Monday, January 22, 2018

Nizam Mohammed's mission impossible


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The effect of an 11-line statement issued yesterday by the President was to bring the axe down on the knotty tangle that had since March 25 ensnared the Police Service Commission (PSC). The statement ended a tense waiting period by announcing that President George Maxwell Richards had revoked with immediate effect the appointment of PSC chairman Nizam Mohammed.

The relationship severed by presidential action yesterday had effectively been rendered unviable once Mr Mohammed had succeeded in turning against himself all key stakeholders—the Government; all elements of the ruling coalition; the parliamentary Opposition; the Senior Police Officers' Association; and a large bloc of public opinion—with which he was expected to work. Astonishingly, it was the chairman himself who had rapidly made the commission dysfunctional, by seeking recklessly to lead that body into an area it lacked any constitutional warrant to enter, let alone to affect.

A senior player in T&T public affairs, Mr Mohammed ought to have known the likely impact and consequence of the utterances he permitted himself before the parliamentary Joint Select Committee, where he even significantly overstated the proportion of T&T's population that is of Indian origin. Though he correctly cited figures showing the under-representation of Indians among the top ranks of the Police Service, he represented this as a wrong in urgent need of rectification, and this, by his own unsolicited initiative.

"I have a job to do and this is what I am going to do…with the help of the Parliament," he declared. Well, that was not the job that the President, after consulting the Government and the Opposition, had last year appointed him to do. Both the Government and the Opposition (and, hence, the Parliament) emphatically declined to endorse Mr Mohammed's self-arrogation of a mission to right ethnic imbalances in the Police Service. Moreover, a majority of his fellow members also disavowed the surprising turn in which he was proposing to lead the commission.

The chairman was out on a limb, all but isolated on the commission he headed. Defiantly, however, he played for support on the basis that he had neither done anything wrong nor said anything false. His supporters chorused that Mr Mohammed had cited facts, but they also failed to recognise that his facts were presented in a manner that questioned the bonafides of African officers who, he implied, had advanced unjustifiably through suppressing or frustrating the ambitions of Indian colleagues. So damaging an accusation cried out for supportive evidence. Mr Mohammed refused to provide any, or to clarify himself. Instead, he offered at best, speculation and at worst, innuendo.

He could have saved the country stress, and himself some honour, by resigning in the face of the disaffection of the people with whom he had to work. Choosing instead to hang tough, he left the President an equally tough choice.