Editorial | The brown-nosing Mr Montague
Robert Montague is not unique among Jamaica's national security ministers in attempting to ingratiate himself with the police force. They see it as good politics. It is a way to develop a personal, influential and well-muscled power base. With upwards of 11,000 members, the constabulary represents a rich vein of potential voters for the minister's political party, especially if he is perceived to be vocal in pursuing their interests. Then add to that the possible votes of the families of police officers.
But no national security minister has, in recent times, been so vulgarly obsequious as Mr Montague in currying favour with the force. Indeed, if he didn't cross it, Mr Montague came close to conflating the lines between policy, which is his preserve, and that of "operational command and superintendence" of the constabulary, which, by law, is the responsibility of the commissioner of police. But it is not only George Quallo, the police chief, to whom Mr Montague appears to want to dictate. He seems keen on doing the same to the Gordon Shirley-chaired Police Service Commission (PSC).
On Wednesday, Mr Montague publicly demanded that the PSC and Commissioner Quallo promote 187 cops to ranks in which vacancies now exist, or tell the public why they haven't done so. The open slots, according to Mr Montague, are for 64 inspectors; 85 for assistant superintendents; 14 for deputy superintendents; 11 for superintendents; 10, senior superintendent; two, assistant commissioner of police; and one deputy commissioner.
Under the Constitution, it is the governor general, acting on the advice of the PSC, who has the power to appoint, promote and discipline members of the constabulary. However, in the case of members up to the rank of inspectors, this authority can be delegated to someone else in this case, the commissioner of police.
In his surprising public intervention on the issue, Mr Montague insisted on the urgent promotion of "deserving policemen and women".
"If they do not deserve, then do not promote them, but a number of vacancies are available, and this administration has the money to pay them," he said, adding that failure to act was demotivating police officers, which he suggested was contributing to Jamaica's problem of high crime.
Mr Montague also sought to place his remarks in the context of a need for an easily understood, transparent, merit-based promotions system. Nothing is wrong with that. Except that the minister's statement is framed by a larger, undeclared background.
The Government is in wage negotiations with public-sector employees, including the police, who have already rejected the administration's opening gambit of an increase of three per cent in each year of a two-year contract. The Police Federation was also recently angered by the back-door amendment of the law criminalising, and putting in place harsher penalties for, leaving the force without the agreed notice. It seems also that some assigned cops didn't turn up for duty to launch the Government's first zone of special operations in Mount Salem.
The administration may be able to assuage the cops on the latter issue, but dealing with the matter of pay is more difficult, given the country's fiscal situation and the constraints placed on the Government by its agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Any arrangement to give police officers, even if only a limited number, more cash is likely to be welcomed.
Indeed, this newspaper supports the idea of transparency in promotion and appointments and the general management and oversight of the constabulary. But if that was really Mr Montague's intent, he, rather than playing to the gallery, would have engaged in a thoughtful and considered debate on the issue and raised questions about some recent egregious reassignment of staff in the force.
It is still not too late for Mr Montague to get a serious discourse going.