Sat | Nov 18, 2017

Orville Taylor | Montague blowing smoke?

Published:Sunday | November 12, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Minister of National Security Robert Montague.

I am neither a cockroach nor a fowl, but I cannot keep my mouth shut in this minor tussle, where the facts, the minister of national security, and the commissioner of police appear to be on different pages.

But my first caution to the powers that be is that in the ongoing battle against crime, the Government and its police officers, by necessity, have to align. And let me clarify here. This is not a call for the officers to line up behind the politicians. On the contrary, if there is any alignment, it would be the politicians drawing a straight line down the middle of what is true and right and at the same time recognising that the police are workers like anyone else, and as 'bosses', there are right and wrong ways of doing things.

Just under two weeks ago, Security Minister Robert Montague berated the promotion policy and practices of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), all but stripping the commissioner. Is this smoke, or is there going to be 'fire'?

In 2016, with all of one week's experience as minister, but a long and illustrious career as a politician and demagogue, Montague told The Gleaner, "One of the things I've asked the commissioner to do for me is to come [up] with a promotions policy that is transparent, ... merit-based, and easily understood."

As we are accustomed to his powerful and emotive speeches, Montague, the member of parliament who got the most votes in the last general election, remarked, "So that nobody tell you that him don't get promotion because Mary and Tom don't like him ... ." It fuelled responses and anecdotes, where frustrated individuals within the JCF reported that nepotism and victimisation were the dominant norms when individuals were to be elevated in rank.

Interestingly, neither the Jamaica Police Federation, headed by a vociferous and ardent executive, nor the Police Officers' Association even squeaked any support or verification of this 'fact'. However, some of the complaints were that there seemed to be indications that the political directorate was interested in 'managing' operational activities of the JCF, including matters of staff deployment. Despite the warnings from commentators, publicly, and, I am willing to bet, also in private, that his comments reeked of green-tinted political interference, Montague was back at it again in September this year.

 

EXISTING VACANCIES

 

Doing his homework, he lamented, "Since I have been minister, no promotion don't run, apart from two little ACPs. What happen to inspector, and superintendent, and deputy superintendent? If a man do him work, they must be promoted. If they don't do the work, they must not be promoted." As when he is preparing for election and counting the divisions, he enumerated the existing vacancies: 10 senior superintendents, 11 superintendents, 85 assistant superintendents, 64 inspectors, 46 sergeants, and 152 corporals.

By the end of the month, 28 persons were promoted to the senior superintendent and deputy superintendent ranks. In short order, 168 members were given their stripes in October.

Nonetheless, clearly not satisfied, Montague was at it again. Speaking with reporters, whom I imagine he has to motivate to do the police work to make his tenure as minister successful, he baulked over the promotions of persons who were of "questionable character" and who did not pass the requisite promotional examinations.

Clearly with evidence at his fingertips, he griped that on the other hand, hard-working police officers with records as clean as campaign whistles had been bypassed.

Doubtless, if this is a wide-scale phenomenon, it is very disturbing, and even if it occurs in a minority of cases, it would be repugnant and indecent. As an advocate for workers' rights, such practices cannot be tolerated, if found to be true.

Commissioner of Police George Quallo, a policeman and a person for whom I have nothing but respect and support, responded, as any career police officer should, seeking the evidence. The chief constable, stating that he was "very, very confident" in the procedures utilised by the JCF and the Police Service Commission (PSC), declared, "I have since then written to the minister, asking him to supply the specific information that they may have, and as soon as those information are with us, I will treat with them." Good shot, George!

Personally, I am much more familiar with the selection and promotions policy and practices of the JCF than I am as regards how ministers of government and, indeed, political representatives are chosen. It is unknown how much attention he has paid to the existing policy, which was crafted by the High Command with input from external participants, including the PSC the human resources division of the ministry; and academia. Passing examinations, while important, is only one part of the process. This includes polygraph tests, interviews, and investigations, the content of which are not subject to the scrutiny of politicians. True, it has a small space for the commissioner's discretion, but that is a necessary safety valve because there is no system created by man that is perfect.

A person's character is sacrosanct and must not be muddied unless there is clear evidence. Innuendos and aspersions cannot determine the suitability or unsuitability of a person for public office. Indeed, I am willing to bet that none of Montague's colleagues, or any opposition member for that matter, underwent the kind of scrutiny that those recently promoted police officers faced. In fact, I would bet my bottom dollar that he knows about a few politicians against whom unfounded smear statements were made. By the way, it is time for more probity and screening of our politicians themselves, using the same standards.

Yet, in raising the question of transparency in the promotion of police officers, has he or anyone else asked why a certain decision was made a few months ago despite the qualifications, seniority, and squeaky cleanness of the frontrunner?

At a time when his colleague has knowledge that journalists blow smoke up the rear of the public, Montague must be careful of what comes out of his own mouth in public.

- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.