Monday, February 19, 2018

Veto this now

AFTER seven years and $7 million, the search for a Commissioner of Police is headed for the rocks.

Whether or not it was a last-ditch attempt to get the job done before her term ends tomorrow, Dr Maria Therese Gomes, chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), has serious questions to answer about her decision to use her casting vote to break the PSC's 2-2 deadlock in favour of recommending Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Deodath Dulalchan for the post of CoP.

Specifically, she must explain why she went the extra mile for a candidate who had not applied for the CoP position but for that of Deputy CoP, and about whom there were matters yet to be considered before a final decision could be made on his application.

If Dr Gomes' vote was motivated by anxiety about getting the job done before her terms ends, she will find no public sympathy. Whatever the reasons for running out of time, the PSC has nobody but itself to blame for having managed itself to the point of being backed up against the wall. After all the time and money spent, there is no excuse for delivering a recommendation that reeks of cutting corners and compromise. We say this without prejudice to the Acting Deputy CoP Dulalchan who, if worth his office, should not want to be appointed under any doubt or cloud of suspicion.

The low staff morale and generally dire condition of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service requires that the person who fills the seven-year vacancy in the office of the Commissioner of Police be given the best chance to have the confidence of officers and the public. While it would be naive not to expect some fallout from the rivalry among contenders for the job, the PSC's responsibility, at the very least, was to recommend a candidate in whom it had full support.

To ask the Parliament to appoint someone who was not supported by half the members of the PSC is a complete failure of the process. Worse, it sets up the Parliament and the country for yet another divisive debate with the potential to do great harm, including to Acting Deputy CoP Dulalchan. Worse, in bungling the process, the PSC has all but ensured another nasty public debate with completely unnecessary imputations of race.

This is how societies go off the rails when those in high office fail to rise to the challenge of their responsibilities.

With just over 24 hours left before her term ends, Dr Gomes still has the opportunity to rescue the situation from inevitable disaster. She needs to summon her commissioners to an urgent meeting and rescind the recommendation. If there is a deadlock on that, the chair's casting vote should be wisely deployed on the side of process. After that, it will be the job of Dr Gomes' successor to ensure that whatever the personal biases or anxieties that pushed the PSC into a premature decision, the recommendation that ultimately emerges from the Commission has its whole-hearted support and confidence. Trinidad and Tobago deserves nothing less.