Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, attorney general and minister of Public Safety, has staunchly defended his inaction over the Michael Freeland auction scandal, arguing that neither portfolio gives him any authority to make inquiries into possible breaches of law.
Therefore, Benjamin has explicitly and unreservedly placed all responsibility for investigating the scandal on Wendell Robinson, Commissioner of Police and the police force which Robinson heads. “That is a matter for the police commissioner. He is responsible for the police force. He makes all decisions about the police,” Benjamin said on Monday.
The attorney general reached out to an OBSERVER reporter after Dr. David Hinds, a political analyst appeared on OBSERVER radio and was later quoted in THE Daily OBSERVER saying that the attorney general “has an obligation to mount an investigation as to whether any law was broken.” “Stop calling my name!” the attorney general declared on Monday.
He said he is concerned merely “with giving the government legal advice when it comes to legal issues” and any question of laws being broken should be directed to the police as well as the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
He has twice avoided answering the question from OBSERVER media reporters, once in December and again in January, of whether laws were breached in the auction scandal. Yesterday was the first time Benjamin addressed the issue. “I did not want to get involved, but I see that [there is] this misconceived path of asking the A.G. to act. Do not call my name when it comes to this matter!” he said a second time. However, on Sunday Dr. Hinds argued that in his capacity as the attorney general – the government’s chief legal advisor – Benjamin is obliged to apprise himself of the facts of the scandal and advise the government on whetherthere are breaches of the law that should be reported to the police.
When called again on Monday, Dr. Hinds likened Benjamin’s role as attorney general to that of a company lawyer advising the company following a scandal in one of its departments. His position was that if it appeared that laws were broken then the lawyer would be obliged to advise the company that a report should be made to the police.
When asked if as public safety minister he was concerned that the police seem to be ignoring the scandal of how, when and why former auctioneer and former senator Michael Freeland, in 2016, collected but then failed to surrender $119,866.50 in auction proceeds to the state, Benjamin simply reminded that he cannot direct them to do so. “I am the minister responsible for the police [but] I do not tell them what to do. I don’t get involved in the police action. Anytime the minister gets involved with the police that is political interference. I do not do that. Next thing, you guys are going to say that Cutie Benjamin is directing the police,” he said.
In the Police Act CAP 330, the Commissioner of Police is given “command” responsibility for the “superintendence” of the RPFAB “subject to the the general directions of the Minister” that minister being the minister responsible for the police, which in this case is the minister of public safety.
The minister is given limited responsibility for several aspects of administration of the police but does not have power to give specific directions.
Under the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda, the DPP is responsible for instituting and undertaking, for taking over and continuing, and for discontinuing at any stage “criminal proceedings against any person before any court in respect of any offence against any law.”