The developing confrontation between the Prime Minister and the Commissioner of Police has the potential to sweep the nation into treacherous waters if not immediately addressed.
One would have expected differences between the Head of the Government and the Head of the Police Service to be hammered out within the confidentiality of a National Security Council meeting chaired by the Prime Minister. If that avenue has been exhausted, then this could be the start of a tumultuous relationship between the Executive and the TTPS that could only spell trouble.
It is clear that the TTPS has not been enforcing the Covid-19 public health regulations as expected by the Government. From the beginning, Commissioner Griffith has argued that they do not sufficiently empower the police to force public compliance and that the Government needed to effect laws that give police the powers they do not yet have. It is not clear exactly what legal powers he is seeking but the Prime Minister’s repeated statements that he disagrees with a demand for a state of emergency suggest that the Police Commissioner may well be seeking emergency powers given the Government’s difficulty in getting constitutional amendments through Parliament.
From the moment the first set of regulations were enacted it has been evident that the Government and the TTPS held different views and expectations of the public health regulations. These differences have created ambiguities and contradictions in policing which have negatively affected police enforcement and weakened the fight against Covid-19.
The situation has now escalated to the point where Commissioner Griffith has accused the Prime Minister of a race-motivated double-standard in now calling for the law to be “applied to every person regardless of race, colour, creed, class or social standing” after being silent when all political parties were breaching the ten-person limit on public gatherings during the recent election campaign.
The Commissioner is correct on that score. We heard no admonition from Dr Rowley when PNM supporters gathered in numbers far exceeding ten, masked and unmasked, at public events in which he participated. However, we must take issue with the TTPS’ failure to enforce the regulations in those situations which were open-and-shut cases of law-breaking. Today T&T is paying a heavy price in the Covid-19 infections and deaths that have resulted from the open flouting of regulations by political parties, aided and abetted by impotent policing.
In addition to the differences between the Government and the TTPS, the Cabinet also seems to be split on police powers under the public health regulations. At Saturday’s news conference, Dr Rowley called on National Security Minister, attorney Stuart Young, to provide a legal opinion on the issue. Minister Young obliged with an opinion that differed from the opinion previously expressed by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, the official attorney for the Government and the Cabinet. The PM’s request was inappropriate enough to raise the question of whether he has lost confidence in his AG.
We urge PM Rowley and Commissioner Griffith not to go down the road of confrontation but to seek resolution. Lives are depending on our leaders getting their act together.