we now have the spectacle of the Prime Minister in her address to the nation …fully endorsing him as Minister of National Security.
“It is clear that it is not only the Minister who sees no wrong with violating the constitutional limits of Executive authority. If the Government simply sees the so called resignations of Gibbs and Ewatski as a necessary action to deal with crime and that we should “move on”, then we are in the dangerous realm of a government that does not recognize what is right and what is wrong – politically and constitutionally.”