"Unfortunate" is how Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar chose to describe the manner in which her Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan, sought to engage Ag Commissioner of Police James Philbert over the non-action of the police on the looting at the Guanapo church.
The Prime Minister rushed the subject off the agenda of her news conference at the Parliament last Friday, suggesting to the reporters to the effect that the subject was closed, she having held discussions with Deputy Commissioner Stephen Williams, himself now acting in the role of CoP. The hope is that notwithstanding her euphemistic characterisation of the matter at the news conference, the Prime Minister would have dealt privately and severely with her young Attorney General and urged him to stay away from attempting to cross dangerous lines and the manner of his attitude to the commissioner. The source of Ramlogan's tirade against Philbert was the looting at the Guanapo church site and the seeming refusal of the police to prevent the free-for-all carting away of building materials from the site.
But in addition to the attack on the commissioner with "full force," Ramlogan also chided the Integrity Commission for not securing the site, more so that the commission is involved in investigating the financing and other aspects of the church project. But Ramlogan's attack on the commissioner was most trenchant: he, not too diplomatically, suggested that the Minister of National Security, Brigadier Sandy, should point Philbert in the direction of his supposed negligence. He warned that if he, the Ag CoP, "does not have good answers his tenure is coming to an end and it may very well be that it will come to an accelerated, premature end," reported the newspapers. AG Ramlogan went further to outline how the task of getting rid of Philbert would be preceded with, saying that a new Police Service Commission, the body which has the power to install a new Ag CoP, and which appointed Philbert to act for another three months, would have the responsibility to cut his tenure short.
Those are some dangerous waters for AG Ramlogan to go swimming and/or fishing in. They are dangerous because it could be interpreted that the AG is before hand determining the agenda for the new PSC and what decisions it should take in respect to the Ag CoP. Further, when it is considered that it is the responsibility of the President of the Republic to appoint a PSC, after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, the conclusion can easily be arrived at that here is the AG speaking as if he (the Government) has charge of the appointment and the function of the PSC. Surely the AG needs no one to tell him that the PSC, a constitutionally appointed body, has the power to set its own agenda of work and not follow the agenda of the AG or anyone else, and would certainly have the power and responsibility to act in its own deliberate judgment as to whether or not Ag CoP Philbert was in dereliction of his duty.�
In the circumstances, the response of Philbert was most appropriate: "The Attorney General has exhibited contempt, disdain, bias and animosity to the office of the Commissioner of Police." The AG also charged Ag CoP Philbert for ignoring the mandate of the Director of Public Prosecutions to act to secure the site. Here again the CoP had a very different take on that contention, saying that he and the DPP agreed on the technical, legal concerns about the police securing the site and that he had done all that was required of him by the DPP. In fact Ag CoP Philbert noted in his release to the media that the AG came to a conclusion on what was agreed to between himself and the DPP "without consulting the Commissioner of Police (Ag) or apprising himself of the true advice given to the commissioner by the DPP."�We have not heard from the DPP on the veracity of the two statements. There are also differing legal opinions on who had the power to act to prevent the looting. But even if it is assumed that the CoP had been negligent of his duties or not understanding of them, did corrective action require the "vex, vex" public response of the AG? As others have observed, AG Ramlogan has to make the transition from being the brash adversarial and macho defence attorney to adopting the position of the chief legal officer in the Government.
In such a position he is expected to avoid unnecessary antagonism amongst government institutions and certainly not to allow the perception to develop that maybe he is crossing over into territory in which he has no jurisdiction. Soon enough, if such intemperate behaviour continues, the perception will arise that the AG is engaged in political warfare against those he deems to be "enemies" of the ruling party. Clearly understanding the difficulty of the situation arising because of her AG's misadventure, and bringing her own maturity to the situation, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar called together the police hierarchy and the Minister of National Security to develop a strategy to act on Guanapo and other matters concerned with national security. Such an initiative, taken first before confronting the CoP, would have certainly achieved the objective of the AG for the action required to prevent the looting.�The People's Partnership has serious work to do to transform the polity and economy, to redirect social development and to counter criminal activity.
Indeed, the party has its own internal structuring and moulding to do amongst its constituent elements; and it should not be forgotten that it is preparing and mobilising for local government polls and looking towards presenting a budget in circumstances of a projected $7 billion budget deficit. A government with the kind of majority and goodwill held by the People's Partnership cannot afford to waste it by getting into unnecessary and unseemly fights with the CoP. The Partnership has to save and nurture that political currency to use when there is fallout from the difficult economic decisions it must inevitably take.