Two Opposition members of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on National Security want chairman Fitzgerald Hinds to recuse himself from listening or questioning National Security Minister Stuart Young during an inquiry into crime scheduled for next Wednesday.
Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal and Opposition Senator Saddam Hosein feel the man best suited to preside over the JSC is vice-chairman Paul Richards. The seven-member committee consists of four Government members, two Opposition and one Independent.
Hosein and Moonilal had written to Hinds asking for Young to present evidence to the JSC to support his recent claims that certain people are promoting random shootings across the East-West Corridor and inciting criminal activity to create panic, fear and mayhem. Hinds has convened a meeting next Wednesday.
In a January 20 letter to JSC members, Hinds proposed a change from the original agenda, which was the continuation of an enquiry into prison security, to instead deal with Crime, Security, Safety and Protection of Citizens.
Young has said that he is “ready and prepared” to appear before the JSC.
Moonilal said Hinds, the Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs, is bound by collective responsibility and decisions of Cabinet.
“Apart from that, he is now on record in Monday’s Guardian indicating that he agrees and supports Mr Young with his claims. In those circumstances has to consider his position whether or not he can be fair-minded in terms of conducting the meeting,” he said.
If Hinds has already prejudged that Young’s claims are valid and reasonable, Moonilal said, “he cannot preside over a meeting where his claims are being tested. His judgement would be clouded.”
On these grounds, the JSC will have to decide if Hinds should go or stay, Moonilal added. He promised to raise the issue before the start of next week’s meeting.
He said the easiest thing for Hinds to do “is recuse himself as chairman but continue to sit in the meeting as a member . . . and allow Mr Paul Richards, who is the deputy chair and an Independent Senator, to chair that meeting. That would be the proper thing to do. I believe Mr Hinds would do the right thing.”
Contacted yesterday, Richards said the JSC normally votes on matters as a whole.
“There is the perception that he (Hinds) may be biased in this. What could stop the whole committee system from breaking down if the Government now or Opposition decides that other chairmen of committees are biased on any other contentious issue? On principle, it makes me uncomfortable,” he said.
Richards said committees are constructed to be bipartisan vehicles for investigating and putting forward recommendations on matters.
He said the chair of any committee should conduct their work fairly otherwise the whole committee system would break down.
“If the committee rules or the substantive chair accedes to the request that the committee votes in that direction I have no problem chairing the meeting. But then, the committee would have made that decision as a whole.”
Contacted for comment, Hinds said the JSC will discuss “all matters pertaining to the committee when we are convened. For the time being, I cannot speak on behalf of the committee.”