The unfolding controversies surrounding the collapse of the Police Service Commission are directly attributable to the transparency formula that was introduced 15 years ago on a bipartisan basis between the PNM and the UNC.
Last week, I highlighted the essence of the bipartisan vote that brought about a fundamental reform of the functioning of the Police Service Commission that removed the secrecy of operations between the Chairman of the Police Service Commission and the Office of the President.
This is the only Service Commission that has these different procedures associated with its operations. The Prime Minister’s non-public veto was replaced by a public vote in the House of Representatives which makes the Government of the day publicly declare their preferences for the offices of Commissioner of Police and Deputy Commissioner of Police or nominees for membership of the Commission.
The Office of the President is now required to engage in consultation and then put forward notifications to the House of Representatives to get the endorsement of the House in public for them.
As I indicated last week, this was an attempt at trying to import an American-style process of having the President nominate proposed individuals and the Parliament ratify these nominees before confirmed appointments can be made.
Unlike the Washington model, individual MPs do not have the same level of individual choice to vote as they see fit. This is so because in the US the Senators run in primaries to win their party’s nomination and then they contest against the other party’s nominee. The winner does not have to respond to the directives of their Majority or Minority Leaders, but rather they have to keep their eyes on the next election which will determine whether they secure their party’s nomination again and then win their election.
In our system of government, the MPs take their directions from their party caucuses. If they disobey, they can be removed by the provisions of the Crossing-the-Floor constitutional amendment. Too much dissent will be held against any MP who thinks that they can rock the boat by pushing the envelope too far against the party line which will jeopardise their chances to have a successful screening to be put up as their party’s candidate in the next general election.
The decision becomes a party decision, but it has to be made out in the open after a debate in the House of Representatives on the notifications that are sent by the President.
The new system of choosing a Commissioner of Police requires a professional recruitment firm to advise the Police Service Commission on a Merit List. This approach places more emphasis on professional recruitment techniques. However, the rankings then become subject to political preference.
If there are any lapses in handling the process before the vote, this will come out because of the demands of transparency. The drama associated with the processes of the Police Service Commission under these new conditions of operation has made it difficult to keep controversy at bay. In 2006, there was a fear of controversy forcing a renewed discussion about the process to have another look at it.
Then prime minister Patrick Manning had this to say in piloting the legislation:
“We wish to make it clear, Mr Speaker, that this approach does not represent for us an ideal, rather it is a compromised approach to which we have agreed to subscribe and we will see over time, with the effluxion of time, how well the system works, or how well it does not work. If it turns out that the system is not meeting the aspirations of hon Members of this House, then we believe we possess the maturity, again, to sit around a table, hon Members of Government and hon Members opposite, and continue our search for an approach that more closely meets the requirements of Parliament within the context of the society in which this Parliament operates.” (Hansard, House of Representatives, March 15, 2006, p 8).
It is clear that the system has not worked as was intended. The transparency has permitted all of the dirty linen to be aired. The lessons that can be learnt from the latest fiasco involving the Police Service Commission need to be reviewed to arrive at a new consensus based on avoidance of the errors over the last 15 years.
Can transparency be kept with an amended process?