Thu | Mar 22, 2018

Mark Wignall | Security minister vs police commissioner

Published:Sunday | January 7, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Commissioner of Police George Quallo.
Robert Montague

Every individual unlucky enough to be appointed by his prime minister to the post of minister of national security begins his new political and social life in negative-performance territory.

To compound matters, the security minister has no say in the appointment of the person to whom he is seen by the general public as being 'joined at the hip' - the commissioner of police. Many of our people know the name of the security minister. That is very important for us, because we need his name not just in our minds, but on the tip of our lips when we need to rage and curse as violent criminality begins another spin out of control.

We hardly ever curse out the commissioner of police or place responsibility at his feet for a murder rate on steroids, even though he has sole responsibility for police operational matters and, the security minister has no direct input in such matters.




Whenever there is a vacancy for the post of police commissioner, the security minister is mandated to stand aside and await the decision of the Police Service Commission (PSC), a panel of respected but publicly low-key individuals whose duty it is to select the best from a shortlist of seemingly worthy individuals.

Once a commissioner is selected, the security minister must not be seen to be publicly squirming about the pick. During the tenure of the top cop, whether he is seen to be up to the job, more than equal to it, a fantastic performer (wishful thinking?) or an absolute failure, the security minister must work with the raw material presented.

Many of us hope that a commissioner is a cop well-seasoned in all the ways of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). He or she must be aware that the selection implies that his objectives on behalf of the people of this country must be noble ones, and he must apply the best of his organisational skills to bring out the best in his second-tier officers.

His ultimate objective must be solving crimes, and an integral part of that is the extent to which his rank-and-file police personnel interface with the many communities throughout Jamaica. At the same time, the ideal commissioner must know the rotten eggs in the force stinking up the rest of the JCF. He must know not just the personnel involved, but the regular routes they use to perpetrate and perpetuate their regular brand of corruption.

Forearmed with all of this, the next step in our performance expectations of him is proactivity. In reality, a commissioner of police in Jamaica will never be given all of the resources the JCF needs to transform it into a well-run, efficient entity. But if he is as good as what the panel at the PSC saw in him, he will need to work with what he has while presenting a case for the additional resources he needs which may or may not be available.

Swishing in the Sandz

After the debacle of partygoers creating hours-long roadblock along the Palisadoes road and severely affecting those leaving and going to the Norman Manley International Airport, the security minister requested of the police commissioner a report.

On behalf of the Government and the people of this country, the minister wanted to know the process by which the police gave the Sandz party the final stamp of approval, and, more importantly, what sort of crowd and traffic control the police had in place to ensure that law-abiding people travelling on the public roadway would do so unimpeded.

Minister Montague wanted the report by Tuesday evening at 5 p.m. Had Commissioner of Police George Quallo been as smart and competent a manager, as I am sure he demonstrated to the PSC members at the time of his selection, he would have responded with the following:

"Dear Minister, I take note of the receipt of your letter and recognise the urgency that flows from it, and more importantly, the public need to know exactly what occurred. For me to give you the most comprehensive report/explanation, I will need a little more time. On Friday I will furnish you with it."

Instead, from reports coming out of the security ministry, it appears that the commissioner's report, which came in two hours late, was half-done, half-baked. Every good manager knows that there is nothing wrong with a preliminary report, but if the facts are not all in, state it as such, and present the final report only when they are in.

All the commissioner needed to have done was place his second-tier officers/technocrats under fire and pressure - "Come on, guys, you must know what happened. I need answers now!"

Prior to the commissioner telling us that active police personnel were involved in the Sandz promotion, I had determined that that was a fact. On the face of it, if the area bosses in the JCF had cleared them for this bit of lucrative 'moonlighting', it would have been seen to be above board. With the resulting debacle, a whole new light must be shone on the processes leading up to the permit.




I write this column on a Thursday, so I will not be able to comment on the commissioner's final report, or, the report replacing the half-done one. Hopefully, we will know much more, especially if the police personnel involved in the Sandz management were cleared for moonlighting.

It may surprise readers to know that the commissioner of police is paid almost five times as much as the security minister. How is that for the public perception of a chain of command? I am not here making a call, which is totally beyond my powers, for a cut in the commissioner's pay or an increase in the amount in Bobby's envelope. But it is somewhat farcical for Montague (seen as his boss) to be making demands on Quallo (who ought to answer to Parliament), when Quallo's pocket is healthy and Montague's voice is rendered worthless by the loud echo in his pocket.




He is an air traffic controller and it took him three hours to traverse the roadway from the Harbour View roundabout to the airport on that fateful night. Normally, it would take him five minutes maximum.

"Many people don't really understand what it was like. Many times I travel, I do so alone. Luckily for me, this time I was driving in my girlfriend's car, and when I realised the sort of chaos that was taking place, it took us well over an hour just to turn back the vehicle so that she could go back to town. Then I eventually walked to the airport."

Scores of people walking to the airport with bags by their sides, being wheeled, or on their heads is not a sight that Jamaica needs to show to our law-abiding citizens and international visitors. Many taxi operators at the airport, informed by their colleagues via cell phone, were refusing to accept paying customers.

I must confess that I did not at first recall that the party the year before did cause disruption but not to the same degree. Should that not have been seen as a warning for the next time around?

Jamaica is suffering from an infestation of firearms and violent criminality and, adding the blocking of the road to one of our main international airports was just not needed as an addition to our many problems.

As I listened to clips of AK-47s in semi and rapid-fire mode as 2017 receded into nothingness it occurred to me that the gunmen in inner-city communities in the Kingston Metropolitan Area, and in areas surrounding Montego Bay, had bullets to spare and in abundance.

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