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…Attorney Pieters urges opposition activate Article 94 against President Ali
…says President breached Constitution in attempting to influence Police Service Commission
By Svetlana Marshall
Canada-based Attorney-at-Law Selwyn Pieters has made a case for President Irfaan Ali to be impeached on the grounds that he breached the Constitution, when he allegedly attempted to influence the Police Service Commission to promote officers within the Guyana Police Force, who are reportedly aligned with the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration.
“…Quite frankly a motion can be brought to impeach the President in Parliament, regardless of whether the motion is successful or not is beside the point but Article 94 of the Constitution provides for some accountability where the President violates the Constitution,” Pieters said.
Pieters, a legal practitioner of Guyanese parentage called to the Bars of Ontario, Canada; Trinidad and Tobago; and Guyana, has vast experience in education law, human rights, police law, criminal law, civil litigation, administrative, constitutional and public law. Currently, he represents the Police Service Commission, headed by Assistant Commissioner of Police (Ret’d), Paul Slowe.
While appearing on Politics 101 – an online programme hosted by Political Scientist, Dr. David Hinds on Thursday – Pieters submitted that the President can be impeached as he referenced to Article 94 of the Constitution. Article 94 states: “The President can be removed from office if he commits any violation of this Constitution or any gross misconduct. The procedure for removing him is prescribed by Article 180.”
Pieters said since taking Office in August, 2020, the PPP/C Government, in an attempt to seize total control of the Armed Forces, has been attempting to influence the promotion of certain officers within the Police Force and the suppression of others, such as Deputy Commissioner of Police, Paul Williams, who was reassigned to the Civil Defence Commission (CDC), and the Assistant Police Commissioner, Royston Andries-Junor, who was removed from the helm of the Force’s Public Relations Department, and replaced by civilians.
AN ABUSE OF POWER
President Ali and his Administration turned their attention to the Police Service Commission in September, 2020 and when their reported demands were not met, the Commissioners were confronted with allegations of fraud, in the case of the Chairman, and Commissioner Clinton Conway; and accused of being partisan – before their purported suspension last month.
Though not denying that he made contact with the Chairman of the Police Service Commission, Paul Slowe thrice between September and December, 2020, President Ali, on May 31, said he never attempted to influence the promotion of certain senior police officers within the Police Force. The Head of State issued the statement hours after Slowe, during a press conference, accused him of lobbying for Senior Superintendents Calvin Brutus and Fazil Karimbaksh to be promoted notwithstanding the fact that disciplinary charges have been instituted against them for misconduct.
Slowe told reporters that the President subjected him to a meeting on September 16, 2020 to make a case for Brutus, and Karimbaksh to be promoted. He said the president subsequently called him later in September and then in December, 2020 with the last phone call being very uncordial.
“He [the President] wanted to know why ‘his people’ Brutus and Karimbaksh were not on the shortlist…It was a rough conversation, raised voice, very angry and then the conservation was terminated, the president terminated the conversation,” Slowe said as he detailed aspects of a conversation he and the President had on December 23, 2020, hours after the Police Service Commission had shortlisted a number of senior officers of the Guyana Police Force for promotion.
Just days before the High Court was expected to rule on the case brought by Brutus, challenging his exclusion from the Commission’s List of Promotions, the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU), for which Karimbaksh heads, instituted charges against Slowe, Conway and seven others for conspiracy to defraud the Police Force of $10M. Both Slowe and Conway denied the allegations.
The ruling in the case brought by Brutus and others was delayed at least twice, and during that period, the Commission faced additional allegations and was eventually suspended ahead of the June 28 ruling in the High Court. On June 1, Prime Minister Mark Phillips wrote each of the Commissioners and asked that they show cause why he should not recommend to the President that they be removed from office over their involvement in a constitutional matter brought by A Partnership for National Unity+ Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Member of Parliament Ganesh Mahipaul challenging the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act.
But the Commissioners, through Pieters, informed the Prime Minister that there was nothing unconstitutional about their involvement in the case. The President, nonetheless, on June 16, 2020 suspended the entire Police Service Commission, pending the completion of an investigation into their conduct.
“I have accepted the aforementioned advice and shall establish a tribunal in the manner prescribed by Article 225 which shall inquire into the matter and report on the fact therefore to me and recommend whether you ought to be removed from office,” the President said in a letter addressed to Commissioner Conway.
The letter further stated: “In the circumstances, you are hereby suspended with immediate effect from performing the functions of member of the Police Service Commission pending the establishment of the aforementioned tribunal.”
But when Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George, on June 28, ruled that there was nothing unlawful in considering disciplinary matters in the determination of whether Brutus and others should be promoted, the Commission, through Pieters informed the President that his “purported suspension” was illegal and it would therefore continue its work.
“If the Police Service Commission had bowed to the unconstitutional and sort of dictatorial, arbitrary, capricious and unlawful actions of the President, it would have set a bad precedent for other service commissions and even the judiciary,” Pieters said on Politics 101.
The Legal Counsel said the President suspended the Commission knowing fully well that critical conditions to the process had not been met. Such a move, he said, has placed President Ali “on bad constitutional footing.”
In his letter to the President on June 28, Pieters said the decision to suspend the Commission contravened the Constitution, in particular Article 225 (6), which sets out the conditions for the suspension and or removal of a Constitutional Officer from a Commission. Pieters explained that while Article 225 (6) stipulates that the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the prescribed authority, may suspend an Officer, only if the matter has been referred to a tribunal.
He noted that the prescribed authority, according to Article 210 (3), is the Chairman of the Commission and or the Prime Minister, however, the Chairman never proffered such advice in the case of the other Commissioners. Further, he pointed out that a Tribunal has not been established, and in the absence of a Judicial Service Commission, cannot be established.
“Respectfully, Your Excellency has no such power. Clearly, one cannot refer a question to a tribunal that does not yet exist. The proposed suspensions of the members of the Commission are therefore all premature, null, void and ultra vires Article 225,” the Attorney told President Ali.
Further, he pointed out that Article 225 (4) of the Constitution stipulates that the President must act in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission, in appointing a tribunal but there is no Judicial Service Commission in place.
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, had rejected the decision of the Commission to proceed with its work. The Attorney General said the decision of the President can only be rescinded, revoked, set-aside or reversed by the President himself, or by a court of competent jurisdiction. “No person, let alone, a constitutional commission, will be allowed to become judge, jury and executioner in our constitutional democracy. The Rule of Law simply does not permit it,” the Attorney General said in a statement issued on June 28.
But Pieters said the Attorney General knows better. “Mr Nandlall knows what the law is, Mr Nandlall knows how the law is applied and he cannot give the President advice to violate the Constitution; that is why Rudy Giuliani lost his license in New York; Judy Giuliani was giving the President of the United States bad advice, embarking on frivolous lawsuits in respect to the election in the United States,” Pieters said on the show.
The Attorney General, in a separate statement, said that the Commission was behaving like anarchists but the sentiment did not sit well with Pieters. “You are calling people anarchist when you are giving the President advice that is totally contrary to the law, that certainly puts the president at risk, because quite frankly a motion can be brought to impeach the President in Parliament regardless of whether the motion is successful or not is beside the point but Article 94 of the Constitution provides for some accountability where the President violates the Constitution,” Pieters said.
While taking a hit at the Opposition, Pieters, who have been critical of both the Government and the APNU+AFC, said the Ali Administration ought to be held accountable, iterating that there is a sufficient evidence to impeach the President.