Mon | Jun 17, 2019

Editorial | In a state of anarchy | PSC must prove its worth

Published:Monday | February 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM


After its bungle that allowed an interregnum, though brief, between the end of tenure of the previous Police Service Commission (PSC) and the naming of their successors, the Government has appointed a new five-member commission. Gordon Shirley, the academic and public servant, remains its chairman. Marshall Hall, the retired businessman, is still a member. They have been joined by criminologist and public intellectual Anthony Harriott, as well as former head of the Jamaica Coast Guard, retired Rear Admiral Peter Brady, and clergyman Maitland Evans.

Based on qualifications, intellect, and reputations, this is a formidable team. Nonetheless, it is still for them to prove their worth, for which they will have an early opportunity. The previous lot, at least on one important count, didn't distinguish themselves.

Among the most important tasks of the PSC - it also confirms the promotions of, as well as adjudicates on disciplinary matters relating to senior members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) - is the selection of the chief of police. The previous commissioners chose George Quallo, who turned out to be an exemplar of the Peter Principle. He was promoted beyond the level of his competence. Mr Quallo, a decent human being, lasted only nine months in the post.

So, Professor Shirley and his team are getting another shot at the effort. They have to select a commissioner of police at a critical period, with the credibility of the constabulary low and Jamaica facing intolerable levels of crime - there were 1,616 murders in 2017 and 156 in the first 37 days of this year - the impunity of whose perpetrators has placed the country in a state of anarchy. More than 60 per cent of these murders are never cleared up. A far higher proportion of these matters never reaches the courts, and even fewer end in convictions.

A fact about the police force, on which consensus is broad and deep, is that the management and operating systems of the constabulary, whose structure is paramilitary, are anachronistic and that large swathes of its members are corrupt. These difficulties are compounded by the JCF's resistance to change and exacerbated by an institutional culture that values loyalty to squad more highly than commitment to service and ethics.

Indeed, the leaders who have risen through the ranks, as have most of the JCF's top managers of the past half-century, even if they are not personally corrupt, find themselves trapped in, and incapable of overthrowing, this culture.

In other words, the PSC, in deciding on the next police chief, should recruit from outside the organisation. While we suspect that Major General Antony Anderson, Prime Minister Andrew Holness' national security adviser, is the likely first choice for the job, the PSC should not limit its consideration to people only with security experience. They should be willing, too, to scout the private sector, including outside of Jamaica, for talented persons who are skilled in leadership and management, have a history of high performance, and may be willing, for a time, to take on public service in the same way that Don Wehby, then the deputy CEO of GraceKennedy, served for two years in the Golding administration as the junior finance minister.

This is a policy issue that the PSC should broach with the Government, which raises the wider issue of how the commission interprets its mandate - up to now very narrowly. Indeed, the PSC has kept largely to appointments and promotions delineated in the Constitution. And it acts in, at best, opaque fashion. It never takes the public into its confidence about the rationale for its actions.

We believe, however, that the JCF is too important an institution and is far too broken for the PSC to function in this fashion, especially in this age of transparency and when competing ideas should be aired with the aim of achieving the best outcomes. In this regard, it is in the public interest to understand how the PSC perceives the evolution of the constabulary and the bases for its actions. This would also have the benefit of enhancing discourse on policy.