By CELESTE NIXON
Tribune Staff Reporter
SECTIONS of the Police Force Act violate the Constitution of the Bahamas and should be repealed, National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage said.
Speaking in the House of Assembly yesterday, Dr Nottage tabled a Bill to repeal provisions of the Police Force Act 2009, which limit the tenure of the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Police.
Opening the debate, Dr Nottage said the Constitution recognises the “importance of safeguarding” the position of the Police Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner.
He said sections 7(2) and 7(3) of the Police Force Act, which limit the tenure of that position to five years, possibly extended but not exceeding an additional five years, is in direct violation with the constitution and severely compromises the impartiality of the Commissioner of Police and Deputy.
Additionally, Dr Nottage said, the provisions in the Act did not follow the proper procedures to amend the constitution.
“As the Commissioner has direct responsibility of maintaining peace and security,” said Dr Nottage, “he must not only be impartial but he must also appear to be impartial – what is more unthinkable, really so that after passing the provision which purports to give the Prime Minister the effective authority to fire the Commissioner of Police, they would then accuse others of interfering with the Force – unbelievable.
“What is equally damning about the passage of this provision is that the then government lacked legislative authority in that manner. No government under our constitutional democracy is empowered to change the constitution without evoking the procedures as contained in the document.”
The constitution makes provisions for the removal of the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Police, which the Governor General can do on the advice of an appointed tribunal as specified under the constitution. Dr Nottage said passing the section 7(2) of the Police Force Act, the former government directly contradicted the protection provided to the Commissioner.
“The constitution clearly outlines the manner in which a person is to be appointed and removed from the post as Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner of Police,” he said.
“By including this provision, the Ingraham administration sought to erase years of constitutional norms and ignore the serious legal consequences which a constitutional challenge, should any government ever seek to invoke the provisions, would pose to the stability of our democracy.”
By proposing this bill the government seeks to “correct this most egregious violation of the sacred trust placed in this House,” said Dr Nottage.
Opposing the bill during his contribution to the debate, MP for Grand Bahama Neko Grant said the Police Force Act was a progressive bill by which the FNM government sought to modernise legislation and put important positions on a contractual basis, with performance based renewals.
“Critical leadership positions such as Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner should change periodically to ensure that new vision, ideas and innovation are introduced into the Force at the highest level, and on a continuous basis,” said Mr Grant. “It should be action with a timeline – Commissioners of Police and Deputy Commissioners of Police must do more than identify themselves by the office they hold.
“Rather, they should seek to identify themselves and their legacy on the Police Force by the progressive agenda they set, their capacity to provide the quality of leadership that would motivate the men and women of the Force to accomplish priority goals and objectives, and the overall contribution they make to the growth and development of the Force, in the interest of ensuring the safety.”
According to Mr Grant, if the “succession by promotion” rule is followed and if permitted to serve until the retirement age of 65 years old, it is possible a Commissioner or his deputy to serve for 15-20 years, which is open-ended.
Fixed terms provide a strong incentive for all police officers to work hard to progress through the ranks, he said.
“Contractual engagement is the way forward. As legislators we are on a five year contract which will be renewed based on our performance.”