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Veto on steroids

Sunday, July 15, 2018

In 2006, in piloting the Constitution Amendment Bill that changed the way the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners of Police were to be appointed, then prime minister Patrick Manning had this to say about the replacement of the prime ministerial veto with a majority vote in the House of Representatives:

“What the legislation now before the House proposes, is that the prime ministerial veto disappears but that the name, as identified by the Police Service Commission, will itself come before the Parliament and also will be the subject of affirmative resolution. The difference between this one and the appointment of the members of the commission is that the police officer who is going to be the commissioner of police will be, in fact, a public servant and has no way of defending himself. In fact, whereas individuals can say, I do not wish to serve on the Police Service Commission and, therefore, I do not want to subscribe to that, a police officer who has served in the service and has legitimate aspirations to be commissioner of police really does not have available to him the option of saying, well, I am not going to subscribe to that process and submit myself to that level of scrutiny which could be abused. If he takes that position what, in fact, he does, he passes up the opportunity to serve the police service at the highest level. That option really is not one available to him and, therefore, this process too suffers from a disability. Again, however, Mr Speaker, we have decided in all the circumstances to go along with this process as identified in our discussions and we are prepared to give it a chance to work to see how in practice it will operate.” (Hansard, House of Representatives, March 15, 2006, p 9).

In responding to Prime Minister Manning on this subject of the removal of the prime ministerial veto, then leader of the Opposition, Basdeo Panday, had this to say:

“I have read certain criticisms on the removal of the veto, coming from wannabe politicians, that the Prime Minister still has the power of veto which he can exercise by his majority in Parliament. Firstly, to insist otherwise than a simple majority—that there be a special majority—would in effect be transferring that veto to the Opposition. The Opposition would now be able to veto the Commissioner of Police. I am talking about the positive resolution as opposed to the special majority. We decided against that because the Government has the responsibility to deal with crime and, therefore, it cannot put the responsibility to appoint the commissioner on the Opposition. They must be responsible at every turn. We thought that was a good suggestion; that insisting on a special majority was not the right thing to do.” (Hansard, House of Representatives, March 15, 2006, p 12).

In dissecting these two views about the removal of the prime ministerial veto for appointments to the offices of Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners of Police, it is clear that Manning was concerned about the inability of applicants for these positions to defend themselves against anything adverse being said about them in the Parliament.

On the other hand, Panday took the view that it was important to leave the confirmation of a Police Commissioner to a simple majority of the House of Representatives because he linked that to the responsibility of the Government of the day to be responsible for dealing with crime and that no opposition should be able to frustrate the will of a government on this issue.

After 12 years, the Prime Minister today, Dr Keith Rowley, is describing this process as a “veto on steroids.” It appears that the Government of today wants to have a second look at this constitutional amendment.

In light of the caveat expressed by the late prime minister Manning who said, back in 2006, “to give it a chance to work to see how in practice it will operate,” that is good.

In doing a review, one must appreciate that the Police Service Commission searches for an agency that will carry out the procedural human resources process for its consideration. The issues that have arisen recently have nothing to do with the debate and vote in the Parliament, but everything to do with the pre-parliamentary process for which the Police Service Commission is solely responsible.


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