By SEAN DOUGLAS and Clint Chan
Thursday, November 14 2013
THE LOWER House last night voted to approve four members to join Prof Ramesh Deosaran on the Police Service Commission (PSC) — Professor Martin Anthony George, Addison Masefield Khan, Raomar Achat-Saney, and Dr James Kenneth Armstrong, despite the Opposition abstaining from voting on the latter two nominees.
The Opposition had earlier argued that Armstrong and Achat-Saney were ineligible for allegedly not fitting the criteria of the Constitution (section 122(3) as being persons “qualified and experienced in the discipline of law, finance, sociology or management”.
The four nominees were chosen by President Anthony Carmona in consultation with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley.
In crosstalk after the vote, Works Minister, Dr Suruj Rambachan, chided the Opposition for having argued at length against the duo, only to end up merely abstaining rather than voting against them.
However, Laventille/Morvant MP Donna Cox told Newsday the abstention was adequate to voice the Opposition’s concerns about the duo’s qualifications while not expressing anything negative against them personally.
While the Opposition in the debate had not opposed George or Khan, who are returning members, when the vote was put they said “no” and called for a division , as if to set the stage for Achat-Saney and Armstrong. Interestingly, when a division on Achat-Saney was called by Deputy Speaker Nela Khan, Opposition Chief Whip, Marlene Mc Donald, carelessly replied, “No!” only to hurriedly retract by saying, “Abstain. Sorry.” Government MP’s said, “No, no, no!” tauntingly trying to prevent her retraction. The rest of the Opposition bench duly voted to abstain. For Armstrong also all Opposition MPs abstained.
In the divisions, Achat-Saney and Armstrong were each approved by the votes of 21 MPs “for” and eight “abstain” with none “against”, while Khan and George were each unanimously approved. Khan, an attorney, is a former Industrial Court president, while George is also an attorney.
In the debate, Diego Martin North East MP Colm Imbert read the resumes of each of the duo and said Achat-Saney was an educator, while Armstrong’s field was urban planning, but with neither nominee qualified and experienced in law, finance, sociology or management.
However Attorney General (AG) Anand Ramlogan said the critieria of qualifications and experience should be regarded as a broad basket of virtues, which he said both of the duo possessed. Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal agreed saying most university courses done by the duo and their work experiences would have involved elements of financial management and administration respectively. Ramlogan likened the duo’s case to when the law courts had supported the former PNM administration’s nomination of Literature expert, Prof Selwyn Cudjoe, as suitably qualified to be a Central Bank director (for which the criteria was a background in finance, accounting, industry, law, commerce or administration). “This is a classic case of ‘do so, eh like so’,” he said. The AG singled out individual Opposition MPs as being qualified in one field, but serving in another capacity, such as one qualified in communications but serving in the Ministry of National Security.
Ramlogan said Armstrong had administrative experience as a senior official in the United Nations serving in Africa and the Caribbean, and at the Universities of Nairobi (Kenya) and Sussex (UK). Likewise, he said, Achat-Saney was formally qualified in law, and informally her past as an educator running a secondary school gave her experience in management of the Public Sector and in sociology. Earlier, Cox argued that Armstrong and Achat Saney did not satisfy the constitutional requirements to be PSC members, and had called on Government to withdraw the motions for all four nominees and “take a second look” for other persons who fit the bill.
Noting that former Public Service head Reginald Dumas, through former Attorney General Karl Hudson Phillips QC, had threatened legal action if the nominations of Achat Saney and Armstrong are approved, Cox warned Government to “prepare for legal challenges.”
Noting the critical role the PSC plays regarding the Police Service, Cox told Government MPs, “This is no dolly house here. This is a serious commission.”
When Moonilal opened debate he said, “When one looks collectively at the nominees presented by His Excellency, one would note their various spheres of education and experience, really align well with some of the challenges that we face at the level of the service commissions.” He said this was “particularly so, at the level of the PSC where what is required is extensive experience in management.”
Saying a “monolithic approach” has been used in the past to select persons to service commissions, Moonilal observed that “for the first time, in a long time possibly, we have now nominees who bring a breadth of skills across disciplines.”
Moonilal said Achat-Saney had stints with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Solicitor-General and Chief Parliamentary Counsel, before going into private practice.
He said her tenure as a teacher for 20 years and principal of the Fyzabad Secondary School gave her some experience in management. Moonilal said Armstrong’s work with United Nations agencies in the area of urban poverty, aptly qualified him to be a member of the PSC.