A row that has erupted in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago may resonate with some in Guyana. On March 25, the chairman of that country’s Police Service Commission (PSC), Nizam Mohammed, told a Joint Select Committee of Parliament that while 50 per cent of the population was of East Indian descent, the hierarchy of the Police Service did not reflect this, which resulted in East Indians not having full confidence in the police. He added that he intended “to address this with the help of the Parliament.”
With three of Mr Mohammed’s fellow commissioners immediately distancing themselves from his position, the statement was pounced on by the media, opposition politicians and public figures. The furore raged all last week, culminating in Mr Mohammed’s sacking by President Max Richards on Monday. It seems that in the tinderbox of Trinidad and Tobago politics, Mr Mohammed’s comments were not welcome and the voices of condemnation were raised on all sides of the political and social spectrums, with both Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley castigating Mr Mohammed. With the Prime Minister calling his remarks “reckless… divisive and senseless” and effectively washing her hands of him, the embattled chairman must have known his position was untenable.
The crux of the problem appears to be that, according to Raffique Shah, the first East Indian officer in the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment, Mr Mohammed’s statement, even though “factual,” was “injudicious.” For Mr Shah, moreover, “it was not the whole truth,” as he adverted to the many complex social and cultural reasons for the ethnic imbalances in T&T’s disciplined services.
As various people have accused Mr Mohammed of racism, some themselves unwittingly projecting a racist slant, the former T&T Ambassador and former head of the Public Service, Reginald Dumas, highly respected as an independent commentator, has acknowledged that problems of ethnicity in the public sector “persist” in the country but that “Mr Mohammed’s approach is not the way to solve them.” For Mr Dumas, “not to be so concerned with merit and ability, or even history, as with racial balance” is a path fraught with danger and further divisiveness.
In addition, for most objective observers, Mr Mohammed was overstepping the constitutional remit of the PSC by announcing his intention to work with Parliament to “redress these imbalances.”
This editorial is not concerned, however, with Mr Mohammed’s views or those of his critics. Rather, we would like to focus on one aspect of the reaction in Trinidad to the President’s revocation of Mr Mohammed’s appointment.
According to a media release from the Office of the President, the dismissal was based on a clause of the T&T Constitution that provides for termination of a member of the PSC if he “fails to perform his duties in a responsible or timely manner” and “demonstrates a lack of competence to perform his duties.”
Mr Mohammed insists that the President must explain further his decision to fire him. He is claiming that he has been denied his “right to due process of law” and that the President has “an obligation” to let the public know the “facts” behind the sacking. President Richards has refused to say anything more on the controversy.
Unfortunately for Mr Mohammed, he is looking increasingly like a solitary man as, remarkably, the overwhelming sense in the T&T media and in online blogs is that the President does not owe him or the nation any further explanation of his action. University of the West Indies constitutional expert, Dr Hamid Ghany, has even pronounced that the President “has exercised his discretion in accordance with Constitutional powers” and is therefore under no obligation to explain himself.
Now, that may well be in accordance with a strict legal interpretation of the President’s constitutional authority – and let us remember that he is only a constitutional president and not an executive president – but surely President Richards should, in this day and age, consider the necessity to avoid accusations of arbitrary behaviour and provide his people with reasoned and reasonable explanations for his decision. After all, in observing the letter of the law, should leaders not also acknowledge the clamour for greater transparency in government and better governance and all that that entails in terms of communicating with the people? For to do otherwise would suggest that the people should content themselves with a paternalistic attitude, perpetuated and bolstered by different voices of authority, so reminiscent of colonial times.