The prolonged absence of the Director of Public Safety, Cary Levitre, has brought into question the current appointment process for the position. Under the current law, the President appoints the Director of Public Safety and may appoint an acting director should the position become vacant due to illness, death, or prolonged absence. However, there is no clear definition of what constitutes a “prolonged absence.”
The House Committee on Judiciary is currently considering a proposed bill, 11-120-12S, that would require the position to be administered under the government Civil Service and for applicants to comply with the Civil Service employment process. This would mean that the Director of Public Safety would be appointed and removed based on merit rather than at the pleasure of the President.
The Council of Chiefs has expressed support for the current system but with the additional requirement of Senate consent for presidential appointments. The Vice President and Minister of Justice also supported the House bill, recommending that “prolonged absence” be clarified by law and proposing a 14-day time limit.
“We believe it should remain within the province of the President to appoint and fire at will a Director who fails to carry out his or her duties faithfully and according to the law applied equally. However, we recommend that the appointment be subject to the advise and consent of the Senate,” the Council of Chiefs stated in their letter to the House JGA Committee Chairman Noah Kemesong.
The Attorney General’s legal opinion is that Director Levitre can manage Palau’s Bureau of Public Safety without being present in Palau. However, President Whipps Jr. has agreed that Mr. Levitre has been away longer than expected and has said he would contact him to find out what was happening.
The prolonged absence of Director Levitre has highlighted the need for a more transparent and merit-based appointment process for the Director of Public Safety. The House bill currently under consideration is a step in the right direction, but further clarification is needed to define “prolonged absence” and ensure that the position is filled with a qualified individual accountable to the people of Palau.