Fiercely denying that he gave permission to the PNM to use his official photo in their 2020 manifesto, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith says he has no intention of voting for any political party this year.
His response came after attorneys representing UNC activist and former Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj raised concerns about the use of his photo and its impact on the independence of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS).
In an interview with Guardian Media last evening, Griffith said he had taken note of the use of the photo but could not stop any political party from using his work in the TTPS to solicit support and garner votes.
“My comments were clear and it remains that way. No serving police officer should show any bias or affiliation to any political party via making any statement or action in that manner. So obviously I gave no such permission as it would then have meant or be perceived that I am giving approval and support to a specific political party,” Griffith said.
He added, “I am smack in the middle of leading operations to ensure the country adheres to the COVID regulations, CPL, and motorcades and meetings leading up to general elections 2020, so I definitely did not see or read any manifesto published by any political party.”
However, he said using a Commissioner’s photo was nothing new.
“There have been several manifestos over the last few decades which would have a photograph of a police officer in the National Security extract of their Manifesto. Probably my photograph may be as sensational as it would be controversial. We have no law to prevent it, but likewise, we would not approve or endorse it,” he added.
Asked whether he had taken any action against the PNM to remove it, Griffith said, “I cannot order or prevent any political party from not referring to me or the Police Service in an election campaign to boost their support. If for example, someone has national support of over 80 per cent, it would be surprising if that is not used. So if every political party mentions me and post photos of me, it certainly does not mean that I support or endorse them.”
For this reason, Griffith says he will not be voting in the 2020 general elections.
“Specifically because of the national interest of the COP, I would not be voting whilst I sit in this chair, simply to ensure that the gossip posse on one side cannot accuse me of being affiliated to the other side,” he said.
He added, ” 2025 is a different ball game.”
In the letter, Maharaj’s attorney Ganesh Saroop enquired whether Griffith gave the PNM permission to use his official photograph for the PNM’s 2020 election manifesto. On Wednesday, Maharaj, through his attorneys, sent a freedom of information request also asking if the commissioner gave his permission.
Saroop said in the letter that the TTPS should not be affiliated with any party.
“It is the cornerstone of any western democratic society that the police service must be an independent institution. It must forever maintain its political independence and impartiality, and is accordingly insulated from political interference by the Constitution of this great nation,” Saroop said.
He noted, “It would be a reckless abuse of power to give such consent because it would be inconsistent with the recent statements made, and action is taken to protect and preserve the independence of the police service,” Saroop said, adding, “Ironically, the commissioner has now found himself in the heart of a PNM campaign tool.
Saroop also said Griffith had taken a stance against the TTPS for publicly expressing a political opinion and he should follow the same rules.
“This will erode public confidence in the ability of the police service to be impartial at a time when our client instructs that there are disturbing pictures on social media of police vehicles accompanying political motorcades for the said ruling PNM party, with officers holding PNM flags, whist in full uniform inside of the vehicles,” he added.
The letter further said, “If you did not give permission for these pictures to be used in the PNM’s manifesto, then it would seem that you and your office have become innocent casualties and victims in what amounts to a clear plot to score cheap political points by associating you and your office with the party.”
Saroop also said “There have been numerous reports from candidates who feel they have been unfairly targeted and victimised by members of the TTPS who have shown open favouritism and political bias toward the PNM candidates.” He noted that the use of the photo was “constitutionally inappropriate and possibly in breach of the Police Service Regulations for the photograph to be used in a political context even if permission was given. Griffith was given 48 hours to respond to the letter.