Last Saturday this newspaper featured on its front page my story entitled Has Francois Accepted Five Million Dollar Handshake? The article centered on revelations from “normally reliable sources,” among them that “vacationing” Police Commissioner Vernon Francois had finally succumbed to official pressure to resign in the public interest.
Moreover, that he was poised to collect a cool $5 million dollars and other perks as his reward for accommodating government, for some time under pressure to act on the recommendations of the IMPACS report.More than one online media outlet also featured versions of the STAR report. One such source reported that Saint Lucia’s top cop Vernon Francois had “requested early retirement” and was awaiting word from the Public Service Commission.
Not surprisingly, when the Minister of National Security, Philip La Corbinere, was questioned by the media all he said was that the published stories were mere speculation. On an earlier occasion he had outright denied a STAR report that the US State Department had decided against further funding of Saint Lucia Police operations, including training, because the Kenny Anthony government had demonstrated a stubborn reluctance to look into what the US government had described as “gross human rights violations by the police.”
Not long after La Corbiniere’s public denial of the STAR revelation, the prime minister himself proved the justice minister less than truthful on the issue.
We have since learned the government had been trying quietly for months to persuade Francois—the main figure in the IMPACS controversy by virtue of his office—to retire ahead of time but the governor general may have got in the way of a settlement with her request for justification. (Is there a burned cake between Her Excellency and the prime minister? Is that why he recently reminded Saint Lucians of his power to fire her?)
Said our source, the government had no other choice but to persuade Francois to, more or less, resign voluntarily. We’ve been informed that for a time Francois played hardball, demanding that his name be cleared in advance of his convenient departure from the force. The prime minister had revealed on TV that the IMPACS report fingered the police commissioner for “willful blindness” in the alleged “extra-judicial execution” of several citizens between 2010-11.
The prime minister had also gone out of his way to say he had seen a related death list, which Francois insisted was only a working tool.
As we reported last week, usually reliable sources told this writer Francois and the government had finally arrived at an agreement. So much for the other story that it was Francois who had requested early retirement. Indeed, the commissioner had twice returned to work, only to be ordered back home “on vacation.”
Interesting to note, the justice minister has persistently refused to settle the matter, preferring instead to allow what he described as “mere speculation” to continue spreading, at the added expense of the beleaguered RSLPF.
Not that the majority of Saint Lucians place much faith in the minister’s word. Recently it was bruited about, and reported by the media, that the minister had reason to fear for his life, certain unidentified police officers being the reason.
Acting Commissioner Errol Alexander was quick to issue a denial of the reported threat. Coincidently, the minister has since been assigned half a dozen police bodyguards.
As I write the prime minister has described last week’s STAR report as “an adventure in absurdity.” Surprise, surprise, the prime minister, by his press secretary’s account, revealed during a press conference on Thursday: “Mr. Francois has opted to retire on his own accord and the process is not yet complete.” No reason was given for the sudden change of heart.
By Jadia JnPierre-Emmanuel’s informed account, the prime minister, referring to the $5 million settlement mentioned in our original story, said: “Five million dollars is astronomical. I have roads to build and things to do. As minister of finance I have not seen this figure.”
We have now been informed that Francois’ leave was up on Monday this week. But don’t go looking for him at police headquarters. Evidently he is too busy negotiating his voluntary retirement, whether or not in return for $5 million on top of his regular entitlements!