By Peter Richards
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, Monday night, dismissed her National Security Minister, Gary Griffith, in a major Cabinet re-shuffle that also saw the removal of attorney general, Anand Ramlogan, who is facing a police investigation into allegations that he sought to pervert the course of justice.
In a 20-minute radio and television broadcast to the nation, Prime Minister Persad Bissesar also announced the removal of her ministers of Sports, Dr. Rupert Griffith, and the Minister of Justice, Emmanuel George.
She has named former High Commissioner Garvin Nicholson as the new Attorney General and retired Brigadier General Carl Alfonso as the new Minister of National Security.
In addition, she named former national footballer, Brent Sancho, as the new Sports Minister and Christine Hosein, as Minister of the People and Social Development, a post previously held by the prime minister.
She has also removed Stacy Roopnarine from the Ministry of Transport and Works to the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development and revoked the appointments of Senate President Timothy Hamel Smith and Embau Mohini in her fourth Cabinet-re-shuffle since coming to power in 2010.
The Cabinet re-shuffle comes amidst the controversy that erupted last month, after the director of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), David West said he sent a written complaint to the Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams, alleging that Ramlogan had sought to have him withdraw a witness statement he had made in support of Opposition leader Dr. Keith Rowley, who has been sued by Ramlogan.
The lawsuit followed a statement allegedly made by Rowley during a news conference relating to the failed extradition involving Section 34 applicants, Steve Ferguson and Ishwar Galbaransingh, to the United States on corruption charges.
Ramlogan has denied that he asked West to withdraw his witness statement in support of Rowley six days before the PCA director took up his new post.
In her broadcast, Prime Minister Persad Bissessar said despite the fact that the country is on a “cusp of a general election” she was determined to take decisive action in dealing with the situation confronting her coalition administration.
“For me, my position as Prime Minister has always been a selfless task and one which I felt humbled to have been granted,” she told the nation, indicating that Griffith had become embroiled in the controversy involving Ramlogan and West.
“It is alleged that the Minister on the advice of the AG telephoned the director of the PCA to query whether he, the director, had withdrawn a statement. That alleged incident also forms part of the police inquiry,” she said, that Griffith had confirmed that he had in fact made such a call.
“Upon placing that call, the minister did not consult with me nor make it known the details of his conversation with the director of the PCA. The minister also did not report to me, the request or the alleged request of the attorney general either before or after the call to the director of the PCA.
“And so the question is whether the minister was not under an obligation to inform me as prime minister that such a request, alleged, had been made or such a call had been made. I say the situation may well have been different today had this matter been brought to my attention earlier,” she told the nation.
Prime Minister Persad Bissessar said she had requested and received statements from Griffith and Ramlogan on the issue and was also privy to the “reported statement” of West.
“My perusal of these reports from the AG and the minister of national security and my perusal of the reported statements of director West, I have discerned the material facts contained therein are in conflict with each other,” she said, acknowledging, “I cannot be judge and jury to determine the truth or veracity of any or all of these material facts contained in the various statements.”
“Whilst I am not in a position to determine neither guilt nor innocence in this matter, it is of grave enough consequence to warrant very serious consideration and immediate action. I cannot and will not sit idly by whilst the Office of the Attorney General and that of the Minister of National Security, as well as the head of the Police Complaints Authority, are being compromised and brought into disrepute by such allegations which have warranted a police inquiry.”
She said those office holders preside over the administration of justice “and so they cannot remain in those positions whilst these investigations into allegations are being made.”
She said she had asked and received the resignation of Ramlogan and Griffith.
She said she was perturbed at the compromised position of West, whose appointment was made by the President after consultation with her and Rowley last November.
She said questions must also be asked as to why west had not made known to her or President Anthony Carmona his interest in the Ramlogan-Rowley case and she also questioned whether or not Rowley knew of the situation before agreeing to West’s nomination.
“It is my respectful view that it was obligatory, not mandatory, to have informed me and or his Excellency. Failure by the Opposition Leader to do so at the time does create doubt to any independent observer as to why no mention was made at the time of appointment and why was there such a delay between November and when the appointment was made and now,” she said.
She said given the political sensitivity of the alleged incident “I think respectfully it would have been…mandatory that both myself and His Excellency the President be informed.
“Withholding such information has seriously compromised the appointment of the director of the PCA. It is my view, therefore, that the director of the PCA should immediately resign and or his appointment be revoked.”
She acknowledged though that the PCA is an independent institution and that it would be “impossible given the present situation that the head can continue to hold his position without the very institution he leads also being called into question.
“The head of the PCA has the responsibility to investigate complaints against police officers and so he would find himself doing so now whilst he himself has filed a matter for investigation to the Commissioner of Police.
“The thread of conflict of interest, or perception thereof, clearly emerges and compromises the role of the head of the Police Complaints Authority,” she said, adding, “there are more questions than answers in this entire scenario.”
She said she was also calling for “an independent probe” to be conducted into the questions surrounding the appointment of West and that the “chips fall where they may”.