Editorial | Byles for police chief
It is not entirely George Quallo's fault that he failed as Jamaica's police chief, although as a decent human being and a good Christian he ought to have been better aware of his limitations. He should have turned down the job, in which he lasted for only nine months.
What, in the end, really undermined Mr Quallo is that he was promoted beyond his level of competence.
But in his grayness and incompetence, Mr Quallo, paradoxically, may well have done Jamaica a great favour. For, was he mildly good at the job, he may have limped along for another year, or two to achieve the average tenure of Jamaica's police commissioners of recent years. As it is, his departure provides an opportunity for a necessary, and radical, overhaul of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) as well as the national security apparatus.
In this regard, we have a few suggestions as to what should happen to the police force. And what ought not to happen.
To take the latter first: Mr Quallo's successor must not be recruited from within the ranks of the JCF. Jamaica's police force, with its paramilitary ethos, has, not without good reason, a reputation for corruption and incompetence. And it has been notoriously resistant to efforts of reform. The late 1990s report and recommendations by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), for instance, was left to gather dust. A later one by a group chaired by Herbert Thompson was cherry-picked, with its fundamental recommendations left unattended. The recent expenditure analysis and organisational review by Prof Anthony Clayton of the University of the West Indies (UWI) at Mona has been ignored.
A major cause of this inertia is the loyalty syndrome of the JCF. Mostly, for the last half century, its leaders - and not only the police chief - have risen through the ranks, rising along the way with officers with whom they trained, cavorted, or shared secrets. Institutional loyalty is not of itself bad, except if that loyalty is to the squad - rather than to large principles - and constrains the independence of action and the quality of decisions of managers. This weakness is exacerbated when the institution is, like the JCF, broken and badly in need of repair.
Indeed, most credible estimates suggest that the fix required by the JCF will demand the separation of up to 80 per cent of top officers and several of lower-tier leadership. Such a task is unlikely to be attempted by anyone who is now a member of the JCF.
Our proposal, therefore, is for the government to not only look outside the JCF for the new police commissioner, but that person need not have been a police officer. The primary criteria for recruitment, in our view, must be a proven track record in management and leadership and a capacity for taking tough decisions. In this respect, our suggestion for the job, as a two-year assignment, is Richard Byes, the recently-retired CEO and now chairman of Sagicor Jamaica. Mr Byes' leadership of Sagicor and stewardship as chairman of the Economic Performance Oversight Committee (EPOC) was exemplary. What is not often commented on his Mr Byles' career is his management of First Life insurance company during the financial sector meltdown of the late 1990s, when his tough judicious actions avoided peril while others around him tumbled. Mr Byles, as police commissioner, or someone of his ilk, could find strategic and tactical policing support from police officers, preferably Jamaicans, recruited from outside the JCF.
Further, we propose that Douglas Orane, the retired chairman and CEO of GraceKennedy be invited to chair a new civilian policy oversight board for the constabulary, to which, it having received its broad mandate from the minister, Mr Byles would report and be accountable. In time, sooner rather than later, that CEO and board would have the flexibility to recruit and dismiss police officers without having to resort to the hoops that now prove to be obstacles to the efficient management of the JCF.