Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has called for the resignation of President Paula-Mae Weekes, saying she is now “disgracing and debasing” her office by her actions.
The former prime minister said yesterday that President Weekes must demit office following her latest recommendation of a PNM supporter—attorney Ernest Koylass—for appointment to the Police Service Commission (PolSC).
Persad-Bissessar said she was further alarmed by the swift manner in which the President moved to issue PolSC notifications in respect of retired Justice of Appeal Judith Jones and Maxine Attong as PolSC nominees—without waiting for the views from the Opposition Leader.
“Her Excellency is either wilfully seeking to obstruct the functioning of an independent PolSC through blatant political partisan appointments, or she is now taking instructions directly from the Rowley Government?” asked Persad-Bissessar.
“This entire episode paints an extremely grim picture of our democracy under this Rowley Government. In order to protect the dignity of her esteemed office, Her Excellency must accept the part she has played in the sorry episode and immediately resign,” she added.
In a release yesterday, Persad-Bissessar stated that given the controversial manner in which the PolSC collapsed, one would have hoped that the President would have exercised better judgment in attempting to repair the serious constitutional crisis that has arisen.
She took issue with Koylass’ name as a recommendation, as she noted that a quick Google search indicated significant ties to high-ranking members of the ruling PNM.
Persad-Bissessar stated that according to a report in the Trinidad Guardian on January 25, 2012, then-Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley “warmly welcomed” Koylass to join the “PNM family” at a PNM cottage meeting in Moruga.
She added that in 2017 Koylass represented the then-Minister of Housing in a legal matter against homeless residents.
Persad-Bissessar added that in the weeks leading up to the 2020 general election, Koylass hosted a cocktail reception for now-Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
She stated that Koylass’ law firm also employed current PNM Senator Randall Mitchell. “Mr Koylass has a right to choose his political associations, but by no stretch of the imagination can he be considered free of political conflicts of interest,” stated Persad-Bissessar.
“The fact that the Police Service Commission collapsed due to the dark spectre of political interference hanging over it makes the selection of Mr Koylass extremely alarming,” she added.
Persad-Bissessar stated that she will not support Koylass’ nomination.
The Express contacted Koylass yesterday and asked about his political affiliation which Persad-Bissessar raised, to which he responded: “I love the Opposition Leader.”
Persad-Bissessar told the Express by phone that last Thursday, October 7, the President communicated with her via three letters putting forward the names of Koylass, Jones and Attong as PolSC nominees.
Persad-Bissessar noted that she was at the time busy preparing for the national budget reply on Friday, but had commenced enquiries into the names put forward by the President.
Yesterday the President issued a statement confirming that Jones and Attong were nominated.
Koylass was not.
In another statement later yesterday, Persad-Bissessar said it was “extremely peculiar” that Koylass’ name was removed without explanation from the list.
She noted it came a day after she sounded an alarm over his PNM political ties.
“Her Excellency the President has become more entangled in a web of inappropriate conduct,” she stated.
Persad-Bissessar said as a responsible Opposition, she commenced research and enquiries into the three individuals the President put forward to be on the PolSC.
Persad-Bissessar said the President gave her an inadequate two working days—October 8 and 10—to do her research, adding that the President appeared to be rushing through the nominations in order to prevent proper scrutiny and investigation of her nominees.
“Further, I am not a rubber stamp for these nominations, and careful consideration and examination must be made,” Persad-Bissessar added.
She said it was alarming that the nominations of two commissioners on the PolSC were sent to Parliament without the views of the Opposition Leader.
Persad-Bissessar stated that Weekes has questions to answer:
1. Why was the PolSC merit list for acting Commissioner of Police not presented to the Parliament?
2. Was it Prime Minister Keith Rowley who interfered with the PolSC merit list at President’s House to disrupt the process of the appointment of the acting Police Commissioner?
3. Was Ernest Koylass’ name deliberately removed from the nomination list after his close associations with the PNM became public, and if so, on whose instruction was this done?
4. Why is Her Excellency attempting to rush through names to the Parliament, without the input and views of the Leader of the Opposition?
5. When will the President respond to a letter sent to her signed by all 19 Opposition MPs concerning the events of the PolSC scandal?
No moral authority
Persad-Bissessar stated that until Weekes tells the nation all the details about the now-infamous interference meeting, she has no moral or ethical authority to make new PolSC appointments.
“She is now disgracing and debasing the Office of the President by her actions,” the Opposition Leader stated.
Speaking at the UNC Monday Night Forum, Persad-Bissessar said the President still owed the country an explanation for the chaos that ensued under her purview with the former PolSC that collapsed.
Persad-Bissessar reminded that she had asked in the Parliament if it was Rowley who went to President’s House to interfere in the process of appointing a Police Commissioner.
She noted the Sunday Express report, where the Prime Minister said, “I do my duty,” when asked if he was the public official who visited President’s House.
“I think he should have just said, ‘Yes, it was me,’ and end the story. It is an admission, it was in fact he who met the President to try and interfere with the merit list,” said Persad-Bissessar.
“This is not only wrong, but it is also an insult to our Constitution and everything that our democracy is built upon. Why are you, as Prime Minister, trying to influence the President?” she asked.