I want to recount a cautionary tale and make a few observations. In 1964, the T&T government set up a commission of enquiry into the Police Force (not "Service", you note). The Trinidad Guardian of September 10 that year reported that at the previous day's sitting, Corporal Oscar Frederick, the Police Association Secretary, had presented a memorandum purporting to provide evidence that the Ministry of Home Affairs (now Ministry of National Security) had interfered in the mandate of the Police Commissioner.
The memorandum stated that in the early morning of January 28, 1962, a Woodbrook resident, Michael Beausoleil, was arrested, taken to the Woodbrook Police Station and charged with using obscene language and throwing missiles. He was placed in a cell. Shortly thereafter the Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Patrick Solomon, arrived at the station, spoke to Beausoleil, then instructed that the charges against him be cancelled.
The policeman in charge said he had no power to do so. Dr Solomon was reported to have replied that he would be taking Beausoleil with him and would speak to the Police Commissioner later that day. And off they both went. No further word of the charges was heard.
Frederick's memorandum was made public on September 9, 1964. That evening the Opposition, at a large and enthusiastic Woodford Square meeting, called for the resignation of Solomon and the government. Solomon resigned from the Cabinet on September 14. In his letter accepting the resignation, Prime Minister Eric Williams said in part that he "(could) not agree that the procedure at the Station that you thought best to follow was the correct one".
On September 20, under immense pressure from Solomon's constituents and some People's National Movement (PNM) elders, Williams retreated, telling a huge crowd in Arima that Solomon was "one of the great men in the PNM" and that it was a pity he had had to resign. But he, Williams, had power under the Constitution. He therefore "(proposed) to use Solomon when and where (he pleased), and those who (did) not like it (could)..." The Guardian reported that the rest of his remarks were drowned out by deafening applause. (That Williams line, for those who don't know, was the inspiration for Sparrow's calypso "I am going to bring back Solomon". Further, if you think that Williams had no advance knowledge of Corporal Frederick's memorandum, well, you should feel free to hold on to your innocence.)
Since 1964, the Police Force has metamorphosed into what is called a Service; the distinction between the functions of the Police Commissioner and those of the responsible Minister still remains, however. There are those, Ministers among them, who are convinced that Section 85(1) of the Constitution, which gives a Minister "general direction and control" over his or her Ministry, is to be interpreted as handing the Minister a fiefdom in which to walk, wine and gallery. Nothing of the sort, I'm afraid, and I say so as a former head of the Public Service. Indeed, where the Police Service is concerned, the Commissioner now has a specific role assigned to him by the Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2006.
Section 123A(1) of the Constitution says in part that "the Commissioner of Police shall have the complete power to manage the Police Service and is required to ensure that the human, financial and material resources available to the Service are used in an efficient and effective manner".
What might "complete power to manage the Police Service" mean? That a senior policeman could, unknown to the Commissioner, accede to a "request" or obey an "instruction" from a Minister to use resources available to the Service in a manner which might be neither efficient nor effective? Where does that leave the Commissioner? And, more important, the Constitution? Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs is reported as saying there has been no violation of the Police Standing Orders. I'm glad to hear, but do these Orders supersede the Constitution of the country? I ask only for clarification.
But Mr Gibbs too has questions to answer. He is reported to have told a recent workshop that key stakeholders weren't working strongly enough together against crime. I'm sure he's right, but I would like to ask him what action he has taken to help achieve that goal. Certainly, from a Tobago perspective, I am unaware of any.
I keep hearing about something called a "21st century policing initiative", which I learned months back had even been launched in Tobago, and the other day I read a news item on what were said to be the main elements of this initiative. With respect, they had all the properties of a Caricom Heads of Government communiqué—a woolly blanket of words enveloping and obliterating comprehension. What exactly is this "initiative"? On what is it based? What discussions were held with the people of Trinidad and Tobago prior to its introduction? Or were such discussions considered unnecessary because it has "worked well abroad" and foreign-used is always thought to be best for us? But if the public has no buy-in, or even understanding, what success is there likely to be? Could that largely explain the attitude of the "key stakeholders" about which Mr Gibbs now complains?
And all that I've just said goes as well for ministerial "plans" and public musings. Speak first and constantly with the people and take their views into account. Action is usually best when preceded by reflection and discussion. Good governance, not to mention common sense, demands it.
• Reginald Dumas is a former ambassador
and former head of the Public Service.