Since the Saint Lucia Labour government’s publicized demand that former Police Commissioner Vernon Francois retire “in the public interest” left him with a reputation altogether unmerited; since the somewhat sudden disposal of acting Commissioner Errol Alexander, there has been the drama in trying to appoint a successor. For those of particularly short memory, let me remind that the vacancy was twice advertised. In the first instance, every RSLPF application was arbitrarily “not shortlisted for an interview” with the exception of then out-going acting Commissioner Alexander.
Following interviews by the Public Service Commission, news hit the media that inspector Vern Garde, acting director at Bordelais Correctional Facility, and Errol Alexander were front-runners for the post of commissioner. For a while the word was that Garde’s application was guaranteed since he was widely perceived as close to the incumbent Saint Lucia Labour Party. Whether or not valid, the ostensible guarantee sprang a leak with the application by ASP Brian Samuel – the only serving member of RSLPF to have challenged the PSC’s earlier decision to reject him without first affording him an interview (he consequently filed an application for a judicial review and injunction before the high court against the PSC).
Soon after Samuel filed, the PSC withdrew its initial advertisement and replaced it with another, this time with changes to the benchmark qualifications that seemed designed to nullify Samuel’s application for an injunction. In any case his second application received similar treatment to his first. Again he filed an application for judicial review accompanied by an application for an injunction.
While he waited for a hearing, the Public Service Commission appointed current commissioner Severin Monchery, effective 1 April 2016. Monchery was appointed to fill the vacant post of commissioner, but for only six months. This appointment was made notwithstanding that then Acting Commissioner Errol Alexander still had a week to go before proceeding on pre-retirement leave. The sitting commissioner was, during his last week of service, effectively placed under the supervision of his subordinate. Those whom the gods wish to destroy and all that!
This move inspired widespread speculation among the RSLPF’s rank and file. A confirmed appointment on six months’ probation was altogether something new. The motive of such a snap and unprecedented appointment still remains a source of much discussion. Members are used to acting appointments followed by confirmation or non-confirmation, but not confirmation on six months’ probation. This caused more speculation as to what really was going on, keeping in mind their mental state. Some were of the view that this appointment was intended to just “block a hole” until after the general elections which, of course, the SLP fully expected to win. Others say the idea was simply to nullify Samuel’s second application for an injunction. However, government changed and the six months’ probation came and went with Monchery in charge until recently when the public became aware he had proceeded on vacation, leaving Milton Desir to hold the fort.
It’s no secret that Monchery inherited a force in deep crisis, unmotivated, non-productive and generally laissez-faire – in the popular view associated with the IMPACS investigations and a report yet to be brought to a judicial solution. Never before has the force been in such dire straits.
In the meantime criminals seem to operate without concern, free to kill, rape and rob helpless law-abiding citizens. In 2016 Saint Lucia recorded 31 homicides. As I write we have already recorded 15. Several days ago residents of Bois Patat complained to the media that they were under siege. Meanwhile the RSLPF appears more than ever insignificant, officers unable to keep their oath to protect the lives of citizens and their property – sufficient reason for enquiring minds to ask what really is the status of Saint Lucia’s lone security force.
Was the commissioner sent on leave because the government is dissatisfied with his performance? Did he voluntarily proceed on leave because the heat in the kitchen became too hot to bear? Did the captain desert his sinking ship with its helpless crew? Is the public aware how many officers have retired or resigned in the last few months? Forty, by reliable account. More are looking at other jobs, many blaming poor leadership, beginning with their minister. Many are fearful that a total breakdown of the force is imminent.
The prime minister recently advised the nation to expect an announcement from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the IMPACS report. Some five weeks later there has been no such announcement.