Limping along with the PSC
Despite misgivings and the persisting possibilities of litigation against it, the Police Service Commission has been brought up to established and functional strength with the swearing-in of two new members. The full team chaired by Prof Ramesh Deosaran is now enabled to address the urgent matter of filling the position of Police Commissioner. This is only the most critical matter among the many left unattended over the weeks since the body was left incapacitated through lack of a quorum, itself a deeply disquieting turn of events.
Even with a quorum, however, the core challenge of the structural efficiency of the PSC remains thoroughly unsettled.
The fact that the PSC, though necessary for the process, plays no decisive role in finding a successor to Dwayne Gibbs, the last substantive Police Commissioner, epitomises the dysfunctional nature of the arrangements in place for fulfilling the public’s expectation that the PSC would bring more effective management of the Police Service. At best, the Deosaran team of commissioners is empowered only to watchdog and nudge forward the contracting-out for international headhunters, and the multi-level screenings of a final nominee, for the consideration of Parliament and its approval. T&T remains stuck with this involved legislated process which courts the risk of indefinite delay and undue politicisation of the top police position, despite a crying need for a firm, capable and permanent hand on the law enforcement steering wheel. The most effective role that the PSC can play, in such circumstances, is to articulate in clear and precise terms the deficiencies of the PSC arrangements and to propose for public consideration a new system, including for CoP recruitment.
The public understands only too well the logic behind the convoluted processes which handicap the PSC. It knows that governments have a vested interest in ensuring that the final say in the selection of the Police Commissioner remains in their hands. Ongoing experience, however, should have taught both the governing and opposition parties the danger of hamstringing the PSC and the urgency of installing a process that delivers the best candidate, expeditiously and transparently.
With crime as the public’s number one priority, our legislators should recognise that the best option for all is a system that delivers public security. This is the only outcome that will win public support.
It is therefore in the interest of all parties, including the President, to appoint the most competent team of commissioners and allow them the freedom to work while holding them accountable for outcomes. As it stands now, the PSC cannot be held fully accountable given the odds stacked against it. The problems that beset the PSC are not unique. The work of independent and quasi-independent public bodies is routinely impeded by structures and systems designed to limit their authority and keep power in the hands of politicians in office. Having experienced the damage consequent on such an approach, the time has perhaps come to review all such bodies with a view to bringing greater clarity to defining the scope of authority that these bodies need for functioning at maximum effectiveness.Then they can be held fully accountable.