By Alexis B. Montgomery
AN unhappy episode is definitely unfolding as Saint Lucians observe, some with rapt attention, the questionable and disrespectful manner in which the Kenny Anthony administration is handling the findings of the highly classified IMPACS Report, seemingly with a fixated focus on one man, the head of the force at the time Operation Restore Confidence was implemented: Vernon Francois.
The anticipated return of the well-loved and by all accounts extremely dedicated Police Chief from what started off as normal vacation leave has mushroomed into a blitz of eyebrow raising extended leave. It is unclear what type of leave the Commissioner is currently on is it administrative leave at this point?
Since the PM’s national address in March, by which time the Commissioner was already on vacation, Francois’ highly anticipated return has yet to come to fruition. The Commissioner was recently due back on July 1; however, the public was again disappointed that his leave was further extended by another month and many have objected to this situation on grounds of unfair treatment.
Former Minister for the Public Service Lenard “Spider” Montoute, former Minister for Home Affairs Mr. Guy Mayers, MP Richard Frederick and other members of the Parliamentary Opposition along with the general public have taken issue with the ungracious bedside manner of Prime Minister Anthony administration’s attitude towards the top cop, questioning repeatedly the justification and the grounds for this action. So far the government has offered no satisfactory explanation as to why the Police Commissioner is being placed in a position which suggests that he is the “fall guy” of the IMPACS Report – a report which many are not prepared to accept as the gospel. They ask instead, was the IMPACS Investigation in and of itself an infallible process? No answer is as yet forthcoming and moreso, the government has stressed the confidentiality of the said document.
In the midst of all the unflattering aspersions that have been directed at him since the Impacs Report denounced the Commissioner as having practised willful blindness, Mr. Francois has gone on record to assert that he has “a clear conscience”. Nevertheless there are still many questions to be asked.
Is the government already punishing the Commissioner for the alleged act of “wilful blindness” as referred to in the Prime Minister’s infamous address? Is a verdict already being delivered in the IMPACS matter without the Commissioner undergoing due process in the courts, in a country where the constitution states that one is innocent until proven guilty?
Certainly the manner in which Francois is being treated at this stage is considered by most to be less than honourable. The commissioner is an individual who has provided strong and sound leadership to the high command of the force and the rank and file likewise.
The public this year saw during the first quarter, the unprecedented record achievement of zero homicides under Mr. Francois’ leadership in an environment where generally crime figures were progressively decreasing overall. In this climate the Commissioner’s officers rallied around him, drawn by his level and quality of leadership, in a unified effort to perform their duties. Certainly a credit to the standard of effectiveness and cohesiveness of the entire Force under Francois’ sound leadership. This amazing spell of nil homicides received only a brief mention by the Prime Minister. Shortly after, a distressing situation certainly followed on Chaussée Road. Speculation has been rife as to why violent crime had erupted in some of the very areas where Operation Restore Confidence had apparently affixed its lenses. So far this year eleven persons have died as a result of homicides including one woman who was violently cut down in a hail of gunshots on June 26.
The current climate in which less than acceptable treatment is being meted out to Vernon Francois despite his sterling contribution to the RSLPF calls for another perusal of the Prime Minister’s national address on March 15.
Under the heading “Main finding of Investigators” the Prime Minister who said he will state some findings “to bring home” to the public “the extreme gravity” of this matter, contradictorily said in the next breath: “I cannot and will not discuss or review the evidential basis of the conclusions of the investigators. The matter of pursuing criminal charges is the preserve of the Director of Public Prosecutions and it is she who will pronounce on the same once her actions are consistent with the constitution.” Shouldn’t the Prime Minister have concluded his speech on that note?
By his very utterances one would have thought that the Prime Minister had placed a justified gag on his cabinet colleagues and himself, but apparently not so, because the Prime Minister proceeded immediately to disclose some specially selected sections of the IMPACS Report, using choice words like “extremely damning”. It can also be inferred that the information he disclosed had been pre–determined to not be relevant to the “evidential basis” of the report by the investigators.
The words “extremely damning” were first used by the Prime Minister in the address and has served to colour public perception of the Report which has not been publicly accessible ever since. We wonder why a legal mind, who knows the weight and sensitivity of language, indeed the implications of inferences and the natural meaning of words, chose to pair these two words at the time.
The words “extremely damning” seem to have also besieged the Commissioner of Police in particular and officers of the RSLPF.
But that is not all.
PART TWO NEXT SATURDAY