Ever since Dwayne Gibbs and Jack Ewatski were terminated, we have had administrative silence with respect to who will replace them on full appointments at the head of the police. In the vacuum of that silence, we have had locals Stephen Williams and Mervyn Richardson acting in their stead as Commissioner and acting Commissioner. We are also at our third Minister of National Security in three years. This kind of incoherence when it comes to leadership of the police compounds the problem of crime. It is beyond me why the authorities cannot see that an important public organisation such as the police must have settled leadership if it is to be governed decisively, and if morale in the organisation is to be high. On this issue we must call upon the Police Service Commission (PSC), and its chairman, Prof Ramesh Deosaran, to act proactively on behalf of the public on this matter, or to resign if it finds itself stymied.
In the Express of December 12, it was reported that at a news conference called by the PSC, chairman Deosaran was asked what was causing the hold-up, and he replied that his commission was in “wonder-land” as to when a substantive police commissioner and deputy commissioner would be appointed. That was last year. Wonderland seems to have now become purgatory.
Williams has been in this acting state since August 7, 2012. Initially his acting stint was to have been for six months. We are now in September 2013, so he has been acting for one year. Deosaran would not take any blame for the inaction of his commission, but neither has he or its members expressed any sense of outrage that the leadership of the police could be left dangling like that, or that the commission itself is appearing to be powerless on this question.
What Deosaran did at the news conference last year was pass the blame. He said the PSC was not dragging its feet. Rather, the blame should be placed with the Director of Personnel Administration, Gloria Edwards-Joseph. According to the Newsday of August 5, 2012, when Deosaran was asked how long it would take before the country could have a new commissioner in place, he said that for the recruitment process to begin Edwards-Joseph had to advertise the post, and this was a process that may not lead to the appointment of a new commissioner, whether local or foreign, any time soon.
Deosaran also said the Government had set up a review team to look at the process of selecting a police commissioner, and that this committee has made 40 recommendations to streamline the process. Oh Lord, put ah hand!
Though Mr Williams and Mr Richardson are professionals and bring much experience to their respective jobs, it cannot be good for them now the expats are gone, that the system is still using them, at a time when despite periods of dramatic murders, there is evidence of progress on crime. If these men are good enough to act for so long, they should be good enough to run the Police Service. The public will support this for sure. And the commission should recommend this. The public expects more from the PSC on this question than lame complaints and blame deflection. It is now time for the commission to act on behalf of the populace.
Since members of the PSC are appointed by the President of the country, the commission should write to President Anthony Carmona expressing their concerns that there has been inaction on the question of replacement of Gibbs and Ewatski, and that their hands are tied. I think the public will stand behind the commission if it shows that kind of backbone, and especially if it simply comes down on behalf of the incumbents based on annual evaluations. What we don’t need in this country is another set of American professors coming down here to tell us who is best suited to run the police. Why can’t we be driven by common sense and basic national resolve?
It is the case that the appointment of the commissioner and deputy commissioner are vital aspects of the remit of the Police Service Commission. As Dana Seetahal points out, the law on this, seen at Section 123 of the Constitution, says:
(1) The Police Service Commission shall have the power to:
(a) Appoint persons to hold or act in the office of Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Police;
(b) Make appointments on promotion and to confirm appointments.
But you can’t have power without authority.
One of our inheritances from colonial rule is cumbersome bureaucracy where there are multiple layers of indecision. This filtration model of administration can sometimes be deliberately slow. Each level can point to the one upstream or downstream from it, saying things are held up there. When politics is involved, the process itself becomes the scapegoat. I think the question that is holding up this appointment is “who we go put?” But when you are a commission appointed by the President of the country, you are not some powerless civil servant who is just a spot on an administrative conveyor belt, pushing things along, and waiting sometimes in wonderland, for action. You have to act.
In its Strategic Plan for the period 2011 to 2014, the PSC does indicate there are potential hindrances in its way as it tries to do its job. The document says:
“The analysis also highlights the inherent problems with moving the mission of the commission forward and the administrative challenges that prevail, with the unfortunate consequence of leaving the organisation as an inflexible and archaic bureaucratic system that inhibits productivity and its overall mission.”
The inactivity with respect to appointing a commissioner and deputy commissioner is a clear case of the inflexible or archaic bureaucratic system that the mission statement of the PSC warns about. So to its credit, the commission had long identified the enemy. And that enemy is history. Prof Deosaran has two options: (a) take a number and sit and wait in wonderland, now purgatory, hoping to be called to action; or (b) impel his commission into principled action on behalf of the public, even if it means having to resign should there be continued foot-dragging.
• Theodore Lewis is Professor
of Education at UWI, St Augustine.