Former Trinidad national security minister appointed police commissioner amid controversy and high-murder rate
By Youri Kemp
Caribbean News Now associate editor
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — Former United National Congress (UNC) minister for national security, Gary Griffith, has been appointed to become the new commissioner of police for the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) on July 30 in a parliamentary debate on his confirmation and subsequent appointment.
In the vote in parliament on Monday, Griffith won his appointment on a vote of 19 for, none against, with 13 abstentions, with the full support of current prime minister and leader of the governing People’s National Movement (PNM), Dr Keith Rowley.
After his appointment confirmation, Griffith said in a statement: “To those law abiding citizens who have been sceptical of this decision made, it is my intention to win over your trust and support in the very near future. To those within the Service who may also share concerns, I assure you, I am well aware that I can never do this on my own, and I am certain, despite what is reported in the mainstream media, those who took the oath to protect and serve, will do so with pride. We are all aware that a team is as strong as its weakest link, and part of my role is to ensure all links are bolstered.”
Griffith served as minister for national security in former UNC prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s cabinet from 2013 to 2015, until he was fired from his post after controversy over his involvement in allegations against then attorney general, Anand Ramlogan, when it was alleged that Ramlogan had sought to pervert the course of justice by asking the director of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), David West, six days prior to his appointment, to withdraw a witness statement he had made in support of Rowley as then opposition leader, in a defamation lawsuit.
It was also alleged that Griffith was “pressured” by colleagues in the UNC cabinet also to withdraw statements in support of Rowley over the matter with West and Ramlogan, escalating from a 2013 incident involving the “Section 34 fiasco” and the subsequent “Emailgate”, in which Rowley alleged in a series of “leaked” fake emails read in parliament that serious misconduct on the part of those involved had occurred.
Rowley, in a parliamentary session in 2013, read a thread of 31 purported email messages in Parliament purporting to be a conversation between four people, whose email accounts were similar to those of Persad-Bissessar, Ramlogan, Griffith and former works and infrastructure minister in the Persad-Bissessar cabinet, Suruj Rambachan.
Rowley alleged that the persons involved were suppressing information on the controversial Section 34 issue, which came into effect in August 2012 and sought to dismiss criminal charges in long-standing cases – widely believed to have been enacted purely to benefit major UNC financiers accused of massive fraud.
In the related and even more controversial matter dubbed “Emailgate”, Ramlogan was arrested in April of 2017 in connection with this and accused of witness tampering and the perversion of justice. Ramlogan dropped the defamation lawsuit in May 2017, one month later, and both sides agreed to bear their own costs.
When Emailgate first surfaced in 2013, Rowley said in parliament that Griffith was the only one to have turned in his device and asked that open access be given to his email account.
Griffith claims that he did “the right thing” in the matter and in no way regrets the decisions he made during the affair with regard to his handling of the matter.
Rowley, while delivering his contribution to parliament in relation to Griffith’s appointment, stated: “…from the opposition, I observed him (Griffith) becoming a pariah in the government because he was prepared to speak truth to power.”
“He was prepared to be fired in a job that he loved but he spoke the truth to the country and if there is a legal matter going on today his testimony is there and he will be crossed-examined in court,” alluding to the Ramlogan and “Emailgate” matters.
Rowley also made note of Griffith’s stance on “Life Sport” and his support of the programme as a reason for supporting Griffith to become police chief.
“It was supposed to be either $6 or $8 million worth. It eventually turned out to be a $400 million criminal empire that was being funded by the state. It led to murder and mayhem. It led to a level of criminality in the East-West corridor never seen before in the history of T&T,” he said.
Rowley went on to add that Griffith was “in the forefront of alerting the public and standing on what he believed in against a Cabinet that was prepared to defend Anil Roberts and Life Sport in T&T.”
Persad-Bissessar was one of those who abstained from the vote on Griffith’s appointment.
Before his appointment as Cabinet minister in the Persad-Bissessar administration, Griffith served on the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force for 15 years, rising to the level of captain. He was also an aide to former prime minister, Basdeo Panday, as well as holding several other public service appointments in the defence services.
He also holds a Master’s of Science degree in Security Management from the Department of Criminology from the University of Leicester, United Kingdom, as well as working in several other public service related roles over the course of his career.
Griffith’s appointment comes at a time when the murder count in Trinidad and Tobago is estimated at over 320 for this year up to July 31 and is trending to hit some 540-plus murders for 2018.
The murder rate has steadily increased since the government changed hands after the 2015 general election with an estimated 410, 463 and 494 in 2015, 2016 and 2017 respectively.
The murder record was set in 2008 under the Patrick Manning-led PNM administration with 550 murders for that year. This year, 2018 may come close to or beat that infamous record if the trend persists.
Griffith, who was first appointed as national security adviser to Persad-Bissessar in 2010, was a part of a team that saw the murder rate decrease to as low as 384 in 2011, prior to him becoming the substantive Minister for National Security in 2013 with an average rate between then to his dismissal in 2015 at roughly 407 murders.
In 2015 the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that Trinidad ranked tenth on the list of countries with the highest murder rate per capita, with 30.88 per 100,000 residents, well above the world average of 6.2 and the Americas average of 16.3.