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Bad law, bad mind, rigged process
Posted: Sunday, June 27, 2010

By Lennox Grant
June 27, 2010 -

None was asked and no ceasefire was observed, so that, in the 30 days between the swearings-in of People's Partnership Ministers and the first Parliamentary sitting, maybe 45 murders made the news pages.

People kill people for reasons as unknown as the killers themselves, in a Trinidad and Tobago where nearly every murder is a mystery. At the house in Dow Village where Kojo Mahadeo was found shot in the head under his bed, police were last reported 'taking statements from relatives'. The 'science of policing' has become a social science. Poking around a crime scene and making penetrative deductions no longer describe the work of sleuths. Somebody must tell them whodunit. At Dow, officers were handing out a number to call, 652-0495: the South Homicide Bureau.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar is finding blood, among other detritus, on the floor of the citadel she inherited from Patrick Manning. In contempt of policy and practice, murders had only increased over the Manning years, and public despair is part of the bequest of the former to the new Prime Minister.

'There is too much crime going on in this country. People should try and change their ways,' a relative of Kojo Mahadeo told a reporter. As in a disinterested, sample response to a pollster, this relative was praying aloud for change, but without recognising the potential of any 'agency' to stop the killing. For the near-certainty of Kojo's becoming another murder mystery, she blamed no authority. People, she urged, meaning killers, should 'change their ways'.

Over nearly two decades, it has been settled conventional wisdom in T&T that to do something about crime is to do something about the police. Even before 2002, when National Security Minister Howard Chin Lee staged his mock-operatic pageant at the Hilton, crime had been represented as a cause of 'war'. Pacifist sentiments such as from Kojo's relative, notwithstanding, a 'war on crime' has been alleged officially to be on. Waging this 'war' has required the proper provisioning and drilling of the police troops and, above all, the posting of an officer-class leadership capable of instilling discipline and raising morale.

In public affairs, it has been the Big Cause of our time. To the late Jules Bernard, Police Commissioner in the 1990s, is credited the insight that holders of the position were far too under-empowered-as 'toothless bulldogs'-to deliver desirably macho, kick-ass, leadership. Prime Minister Manning, however, judged Mr Bernard himself to lack the right stuff. To take over, he had engaged a team of officers from Scotland Yard; the 'toothless' incumbent had to be got out of the way.

The project failed. Police Service Commission chairman Kenneth Lalla in 1993 refused Mr Manning's request to retire the commissioner 'in the public interest.' Here lies the origin of a lingering bad mind held by the former Prime Minister against service commissions, and also against the police-commissioner potential of local officers. By his second term, Manning's ambition had become radicalised: he sought the replacement of the Police Service Commission with a 'management' board, and kept alive the dream of a foreign police commissioner.

PNM bad mind met UNC bad mind. 'Police reform', as it was called, required UNC votes to amend the constitution. The opposition stood by its own terms, and the compromise treaty was wrung out in the form of Police Service Act 2006. It was to be the basis on which MPs, the Police Service Commission, officials, and the public, were eventually tied up in the knots of complexity and confusion, that showed up in the House on Friday.

Amazement reigned. Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar appeared in the role of defender of a system. Opposition Leader Keith Rowley, a PNM minister when the system had been first contrived, projects as a dissenter, now arguing that the last state is worse than the first from which the change had been sought. It was 'bad law', Dr Rowley said of the arrangements for headhunting and selecting a Police Commissioner, neglecting to note that he had himself voted for it. The 'bad law' had resulted, by this month, in a short list of nominees that excluded any T&T candidates.

In 2008, however, the same 'bad law' had produced an impressive result: Senior Superintendent Stephen Williams had beaten all contenders, local and foreign. He failed by the single, decisive, criterion: he was a T&T officer, based at Police Headquarters on Sackville Street and, for that reason, unacceptable to the Manning administration.

Then House Leader Colm Imbert led the attack on the Williams nomination, charging that the process by which he had triumphed was 'flawed'. Over the next 19 months the 'flaws' were corrected through issue of new 'legal notices'. In effect, the process, with 'flaws' removed, had been rigged to secure nomination of a full slate of foreigners. That had been the fervent mission of the Manning administration, whose MPs, as always, would uncomplainingly have voted for it.

By Friday, however, the Manning administration no longer existed; its memory nobody is available to honour. Embarrassed confusion prevailed. Dr Rowley propounds his new fundamentalism, favoring a 'national' as commissioner. Murders rise, as the new government accepts the inheritance of a 'war on crime.' But it too can yet find no commander-in-chief.

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