Head of T&T Police Service Commission wants ethnic balance in force

(Trinidad Express) Already under fire for allegedly using his office to wiggle his way out of traffic offences, chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), Nizam Mohammed, yesterday suggested that it was his intention to balance the ethnic composition of the Police Service.

His statements brought a swift response from three of his fellow commissioners—attorney Martin George, Kenneth Parker and Jacqueline Cheeseman—who distanced themselves immediately, saying they did not agree with Mohammed’s position.

Mohammed, whose appointment to the post was met with resistance from the Opposition on the argument that he was an active politician heading an independent commission, told a Joint Select Committee of Parliament examining the operations of the PSC that 50 per cent of the population were of East Indian descent and the executive of the Police Service did not reflect the composition of Trinidad and Tobago’s multi-ethnic society.

Mohammed said he had recently received a copy of a letter from president of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service Social and Welfare Association , Sgt Anand Ramesar, which was sent to Commissioner of Police Dwayne Gibbs, highlighting concerns regarding the ethnic composition of the Promotional and Advisory Board.

He said Ramesar stated he felt “threatened” and “unsafe” and asked that the PSC address the issue. Among the five-member promotion board, who are all of African descent, are Deputy Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams and Acting ACP Terry Young, including three civilians.

Mohammed said, “Out of ten Assistant Commissioners of Police, you don’t have a single one of Indian origin. Out of three Deputy Commissioners, none of Indian origin. Well we have one Commissioner of Police. Senior Superintendent, you have 15 all of African origin, none of Indian origin.

“Happily when you look at the figures, you see at the Superintendent level, you have 21 of African origin and ten of East Indian origin and since within recent times, we have been emphasising the question of meritocracy as opposed to seniority, and Monday coming, Superintendents should be writing their exams. The better ones may move to Senior Superintendents and you may have a better mixture,” Mohammed said.

He added such matters have to be corrected, “and you cannot approach a matter like this in an inflammatory, passionate, emotional kind of way.

“Fifty percent of this country are people of East Indian origin and you are asking them to support the Police Service. They have to provide the Police Service with information.

“They have to feel protected by the Police Service and when they see the hierarchy of the Police Service is as imbalanced as is reflected in these figures, and the chairman of the commission intends to tackle these things, you understand why the guns are being aimed at me. But I have a job to do and this is what I intend to do. I intend to address this with the help of the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago. We need the protection.”

Mohammed said such matters could not be hidden and, “It’s either we are here to carry out our oath of service in the manner in which we took our oath. We have to take our oath seriously and handle these matters in a very dispassionate kind of way.”

In an immediate response to Mohammed’s statement, Health Minister Therese Baptiste-Cornelis, a member of the JSC, said she was very concerned and felt offended by the manner in which Mohammed made the ethnic classifications. “I just never like that. Those kinds of statements being made or those types of classifications. Especially someone like myself who is from all (both African and East Indian descent).

“When you all determine that, how do you all determine me? Because if you start to classify people as East Indian and African, we are running into a problem and this is exactly as a Government what we are trying to get away from. We are trying to go for everybody,” she said.

In response, Mohammed said the figures he read from spoke of the persons of African, East Indian and mixed origin, “so you’d (Baptiste-Cornelis) be among the mixed,” causing the chamber to erupt into laughter.

Baptiste-Cornelis continued that there were several ethnic groups within the country, adding that one must be very cautious using “racial classifications and we should discourage that being used in any forms of evaluations. It is really wrong and its offensive to people,” she said.

Mohammed continued that the PSC simply wanted to ensure that all the members under its charge are treated fairly, “and it is no deliberate ploy or action on the part of anyone. All we are trying to do is create a fair and just society.”

To Mohammed’s surprise, attorney Martin George, a fellow PSC member, said he endorsed Baptiste-Cornelis’s comment, adding that Mohammed’s statement did not reflect the views of Cheeseman , Parker and himself.

“… I can state categorically that myself, Ms Cheeseman and Mr Parker; I know for sure, the comments of the chairman do not represent our views in terms of what he just said and we disagree.”

“This is news to me,” Mohammed interjected, as he glanced at Commissioner Khan, who sat in silence next to him.

There were several other objections to Mohammed’s statements which included PNM MP Joanne Thomas, PNM Senator Shamfa Cudjoe and Government Senator David Abdulah.

Abdulah stated that the PSC’s role is to ensure that the Commissioner of Police (CoP) and those responsible for promotions have clear guidelines while executing the process in a “fair and equitable” manner and to correct any reports of unfair treatment. He warned that Mohammed ought to be careful in his statements which could be easily interpreted negatively by mischief-makers.

Chairman of the JSC ,Senator Subhas Ramkhelawan, who also disagreed with Mohammed’s statement, said he wanted to hear the personal views of Parker and Cheeseman on the issue.

Cheeseman said she was surprised that Mohammed raised such an issue at yesterday’s forum, adding that she did not agree with his statements while Parker said the core function of the PSC is to monitor the performance of the CoP, his deputies and the police service, and therefore, they should not step out of their boundaries.

“… Now that is such a large remit that for the constitutionally established commission, trying to move outside of that, it’s going to be a major challenge… So I would much prefer to stay within that remit and focus,” Parker said

After Parker’s contribution, Mohammed said he agreed with Abdulah’s contribution, noting that he thought it necessary to inform the country about what was taking place within the Police Service.

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