Serious flaws and corruption.
That’s what Justice Stanley John unearthed while investigating the issuance of Firearms Users Licences (FULs) by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.
John was appointed by the former Bliss Seepersad-led Police Service Commission (PSC) to enquire into allegations of corruption in the issuance of FULs.
His scathing report has since been submitted to the PSC and reported on by the Sunday Express.
John said, “My investigation leaves me with the firm view of the existence within the TTPS of a highly dysfunctional system for processing applications for FULs and other related licences/permits. The system is replete with opportunities for illegal, irregular and other corrupt practices. Clearly, the advantage taken of these opportunities has been widespread.
“Indeed, the then-commissioner (Gary Griffith) has mentioned that he was aware of the significance of this problem by way of several reports made to him. His efforts to address it have clearly been woefully unsuccessful. His own explanation of his involvement in the process, in my opinion… was in breach of the law as set out in Section 16 of the Firearms Act. This has been a masterclass in dysfunctionalisation.”
Under the Firearms Act, it is the Commissioner of Police who grants approvals for FULs.
However, John said: “The commissioner has not performed the functions entrusted to him by law in relation to the issuance of firearm licences. To use his own language, he depended on the ‘integrity of the system’, a system which he admitted had serious flaws and opened itself to corruption.
“It does not appear that the commissioner satisfied himself that all applicants for firearms import permits, firearms user’s licences, firearm user’s (employee’s) certificates, and firearm dealer’s licences had good reasons for importing, purchasing, acquiring or having in their possession a firearm or ammunition without danger to the public safety or to the peace, or that there was any reason to believe those applicants were fit to be entrusted with a firearm or ammunition, in contravention of Section 17 (4) of the Firearms Act. Adherence to the provision of Section 17 (4) seemed to be the exception rather than the rule.
“I wish to state that notwithstanding commissioner Griffith’s philosophy that by issuing firearms to citizens, he was thereby genuinely reducing the opportunity for corruption, this investigation has found the contrary.”
John said it was his opinion that Griffith’s liberal policy had the potential to militarise sections of the society. “Such a policy as espoused by him (Griffith) has the potential, through inadvertence, to militarise sections of the society… There is no right to bear arms in our society. There is a right to apply for an FUL and if the applicant fulfils the legal requirements, then the commissioner, in the exercise of his discretion, may grant an FUL. The grant of a firearm is a privilege given to the citizen by the exercise of responsible discretion,” John said.
He added, “The law thus imposes a critical responsibility upon the CoP in the granting of licences to exercise a measured discretion of his judgment in assessing an application for an FUL and/or FDL.”
The report painted a worrying picture of the process used in granting FULs to members of the public, and noted that people who had pending matters for serious offences and convictions received FULs.