By George Davis, Guest Columnist
It was a minor character in the tragedy of Hamlet, Marcellus, who gave one of the most oft-repeated quotes from Shakespeare's impressive body of work, when he remarked that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
The observation, applied literally in the context of the times, sees Marcellus acknowledging that the head of the state, the political hierarchy, was rotting away and that the body of the state, meaning the citizenry, was also being putrefied at a rapid rate.
Of significance is the fact that Marcellus, a mere palace guard, was able to apply the kind of brutal assessment of the state of affairs within the land, which the senior politicians at Hamlet's beck and call may have either struggled to articulate or were too cowardly to verbalise.
For a long time now, too long even, all has not been well in Jamaica, land we love. Something is, and has been, rotten here for an awfully long time.
Unfortunately, the palace guards of the state of Jamaica, meaning our policemen and policewomen, have influenced the rot to the extent that they have no moral authority to make a Marcellus-like pronouncement.
It hurts to write that previous sentence. It's disturbing to acknowledge that the noble profession of policing has so many members who cannot be held up as an example of good. For those who may be tempted to challenge this view, I ask them only to read the full text of the recent special audit report into the Transport and Repairs (T&R) Division of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), conducted by the Auditor General's Department.
My departed father was the first of several family members who've either served or are serving in the JCF. It would pain his heart to read a report which paints a picture of corruption, fraud and wanton mismanagement in the repair of vehicles in the JCF fleet.
The AG sheds the light on police personnel at the T&R, who collect money from private motorists involved in crashes with JCF vehicles. These motorists have evidently either accepted wrong or are too scared to challenge the circumstances behind the crash as set down by the police.
According to the AG, between 2007 and 2012, the police T&R collected more than a million dollars from motorists in these circumstances. At an average of$250,000 per year, that's not really a large sum. The only problem is, according to force policy, not one cent should've been collected in this manner.
The edict, as set down by the police commissioner, is clear, prohibiting the T&R from accepting such 'payments'. Despite the lack of payment at the T&R, the AG was able to conclude that not a dime from the unlawfully collected sum passed through the JCF's official accounts.
This country is so rotten that I'm already hearing people rail against the cited instance, saying a million dollars collected over four years is no big thing. They miss the point.
Our constabulary should be unimpeachable, unstained by the greed of corruption, and beyond reproach. A million dollars stolen by the worst thief in the land should pale in comparison to the theft of a dollar by a JCF member. If, as appears from the AG's findings, there's a system within the JCF to corrupt the process of the repair of motor vehicles, the nation has another massive problem. A rotten nation is clearly one with a surfeit of problems, along with an alarming lack of institutions and professionals in whom the people can trust.
Jamaica cannot do without its palace guards. But neither will it sustain outside the clutches of anarchy with a constabulary force so stained by a need to copy from the common criminal.
Forget calling for the com-missioner's head. These issues predate his ascension to the top post and will remain when he's gone. However, those members directly responsible for this embarrassment of the constabulary cannot be retained.
I ask that the Police High Command surprise us at the end of its own probe into this ignoble affair by changing the guard. Let us for once be surprised at the end of a probe into corruption. Selah.
George Davis is a journalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.