“THIS is not a fete in here, this is Madness” (Calypsonian David Rudder, 1987).
The Public Service Commission is the body charged with the engagement and termination of public servants, and with their discipline. So important is this function, and so important was the need to insulate the Commission from interference that its function is enshrined in our Constitution, assuring its independence.
We expect that the purpose of this constitutionally derived independence is to assure citizens of this country that they can have confidence in the functioning of the Commission, and that they can rely on its integrity. Unfortunately, this no is longer the case.
The first issue leading to the loss of confidence in the ability of this Commission to discharge its functions arose at the time of the drama which engulfed former commissioner Francois. The commission, knowing full well the total length of vacation due to the ex-commissioner requested that he take a period of leave shorter than that due at a time when there were suggestions that the ex-commissioner could no longer lead the force due to matters arising from the IMPACS investigation.
On his return from vacation, the ex-commissioner was again instructed to proceed on vacation, further to which we heard from the Prime Minister that the PSC intended to retire the now ex-commissioner in the public interest.
Subsequent to the Prime Minister’s indication that the ex-commissioner had asked to be allowed to proceed on early retirement, the Chairman of the PSC confirmed this in a televised media interview aired September 23, 2015, advising at the time that the ex-commissioner had been under investigation due to information which had come to the Commission’s attention.
The public has never been told what this information was, or where it came from, but with the only matter in the public domain being the cloud which had been created over the ex-commissioner’s head by the revelations from the IMPACS report, the public could only assume that the information was related to that report.
But we have been told by the DPP that the information contained in that IMPACS report is hearsay, and that there is no evidence to support the allegations. What information, then, came to the attention of the Public Service Commission which enabled it to take a decision to retire the ex-commissioner in the public interest?
Somehow, the public also became aware that Mr. Francois had been denied travel to the United States on police business, and the argument was put forward in the media that, as the ex-Commissioner could no longer travel to the US on police business he could no longer function as Police Commissioner and so had to be removed from the post.
This might have provided some justification for the ex-commissioner’s removal until it was revealed in the press that Mr. Francois’ personal US visa had not been revoked. It now appeared that Mr. Francois could travel to the US in his private capacity any time he wished, just that he could not do so in order to conduct police business.
None of the information concerning Mr. Francois’ visa has been confirmed, but as far as we know, the US has indicated that no assistance will be forthcoming to the police force until such time that the allegations contained in the IMPACS report are investigated. Unless we are told otherwise, we have to assume that the US’s refusal to engage with the police force applies to all members of the force who intend to travel to the US on official police business. Removal of ex-Commissioner Francois therefore could not have, and has not, brought resolution to the issue.
Until it can be shown otherwise, many citizens will continue to hold the view that ex-commissioner Francois was lynched – convicted and evicted on hearsay without so much as the semblance of a trial. Recognising that he had little option other than a lengthy legal battle, he appears to have chosen to spare himself and his family further trauma and opted for early retirement.
The problem we are now faced with is that the Public Service Commission, the body constitutionally established to provide the public with the assurance of transparency and propriety in the conduct of our public affairs, the body established to insulate the public service from interference by the political directorate and anyone else, is central to the controversy surrounding Mr. Francois’ demission from office due to its management of the process.
In the face of widely publicised information coming from the Prime Minister that the IMPACS investigators had found the ex-commissioner guilty of misconduct, the Commission relies on (secret) information, coming from a (secret) source – neither have been revealed – to conclude that Mr. Francois should be retired in the public interest. What does the Commission expect the public to think?
In our earlier article commenting on IMPACS, the point was made, again according to the Prime Minister in his August 20, 2013 address to the nation, that with the assistance of the US government, lie detector tests had been given to all of our senior police officers during which they were questioned on the allegations of extra-judicial killings. All but one of them passed these tests, and our senior police must therefore be assumed to be innocent of the allegations.
In that article, it was also pointed out that it would be unlikely for the US to offer assistance with lie detector tests and then reject the results of these tests.
On the other hand, how could our police, so incompetent as a team of officers as to repeat the same mistakes twelve consecutive times in the execution and cover-up of these so-called extra-judicial killings, then turn around and each individually fool the experts conducting the lie detector tests? You’re either incompetent or you’re not. On top of which, the police have been cleared at inquests of any wrong-doing in six of those deaths. Ex-Commissioner Francois may have been convicted of “turning a wilful blind eye”, but to what?
In the televised interview referred to above, however, the Chairman of the Commission committed what, in any other part of the world, would have been considered two grave errors. Having earlier in the interview suggested that the process involving ex-commissioner Francois was not a disciplinary one, at the end of interview, it is my recollection that the Chairman said words to the effect that: ‘not because we have decided to retire you in the public interest does it mean that you have done anything wrong’.
These are chilling statements, as they mean that anyone, at any time, could simply be retired in the public interest without there being any valid reason for it. We stand to be corrected, but it is our understanding though that the Courts have ruled otherwise, and retirement in the public interest must be done for good reason. It is a disciplinary process.
The Public Service Commission has never disclosed why it chose to investigate ex-commissioner Francois, why it initially decided to retire him in the public interest, nor why it changed its mind and accepted his request for early retirement instead. This is unacceptable, and we’ve said so before.
In the conduct of our public affairs, not only must our public institutions be capable of acting independently, they must be seen to be doing so for public confidence to be supported. They must function in a transparent manner in order that the public can be assured of the integrity of their decisions.
In Part II next week we will examine the current process of selection of a new Commissioner of Police, and how we got from fete to madness.