Letters & Opinion

Stuck in the Mud and Belching Smoke – Part one

By David Prescod


The IMPACS issue is now centre-stage in the context of the continued threat to the institutional capacity of our country, and although other issues are in contention for this position, the matters arising from IMPACS must represent the most serious threat to our system of governance that we have encountered so far. Part I of this article presents a look at the events surrounding this report since the Prime Minister’s speech of August 20, 2013. Part II looks at events during the week of January 11-15, 2016.

Firstly, we note that the report is a confidential one, and that it has been seen, according to media reports, only by the Cabinet and the DPP. Secondly, the Prime Minister has placed certain information emanating from the report into the public domain, and this has led to a lot of speculation. And thirdly, there seems to be no road map for dealing with the contents of this report in a manner which will lead to its resolution.

We obviously cannot comment on the report itself, but we can examine how we got to this current impasse which has left some of us, to say the least, confused.

In his address to the nation of August 20, 2013 our Prime Minister indicated that the assistance of the United States had been requested to conduct “lie detector” tests for senior members of our Police Force. That address also informs us that the officers were questioned about their involvement in extra-judicial killings, as well as about their possible involvement in drugs, and corrupt practices and behaviour.

Of the forty officers examined, the Prime Minister tells us that one failed the test. While not conclusive proof of innocence, it seems unlikely that the US would provide assistance in the conduct of these tests and then reject their results. On the basis of having passed these tests, our senior police officers must therefore be seen to be innocent of the allegations above.

While some may argue that the above conclusion is not necessarily valid, there has been no public statement which contradicts it. To be clear, we have not been told of the existence of a single piece of evidence which suggests that any senior police officer is guilty of any misconduct whether associated with the allegations of extra-judicial killings or otherwise.

We seem however to have publicly convicted a nebulous number of our police of “something”, while the absence of evidence for this “something” is excused by claims of national security interests or claims of not wanting to interfere with the judicial process. This is not how our democracy is supposed to work. If the basis for convicting the police cannot be made public, then neither should the suggestion of their guilt be made public.

Also in that address of August 20, 2013, the Prime Minister advised that of the twelve alleged “extra-judicial killings”, inquests into six had been completed, and that the police had been absolved of any wrong-doing in those. A fresh inquest was required for one case. We have no further information on that inquest, while we learn from elsewhere that the inquest into the five deaths in Vieux-Fort has been placed on hold.

Although indicating that it seemed clear that the US did not have confidence in the outcome of the concluded inquests, the Prime Minister however also advised that Government’s first course of action was to seek the appointment of additional coroners in order to expedite the holding of inquests. To what purpose, one might ask? Next, we have the engagement of IMPACS, the Government being clear that speculation about the alleged extra-judicial killings must be brought to an end.

More than two years later, we have no further information on the conduct of the outstanding inquests, but we are saddled with the IMPACS report which the DPP has now labelled as hearsay, and no end is in sight.

In the interim, although ex-Commissioner Francois has stoutly defended his integrity publicly, the Public Service Commission saw it fit that he should be retired in the public interest on the basis of information reaching it, and then allowed this to become public knowledge. There is no indication of what this information was, or where it may have come from.

It is inexplicable, though, that the PSC would first challenge the ex-Commissioner’s performance of his duties, and then seemingly reverse itself and accept a request from him for early retirement. If the PSC had initially found cause for his retirement in the public interest, then on what basis were those grounds discarded and early retirement accepted instead? If nothing else, the issue of transparency raises its head.

It is also not sufficient to suggest that the ex-Commissioner chose his own fate, as to many, he appears to have been hounded out of office. In any event, the public should not be forced to come to its own conclusions as to why the ex-Commissioner is no longer on the job. The irony now is that the Public Service Commission is currently seeking to select a new Commissioner of Police from amongst, presumably, the same senior police officers who served alongside the ex-Commissioner, officers who may be similarly affected by the IMPACS report.

It should also have been clear to the PSC that no matter whom is selected for the post of Commissioner, that officer’s hands would have been tied until IMPACS is resolved and the issues arising from it are fully ventilated in public. Nothing less is required for restoration of the morale of the police force and that of the public. Now we are told that even the process of selection of a new Commissioner has been aborted due to a request for judicial review of the process of selection.

We are in a difficult place. Our institutions are not serving us, and when we are not paralyzed, we seem to be lurching in all different directions and going nowhere. Not only are we stuck with IMPACS, but we seem also to be operating in a thick haze which does not allow any of us to see a way forward.

Part II next week draws on the statements of the EU during their press conference of January 14, 2016 and offers a suggestion for resolution of this IMPACS matter.

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