Our nation is choking on the noxious fumes of hearsay and cant. Casualties include once discerning citizens no longer capable of treating idle talk with palpable contempt and derision. But then in these trying topsy-turvy days of miracles and wonder the only recognizable normal is the ephemeral “new normal.”
Never mind the ever-faithful anticipators of promised better days, we exist in increasingly parlous, amoral times. Only last Tuesday, from the once sacred House floor, our prime minister grabbed another opportunity to blame public servants for the overwhelming smell of corruption, now more than ever associated with career politicians. Not atypically, he offered not the smallest evidence for his self-serving allegation that elected politicians are not nearly as corrupt as their staff.
More revealing was that none of his parliamentary colleagues voiced disagreement. Not even the above-it-all Speaker saw good reason to upbraid the prime minister for dumping that barrel of dirt on the defenseless public sector personnel—possibly the worst charge ever leveled at the presumed trustworthy servants of the people.
Less than a month earlier the prime minister had, for unexplained reasons, reminded the nation of his power to fire the governor general—as if indeed there existed among our ovine population any doubt about his near limitless authority, constitutional and otherwise. If only he’d exercise such puissance in the people’s best interest.
More recently the prime minister suggested the Public Service Commission was manned by eunuchs too lily-livered to take tough decisions. Were the prime minister’s discombobulating revelations related to the governor general’s stubborn refusal to participate in the on-going pretend game that requires police commissioner Vernon Francois to imitate a football?
This was how PSC chairman Wilbert Pierre transparently explained to HTS the commission’s recent invitation to the police commissioner to pick up his cross and walk: “We wrote to him letting him know we had certain information given to us with respect to his standing and that we were considering retiring him in the public interest. We gave him some time to respond because [that is what the process demands] any time you are going to pursue an action of that nature against an officer, unless it was disciplinary. And this time it was not.” Pierre kept to himself the identity of his source of “information given to us . . .”
He added: “We had to allow the officer time to agree or disagree. We allowed a certain amount of time to elapse, then wrote him a second letter.
We still did not hear from him . . . but some time after we got word that he was looking at, or pursuing, another form of exit.”
Yes, a mouthful. PSC personnel are not in the habit of explaining their staff-related decisions to the media. No matter, Pierre acknowledged “we” had received word Francois was seeking “another form of exit.” But the PSC leader offered not a word, not a word, not a word about the origin of the all-important “word” received secondhand about Francois’ escape plans.
Inadvertently or otherwise, the prime minister may have dropped a hint when last week he told the press Francois had opted to take early retirement—with no inducements. At any rate, not amounting to five million smackeroos. Such an amount, the prime minister chuckled nervously, would be far better spent on new roads. After all, fast approaching are the next general elections.
Claudius Francis dropped his own improvised explosive device a day or two later. Officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force, he told listeners to his radio show Straight Up, with at least one businessman and an undisclosed number of politicians were in confederacy against the government. “Operation Remove Kenny Anthony” was how Francis referred to the nefarious undertaking—leaving the impression that the best talents at the Creative Industries ministry had lately been burning the midnight coconut oil. And not for reasons tourism-related.
If the senator’s nightmarish IED was not enough incendiary to throw the nation further off kilter, the prime minister’s immediate concurrence with all Francis had claimed fueled the widespread suspicion that the force, the justice minister and the prime minister marched to different drums.
Last week this was the shepherd’s reassurance to his nervous flock: “As I stated during an interview on MBC-TV on Monday 21 September, I was aware of the situation even prior to Senator Francis’ utterances. There was nothing in Senator Francis’ statements which are [sic] inconsistent with the information which had reached me previously . . .” He added that upon the return to office of acting police commissioner Errol Alexander (it turns out he’s been in Jamaica—“on private business”—from the first week in September!) he would “request a thorough investigation of the matter.”
Meanwhile, from the Big Apple where he sought to address the UN General Assembly as the ghost of Odlum passed, the prime minister took time to communicate with Saint Lucia Times. The resultant report started this way: “The prime minister has said, amid the current controversy over allegations that a few police officers are plotting his overthrow, that he is not afraid of anyone.”
Additionally, he was “aware that a small group of police officers . . . a very small group, has planned to use the so-called Lambirds Affair and, more recently, the AIMU investigations to try to embarrass me personally and three other ministers in my Cabinet. The police force itself is not involved in this.” (Did he mean to say the suspect moonlighting cops were, to borrow from another prime minister in distress, “criminals under their police uniforms?”)
The online report quotes the current prime minister as saying “a senior officer” is at the center of the allegations and reportedly had boasted to colleagues and civilians alike about the plan “to bring down Kenny Anthony and the Labour government.” (The prime minister chose calculatedly to keep to himself and the senate president the identity of the criminal co-conspirators. Also whether charges had been laid against the evidently known individuals in the seditious group!)
According to the SLT report, the prime minister said: “Obviously this is fanciful. But it may confirm there are police officers who do not understand they cannot use the law for political purposes, no matter how much they may dislike the current administration.”
He questioned the motives of “the so-called investigators” whom he said had issued warrants “to search the offices of senior officials of the government of Saint Lucia, including ministers.”
“Did the officials in question ever suggest they would be unwilling to cooperate with the police in their investigations?” he asked. “Were they ever hostile to the police investigators?” Doubtless, the truth will out when the often-adjourned Lambirds matter comes to court.
In any event, magistrates and other authorized personnel normally issue warrants at the behest of the police, and only when applications have been meticulously considered and declared legally justified. Indeed, the prime minister had himself acknowledged this truth when he told SLT “search warrants are only issued when investigators have reason to believe witnesses will be hostile or they have incriminating evidence that they plan to hide or destroy.”
What possibly “incriminating evidence” might there have been at the commerce ministry that officials would want to “hide and destroy?” Hopefully none relating to Lambirds and AIMU!
The PM went on: “The real question is this: was the high command of the police force aware and did they authorize the issuance of these search warrants? We need answers to these questions to properly understand what occurred and why.”
We certainly do. It would be especially instructive to discover the identities of those the prime minister referred to as “the high command of the police.” Frances Henry? Errol Alexander? Also, the magistrate who had issued, according to the senate president, “surreptitious warrants”—whatever they might be!—to search government departments, and to what avail. Then again, the prime minister has been sounding on such matters a lot like a lawyer for the defense!
Returning to AIMU: the prime minister is yet to address publicly why his name continues to be listed in the establishment’s prospectus as a faculty member specializing in “legal ethics.”
Absolutely alarming is the prime minister’s reaction to suggestions that his televised comments in relation to the classified IMPACS report had proved demoralizing to the RSLPF: “The police force cannot be a sanctuary for those who openly engage in political activities under cover of the law. This is not just about the IMPACS report. It is about a small group of rogue officers seeking to deliberately embarrass a government with the sole intention of causing its downfall . . . We avoid publicly discussing the IMPACS report for the simple reason that we do not wish to cause any prejudice to the process of assessment of the findings of the investigating team.” (How does one “openly” engage “under cover?”)
Is he suggesting the police may have in their possession material that could prove embarrassing to government ministers if made public? What exactly does the prime minister mean, in the circumstances, by “embarrass?”
His last quoted statement certainly contradicts the verifiable truth that the prime minister had openly referred more than once to crucial details of the report, in some cases implicating police commissioner Vernon Francois, Stephenson King and businessmen unnamed.
In private life a lawyer, the prime minister is also on record as having determined much of what he claimed to have read from the report amounted to “extremely damning” evidence, at any rate by his own measure.
Moreover, that the police commissioner had engaged in “willful blindness” while gross human rights violations were carried out by a special police task force put together on the instructions of the prime minister’s immediate predecessor. Perhaps most disturbing to the nation was the prime minister’s televised revelation that the IMPACS report had confirmed his 2011 election-time pronouncement that he had seen “a death list” closely linked to extra-judicial executions.
It is conjectural whether there would have been an IMPACS investigation in the first place without the then leader of the House opposition’s public announcement, let alone the crippling related actions taken by the US State Department against the government of this country.
Referring to a recent public statement by Camron Laure, president of the Police Welfare Association, that IMPACS was having negative impact on the force, the PM told SLT: “The issue will not go away until we deal with it. What does Mr. Laure have to say about the officers whose visas have been canceled and cannot travel to the United States, whether on business or pleasure?
“Mr. Laure should answer this simple question: Is it in the public interest that the commissioner of police in Saint Lucia cannot travel to the United States to represent Saint Lucia to discuss security matters with the US government? Even when the commissioner of police travels to countries other than the US, more often than not the US would be a transit port. Mr. Laure should say whether the government of Saint Lucia should allow a situation where an entire police force is denied training by the US because of a cloud hanging over the heads of a few officers.” The prime minister stopped short of saying who had positioned the hanging cloud.
He added that the record will show that his government has not threatened any police officer “but has taken action in the interest of the country when such action is merited.” At least three officers would probably say otherwise!
It should be acknowledged, however, that no officer has been charged with an offense related to the prime minister’s comments on travel by local policemen to the US. So what does the PM mean when he says that all his government has done is “taken action in the interest of the country when such action is merited?” By whose authority was such action taken? Who decided such action was “merited?”
More hanging questions: Why is the commissioner barred from traveling to the US? Has a decision been taken regarding his fate locally? Who made the determination? A court? The PSC? Was justice served? Might the difficulties experienced by wannabe police travelers be connected with what reportedly the prime minister told the London Times, in relation to the Ollie Gobat murder (still unresolved nearly two years later), that our police “have a corruption problem?” A short time earlier he had promised Gobat’s parents “an arrest is imminent.”
Are our bewitched, battered and bewildered cops, and by extension the nation, paying the price of our prime minister’s persistent disregard for the Leahy Law?