From time immemorial promotion has been a source of complaint within the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. It has been the foundation of dissatisfaction, frustration, demotivation, apathy, resignation, early retirement and so on.
Claims of unfairness, blatant discrimination and favoritism, victimization and so forth have been limitless. In all, the situation has been so bad that a most reliable source in the service said that, to the best of his judgement, the best and most competent police officers with whom he worked took premature retirement because of promotion frustration and on disenchantment.
My own research revealed that in an effort to address those promotion woes, around the late 1980s to early 90s, a process involving an exam and interview was instituted, but did not last long. According to my source, although this process was not perfect, it was many times better than what existed before, described as “the stroke of a pen” or “patronage system”. In short, that means if you were liked by a senior officer, or belonged to a particular club or you were prepared to kiss some butts, a recommendation would go up to the chief and, more than likely, your name would be ‘in the bag’ for the next promotions. After you got promoted you were then duty-bound to take this senior officer who recommended you to a bar and spend your last dime on the most expensive liquor.
However, the well-intended promotion selection process was short-lived because some of the liked ones, club members or butt-kissers could not pass. In fact, it is said that during that period there were officers who passed the exams with flying colours two or three times but never got promoted. Instead, those officers had to swallow the bitter pill of seeing those who failed the exams being promoted and attaining high ranks within the organization. No wonder the RSLPF’s performance or non-performance is a never-ending source of public outcry.
In recent times, a new attempt has been made to ameliorate those promotion woes by introducing promotion regulations but they include:
• A badly set exam, to the extent that officers could not find a correct answer amongst the four multiple choice options; and a compulsory question (which carried a high mark) set on sexual offenses which undoubtedly would have afforded a small group of officers engaged in investigating this type of offense on a daily basis an unfair advantage. Could you imagine that for the last two exams, the pass mark was set at a low 50%, or else the majority of persons would fail!
• A dubious group exercise which adds no value to the process other than an opportunity to cheat because if there are six officers in a group and three examiners, each examiner is responsible for observing and scoring two persons. And if one examiner marks a person unfairly too high or too low, the others cannot serve as checks and balance.
• A nonsensical interview during which an officer may have to prove his worth by answering ‘What was the theme for police week?’ or ‘What was the last police activity you attended?’
Over the last five or six years, this process, intended to cure some mischiefs, has actually created more strife, discord, frustration, anger and de-motivation. With this current process, scores are more important than valuable experience and job performance and commitment to the task. The result has been juniors being promoted to supervise their seniors who were their trainers, supervisors and mentors. It has also resulted in senior constables, corporals and sergeants who succeed through the process being on the reserve list for five to six years. The levels of discontent, apathy and anger this could breed are obvious. In a nutshell, it seems that the RSLPF will never get promotions right.
Now as if the promotion woes highlighted above were not enough, a new spin has been introduced in a current process. Having gone through a badly set exam, dubious group exercise and nonsensical interview, candidates are now required to undergo a polygraph test as determined by the national security minister. Section 4.8 of the Promotion Regulations states: “A candidate should not be promoted unless that candidate has been duly vetted and has been successful in the vetting. The vetting should be in accordance with the vetting standards recommended by the commissioner of police and approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs and National Security.”
I am informed that this section was inserted by government notwithstanding that section 94 (3) of the constitution states clearly that the power to appoint officers up to the rank of inspector is that of the commissioner of police. On this subject, I am reliably informed that there is actually a case before the courts challenging the constitutionality of the regulations. Therefore, I will say very little on this until the matter is decided but what I found strange is that the process is ongoing whilst the matter is in court.
Having said all the above, I wish to ask at what cost this polygraph exercise comes. I am reliably informed that it costs almost three hundred dollars per day for a polygraph examiner. With two polygraph examiners plus their meals, accommodation and travelling, and over seventy officers to be examined, one can only imagine the financial cost of this exercise.
This matter should be of serious concern to citizens because in an age where government cannot provide basic tools for the police such as communication radios, computers and printers, they can find this amount of money, which I am sure was not budgeted for, to determine whether a police officer should be promoted. Is this not the same government that was asking police officers and public servants to take a 5% pay cut? Is this the same government that cannot find funds to replace bug-infested furniture?
Furthermore, before the minister asks police officers to take a polygraph test, should not he and his cabinet colleagues lead by example by first taking such a test? Is this the same government which took people straight from the street and placed them in the forensic laboratory from where cocaine disappeared? Is there a drug king-pin in government and, if so, who is this king-pin?
The bottom line is the commissioner of police does not need to spend that amount of scarce resources to determine the suitability of the men and women under his command. It is my view that in small police organizations like ours, if the commissioner does not know the men and women under his command, then he should be fired.