Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and Acting Police Commissioner James Philbert yesterday traded angry words as issues over the controversial church at Guanapo took a dramatic new turn. Ramlogan first slammed Philbert, accusing him of declining to act on looting and other acts of lawlessness at the Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Attorney General also hinted that Philbert, whose contract has been extended four times, could be sacked over the issue. His latest three-month extension will expire September 30. He said National Security Minister Brigadier John Sandy must now "call in his Commissioner of Police and deal with him firmly." But last night, Philbert fired back, saying he has been conducting investigations on the issue and has been liaising with Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard.
The acting top cop also said he was unaware that the Attorney General "can appoint, shorten, discontinue or influence the tenure of service of a police officer or the Commissioner of Police." He also pointed to the independence his office enjoys. At yesterday's mid-afternoon post-Cabinet press conference, Ramlogan demanded why Philbert did not act when he was contacted on the issue by DPP Gaspard. A tough-talking Ramlogan asked what Philbert planned to do about looting at the church. Ramlogan and Sandy were scheduled to meet yesterday to discuss the issue. The AG said he would urge Sandy "to advise the Police Commissioner to take immediate steps to protect the site...and with respect to those persons who were looting, unless they can show proof of ownership, they better start building back that structure fast." Ramlogan said: "If the Police Commissioner doesn't have good explanation and answers as to why he failed to act, it would then be a matter for the Police Service Commission (which appoints and disciplines officers).
"And there will be a new Police Service Commission in place to decide what to do about that," he said. He argued: "But it simply cannot be right, when we are facing a terrifying tsunami of crime, that this could be allowed to take place and the Commissioner of Police not have good answers as to why he didn't intervene.' Ramlogan declared: "We are mad, upset and vexed, as is the population, and we would join with the population in demanding answers." He said Philbert must be held accountable for his action or "inaction." Ramlogan said if Philbert's explanation was not a good one, his acting appointment could come "to an accelerated and premature end." But last night, Philbert delivered a comprehensive response. He said the Police Service was unable to establish "true ownership of the property." He added: "This must be established in order to address the issue (of) larceny or any like offence.
"That being so, the interest was not trivialised." Philbert said investigators reported that Shanghai had decided to discontinue construction and remove equipment and material from the property because they were owed money. He said: "Whatever advice the DPP gave to the Commissioner was heeded..." In fact, he said both him and Gaspard shared "the same concerns relating to establishing a presence or control at the property." Philbert stressed that the police probe was seeking to find out the source of funds. He said the property had been abandoned, and, as a result, "the whole question of looting or any form of larceny cannot arise." He accused Ramlogan of exhibiting "contempt, disdain, bias and animosity for the office of Commissioner of Police." Philbert said Ramlogan has come to "a hasty conclusion" without consulting him.
With respect to his additional term of office Philbert, who has been an officer for 43 years, said he was asked by the Police Service Commission "to stay on" until a new commissioner is appointed. He said he has enjoyed independence in office and in his personal life. "The threat made by the AG seems not to be resting on the issue at hand," said Philbert. He said he "considers this to be a dangerous practice, if it is so." He said he has always shown respect for the office of Attorney General "and reciprocity is important in this regard." Philbert said: "The importance and independence of the office of Attorney General cannot be overstated and all issues that are under the preview of the Attorney General should be dealt with in a fair and unbiased manner."
In his earlier statement, Ramlogan had said that both the Integrity Commission and the Police Service were empowered under law to act in the matter. The AG said Philbert was "alerted" about the looting at the church and his intervention was sought via the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Ramlogan said Philbert's failure or refusal to act was a question that "only the Commissioner of Police himself and God could answer." He said he would explore a legal option on the state's behalf about the property.