Public Defender laments stalled PSC-PCOA merger
Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry has expressed disappointment at the fact that a merger of the Police Civilian Oversight Authority (PCOA) and the PSC (Police Services Commission) is yet to be realised.
"This proposal has been there. The two bodies have said, 'We will be happy to merge and work together,' but there is a legal opinion, which says that the two bodies could not even meet, so there was an opinion that was contrary to mine and had far greater sway," the former PCOA member said while addressing a Gleaner Editors' Forum held on Tuesday at the newspaper's North Street, Kingston, offices.
The concept for the merger was first mooted as part of the 124 recommendations made in the 2008 report of the strategic review of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, commissioned by the Ministry of National Security.
The review called for the merger of the PCOA with the PSC to form a single management oversight body that was to be called the Police Authority of Jamaica.
Cabinet, in 2010, gave approval for the merger, but The Gleaner has learnt that the decision was reversed after an opinion outlining particular constitutional constraints was issued by the Attorney General's Department.
Various opinions from department
A source with intimate knowledge of the issue told The Gleaner that there have actually been at least four different opinions and several reviews of opinions from the attorney general's office concerning the merger.
According to the source, the contrary nature of the various opinions raises questions about the efficacy of the input of the Attorney General's Department in the matter. The source, however, pointed out that the ultimate decision rests with Cabinet, which has failed to take a final decision and which has been deathly silent on whether the merger will take place.
The issue of the stalled merger was raised at the forum, which was specially convened to analyse the recommendations made by the Sir David Simmons-led enquiry into the May 2010 police-military operations in Tivoli Gardens.
One of the key recommendations of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry report is for further strengthening of the capacity of the three agencies charged with providing oversight for the Jamaica Constabulary Force.
The report has called for more resources to be made available to the Police Civilian Oversight Authority, the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), and the Police Service Commission.
While conceding that more resources could be made available to the agencies, the forum panel argued that the bodies could make more efficient use of the resources currently available to them.
It was Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) Chairman, Horace Levy, who first observed that there might be areas of overlap and duplication in the work of the oversight bodies, an observation that led to discussions about the stalled merger between the PCOA and the PSC. The concept of a possible merger between INDECOM and the PCOA was also raised.
"I raise the question of fragmentation and the possibility of seeing how that could be dealt with because it's a lot of resources that go into three different agencies," Levy said.
Not in favour of a merger
Harrison Henry was, however, not in favour of a merger between INDECOM and the PCOA and called for urgent action to be taken on the recommendation for the merger between the PSC and the PCOA, a proposal that she says has been in the pipeline for much too long.
She further raised arguments addressing the constitutional constraints outlined in the opinion issued by the Attorney General's Department.
"I was of the view that the PSC, being a constitutional body, once you were not taking away any of its functions, you could actually add and enlarge its capacity through a merger with the PSC," she said.