Misconduct complaints against police ranks cannot be properly dealt with by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) as it remains headless more than a year after its chairman, Justice (retired) Cecil Kennard was forced out because of his age.
The PCA would have to investigate the March 15 deaths of three men at the hands of the police on the seawall facing Carifesta Avenue. Numerous questions have been raised about the police version of the shootings. However, the Chairman would have to pronounce on the findings of the probe whenever it is carried out.
Dextroy Cordis, 46, called “Dottie” of Lot 4 Grove Public Road, East Bank Demerara; Kwame Assanah, a former soldier, of Buxton, East Coast Demerara, and Errol Adams, 57, called ‘Dynamite,’ of Dartmouth, Essequibo Coast and also Buxton, were fatally shot north of the GNS sports ground and their families are calling for a full investigation of the deaths.
Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan yesterday acknowledged that the absence of a Chairman concerns him and said that he will again raise the matter at the level of Cabinet.
He has informed that because of the absence of a chairman, the PCA cannot function properly.
“The new ones (complaints) cannot be dealt with because of the fact that we don’t have the chairman. What I have been trying most of the time, is to send these complaints… a number of them…to the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR)”, he told the Sunday Stabroek recently. The OPR is the police internal affairs unit where the police investigate complaints against their own.
The PCA, which is an independent body, was established by the Police Complaints Authority Act 1989 (No. 9/1989) and came into being on December 29, 1989 by virtue of Order No. 4/1990. It started to function on January 2, 1990.
According to the Act, any person who has reasonable grounds to believe that a member of the police force is guilty of any misconduct may make a complaint to the PCA, which investigates and may recommend disciplinary action, including criminal prosecution.
Contacted by this newspaper, Ramjattan agreed that some time has passed since Kennard left office
“Yes it’s been a while. We haven’t as yet…named persons… I don’t know what has happened”, he said.
The minister had indicated in February this year that the appointment would soon be made. In fact he had informed that some recommendations were given to Minister of State Joseph Harmon and that an assessment of the names would be done.
Last February, Kennard who had been chairman since 2002, was forced to step down by President David Granger because of his advanced age. At the time he was almost 80 years old.
This newspaper was previously told that Kennard became aware of the decision to remove him from office while he was on holiday. He was initially given 36 hours to demit office, but this period was extended after he made contact with Ramjattan.
Many had argued that it was strange that Kennard was “forced” out of office and no arrangements were made to ensure that the post was quickly filled. The PCA is the only independent body vested with the powers to investigate complaints against the police.
Under the Act, it is the sole responsibility of the president to appoint a PCA chairperson from persons who are qualified to be a puisne judge of the High Court.
President Granger has faced criticism over the decision to force Kennard to step down and then failing to fill the vacancy.
At the time, he had said that Kennard’s removal was part of his administration’s move to establish an age limit for membership of state boards, agencies and commissions, in order to pave the way for younger persons to take the lead.
“So it is not a criticism of his [Kennard’s] service but there will be a general order explaining our policy on age and retirement for agencies, boards and commissions but at the same time we hope to give other persons an opportunity to serve so that over a period of time we build up expertise in the younger generations too. So it is not a criticism of Justice Kennard. There will be further information but nobody is being purged. We are simply trying to give other persons the ability to serve,” Granger said after being questioned then about Kennard’s removal.
Following Kennard’s removal the President made the unilateral appointment of 84-year-old retired justice James Patterson as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission.
Ramjattan informed that the despite the present situation complaints are going to the office. “The very important appointment has not been made yet and that will have to be made as early as possible”, he said.
He stressed that he is very concerned at the state of things. “I am very concerned yes but I suppose we are gonna deal with that next week or so. Of course I will try to raise it”, he said while pointing out that of recent government has been dealing with a number of issues which requires “a lot of work”.
Reiterating the importance of this appointment, he informed that the secretary is also trying to deal with the existing situation.
“In the absence of the chairman hardly anything can be done. Of course the decision as to whether the complaints have merit is a decision of the chairman”, he pointed out.
The PCA has sleuths who can investigate complaints made. However without a Chairman, the findings of their investigations will be null and void as the conclusions cannot be acted upon.
In 2016 about a month after Cabinet granted approval for the establishment of the investigative arm, the Ministry advertised for investigators. The advertisement said the sleuths would be required to assist in taking and investigating complaints, to submit statements taken and prepare reports for the Chairman of the PCA.
Applicants were required to have at least seven years of experience in investigating criminal matters, particularly experience in the Criminal Investigation Department of the Guyana Police Force.