December 4, 2006
Defending his government's decision earlier this year to hire 10 UK policemen to help in the fight on crime, St Lucia's Home Affairs Minister Calixte George repeated the earlier criticisms he had made of the Royal St Lucia Police Force and pointed to what he described as "endemic" corruption.
He told the BBC in November that part of the British officers' mission would be to try and root out the corrupt elements from the police force.
"St Lucia police is very weak, they lack management skills, they lack supervisory skills-- there are a lot of things that are deficient", Mr George told the BBC.
He added that "they (the UK policemen) are coming for coaching and mentoring our officers, for the transfer of specialised skills and competencies particularly in the area of management, crime analysis, intelligence and investigative techniques".
Three of the British policemen will assume senior positions - the rank of assistant commissioner. Their attachment came following the end of a consultancy to examine the force.
What Mr George had to say could be easily transplanted to the local milieu. There was another searing comparison with what transpired in Castries. This revelation came from a former Commissioner of Police on the island, Cuthbert Phillips. He argued that the government had to take some of the blame for the failures as "Based on the number of commission of inquiries, the various recommendations made, what they've been saying on how to operate the force- none of these things, no proper attention has been paid to it". This is eerily reminiscent of Symonds, the DFC and a host of other interventions; the paralysis of action that enables the march of organized crime.
Also noteworthy is the fact that St Lucia - like Trinidad and Jamaica - has finally decided that its police force is incapable by itself of beating back the tide of crime swamping the Caribbean. Others like St Vincent have also sought detectives from overseas for high-profile cases.
Here in Georgetown, it remains a strongly held view in some quarters that the PPP/C - party and government - is completely unwilling to steep the police force in a professional overhaul because this will translate into a loss of control over a key institution. This has to be the only reason why PPP/C governments have dithered for so long in making fundamental change. And despite mutterings from the government that foreign crime fighters might take up positions in the wake of Minister Sawh's murder and that overseas help would be enlisted in this dead-end probe not a single thing has happened. If assistance wasn't mobilized over the minister's murder it can hardly be kindled by gangland-type killings and other unexplained slayings.
And now with the Citizens Security Programme things are unlikely to move quickly considering the intensive steps usually entailed in funding from the IDB. As we all wait for comprehensive reforms, the argument adumbrated by Mr George about endemic corruption burns feverishly here and is highlighted by startling decisions and haunting failures.
There were three particularly disturbing occurrences over the last few weeks which should worry the law abiding citizenry and require convincing explanations from the police force and its commissioner.
The first has to do with the acquittal of the drug accused Mr Royston Penniston. The police's story is that the policeman who was to testify in this case absconded and was fired from the force. If this doesn't point to serious problems in the force regarding its ability to get its own ranks to testify in courts then nothing else will. Does the police force expect that the ordinary citizen will have the stomach and willpower to testify in these cases if the police themselves don't testify?
Then there was the case of Mr Gerald Pereira and the regulation boots. The policeman in this case was sick and unable to testify. Case dismissed. The policeman was more than likely genuinely ill but the dismissal of this matter on these grounds will lead to searching questions. And what of all the many adjournments given in trials like this? Surely the police could have pressed strongly for this on the grounds of the illness of its main witness?
And perhaps the most important of all these mistakes; the acquiescence by the police to an application to allow the charges against Ms Rhonda Gomes to be heard summarily, thereby paving the way for lighter penalties. Ms Gomes for the record was charged in connection with 11 kgs of cocaine, four grenades, two rifles and enough ammunition for a wild west shoot-out. It was a typically bungled and still-born police investigation. No one for a second thinks Ms Gomes has wielded an AK-47 with ammunition belts slung across her. Who was the mastermind is what the police force should have been industriously pursuing. Or is it the case that some of us don't want to know? Based on what was said in court there appeared to have been a half-hearted attempt at witness protection. If this is the manner in which such an important case will be prosecuted then the police force and the state are failing seriously in their obligations and compromising the security of the country.
The government must decide what it wants to do and act decisively. There is no doubt that corruption has eaten deeply into the sinews of the force and cosmetic change at this time will simply mask the excrescence until it erupts again. No one will argue that the placement of foreign personnel in top positions in the force will transform it overnight into a professional unit. However the recruitment of foreign expertise will certainly offer a fresh eye on things and interrupt the chain of corruption that shackles the force and prevents it from succeeding in important investigations.
A government that has been harried by accusations about connections with deaths squads and the drug business must be beyond reproach in a new term and it must begin to behave this way.