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Demand for West resignation unjustified

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Political spin doctors will tell you that the best way to deal with a swirling crisis is to change the topic of conversation.  There is absolutely no cause for David West to resign his post as director of the Police Complaints Authority. Therefore, the only explanation for the Prime Minister’s call for his resignation is to distract attention from the allegations made against Anand Ramlogan. And as planned, the talk for the past week has been primarily about Mr West, not Mr Ramlogan. 

The director of the PCA heads an organisation which is charged with the duty, broadly speaking, to investigate allegations of police corruption and serious police misconduct. Naturally, the framers of the enabling legislation sought to ensure that the person who was to be appointed would be independent and would possess the qualifications needed to head an organisation of this type, and they took care to cater for this in the act. It is not necessary to detail these provisions in this column because no one has suggested that Mr West is not a suitable and qualified candidate. 

What is being said is that Mr West ought to have disclosed to the President, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition that he was a witness in a defamation case brought by Mr Ramlogan against Dr Rowley and that Mr Ramlogan had asked him to withdraw his witness statement, in exchange for his appointment as director.

Now, it must be plain that neither of these matters could possibly affect Mr West’s ability to discharge his functions as director. Giving evidence in a defamation case, even on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition, could in no way hamper his ability to investigate police corruption and misconduct. Neither could the fact that, as he alleges, the then Attorney General approached him with an illicit proposition. 

However, I do think that it would have been appropriate for Mr West to have disclosed to the President both the fact that he was a witness for Dr Rowley and the alleged unlawful approach to him by Mr Ramlogan, but not for the reasons which have so far been suggested.

It ought to have occurred to Mr West that there was a possibility that the Prime Minister had put forward his name only to seek to persuade him not to give evidence against Mr Ramlogan. But that would have involved an assumption on his part that Mr Ramlogan had approached him with the Prime Minister's approval. 

It ought to have occurred to him as well that it was possible that Dr Rowley had agreed with the Prime Minister’s preferred candidate because he had agreed to be Dr Rowley's witness. In other words, it ought to have occurred to him that there was the possibility that he was being put forward as director for all the wrong reasons, even though he was otherwise qualified. 

Of course, this was not a conversation he could be expected to have had with either the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition, because it would have amounted to him attributing improper motives to both of them. But he could have, and in a perfect world, should have informed the President of this possibility. If only we could have the presence of mind to do what we can see so clearly in hindsight ought to have been done.

But before we criticise Mr West too harshly, put yourself in his position and imagine telling the President that you think that the Prime Minister has only supported your appointment so that you could do a favour for her Attorney General, without any evidence that she asked Ramlogan to approach you. The question is, should Mr West resign because he did not make these disclosures to the President?

It is obvious to me that he should not. We now know that Mr West’s name was put forward by the former minister of National Security and it is implicit from the Prime Minister’s statement that she knew nothing of any approach by Mr Ramlogan to Mr West.

So obviously, the Prime Minister did not put Mr West’s name forward because of what favours she could extract from him. The Leader of the Opposition has also stated publicly that he thought Mr West to be eminently qualified for the post, and in that he has not been contradicted. One therefore must suppose that the fact that Mr West was his witness did not play a major role in his decision. After all, it is the Prime Minster who first suggested Mr West, not Dr Rowley.

I pause here to note the most remarkable revelation by Mr Griffith that there were some in the Cabinet who opposed Mr West’s appointment because he criticised the Government on certain matters and, for that reason, was assumed to be PNM. Which means that to some Cabinet members you are disqualified from appointment to public office if you either exercise your democratic right to oppose government policies or you have sympathies with the opposing political party.  

A more revealing statement of political cronyism one could not imagine. If there ever was any cause for Mr Griffith to resign on his own accord, it was to rid himself of association with people of that ilk. Getting back to the point. Now that it is clear that Mr Ramlogan’s approach to Mr West and Mr West’s participation in the defamation case did not play a part in the decision to appoint him, on what basis then can his resignation or removal be justified?

Mr West has also been criticised for not reporting Mr Ramlogan to the police sooner. But any lawyer would tell you that such a report would have been pointless in October because it would have been his word against Mr Ramlogan’s. Things took a wholly different complexion when corroboration was provided by Mr Griffith later in the year. The report to the police was made within a month after that.

If he were to bow to pressure and resign, the message Mr West would send is that there is a price one must pay for reporting wrongdoing. Surely that is not a state of affairs that right thinking people should countenance.


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