The Police Force should not become a puppet of the executive

Dear Editor,

From the time that the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) was established to enquire into the Guyana Police Force’s investigation of the alleged plot to assassinate the President, I publicly criticized its establishment on the grounds that it was unnecessary; that it was a waste of taxpayers’ money and that it was established with the ulterior motive of targeting certain identified officers in the upper echelon of the Force.

As the inquiry unfolded, each day proved me correct. Throughout the CoI, based on reports in the press of its hearings, it became abundantly clear that it was a witch-hunting exercise to target and impugn the conduct of certain police officers with a view to affect their upward mobility in the Force. The fact that the government chose an investigation into an alleged plot to assassinate the President as the occasion to do so, rather than the findings of an expert body after some examination would have been concluded, perverted the matter even more.

Based upon excerpts of the report, which apparently has been leaked, I am vindicated in all my suspicions and apprehensions. A number of top ranking officers, some of whom hardly played a role in the investigation into the alleged plot, have been identified for disciplinary action. Quite frankly, no argument which the government advances can convince a sensible citizen that the CoI was not established to achieve this specific purpose. From all indications, the cold, hard reality is that the allegations surrounding the plot were investigated by the relevant department of the Force, the files were reviewed by the Police Legal Adviser and the allegations were deemed to be incredible and unworthy of forming the basis for the prosecution of ensuing criminal charges.

Those who are charged with the responsibility of advising whether to institute criminal charges or not in any given case have a legal responsibility and duty to ensure that they do not recommend criminal charges which have no real likelihood of success. Therefore, the allegations, the character and credibility of those who made them, whether they have been corroborated by other sources, and the surrounding circumstances, are all matters which have to be scrutinized and analyzed before a decision to institute a criminal charge is made. It is against this backdrop that former Chief Justice Ian Chang quashed the decision of the DPP, which recommended that a former Police Commissioner be charged with a criminal offence. The judgement of the former Chief Justice spans nearly 30 pages and contains a clear distillation of the legal principles, should anyone be interested in reading it.

Significantly, it does not appear that the CoI came to a much different conclusion on this particular issue. But then again, as I pointed out, it had a different mandate, that is, to target certain police officers. Unfortunately for the government, it showed its hand early when Minister Joseph Harmon wrote to the Police Service Commission, conveying to them a direction from the President not to proceed to address the promotion of police officers. This direction came long before the conclusion of the CoI.

Magically and coincidentally, the CoI recommends that some of these very officers be disciplined. Additionally, almost immediately upon the submission of the CoI Report, and I daresay, even before the report was read, the President was quoted in the press as saying that there will be a major “shake-up” in the Police Force; thereby giving credence to my suspicion that the CoI was simply the occasion staged by the government for interference with the Force.

However, the government has a serious hurdle to overcome when it decides to give effect to the recommendations of the CoI or “shake-up” the Police Force. That hurdle is the Constitution; it will always be a hurdle to the authoritarians. The Constitution is the supreme law. It is the Constitution which establishes the relevant institutions and charges them, exclusively, with the responsibility of exercising disciplinary jurisdiction over police officers. Therefore, it is the Police Service Commission (PSC) that has the exclusive responsibility of disciplining police officers from the rank of Inspector and above, except the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Police. It is also the Police Service Commission which is exclusively responsible for the promotion of these officers. It is common knowledge that the Police Service Commission is independent and must not be subjected to the direction or influence of any other authority or body. Therefore, the PSC cannot be influenced or directed by the recommendations of the CoI, neither can anyone direct them to act in accordance with those recommendations.

In the case of the Commissioner of Police, the constitutional insulation is even stronger. The Police Commissioner enjoys security of tenure similar to that of a High Court Judge. In order to discipline the Commissioner of Police, a long line of constitutional processes have to be triggered; a special tribunal has to be established to do so. Again, that tribunal is independent, and if one is established, it ought not to be lawfully influenced by the CoI’s recommendations.

In the same vein, a combination of the Constitution and the Police Act legally prohibit the President from executing his “shake-up” plans for the Force. The Police Force is not a department of the government and while there is a Minister to whom the President has delegated line responsibility for the Force, the President has no actual or ostensible authority over the Force. The Force is an autonomous statutory body. The Minister, who has been assigned responsibility for the Force is lawfully confined to give only directions of a general nature to the Police Commissioner. It is the Police Commis-sioner who superintends and exercises overall supervisory authority over operational and administrative matters of the Force. Even if the President is to recall his delegated authority from the Minister of Public Security, he will be statutorily limited, as the Minister is, in relation to the authority which he can exercise over the Force.

It is in the best interest of the rule of law, the constitutional rights of the citizenry and democracy generally, that a Police Force not be reduced to being a puppet of the executive. Therefore, we all have a stake in ensuring that this does not occur. Our police officers must lawfully resist. We have a duty and a responsibility to stand bravely by their sides.

Yours faithfully,

Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP

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