Sunday 1st June, 2008

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Awaiting great liberator from crime bondage

Three years after it led a militant movement of business people and others, the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce is making trouble again.

In the climactic October 2005 “Death March” protest, the target was the government’s handling of crime. One standard held conspicuously aloft in that Port-of-Spain parade was the chamber’s.

Chamber president Christian Mouttet was later removed as chairman of State-controlled TSTT, and replaced by the PNM-reliable Sam Martin.

Crime worsened; the government’s handle on it slackened. Voicing irritation about unexplained delay, the chamber last week demanded to see the back of the Police Commissioner, the also PNM-reliable Trevor Paul.

Already retired, Mr Paul has been limping along as a lame duck, until the arrival of his successor. The chamber cannot wait to see him finally become history:

“The decades-long lack of leadership in our law enforcement is a key reason for this country’s degeneration into its current state of lawlessness.”

The new commissioner will have a lot more power to do a lot more. If the next head of the police service turns out to be PNM-reliable, it won’t be because he or she was Mr Manning’s secret choice.

It is the House of Representatives that will approve the next commissioner.

The T&T Chamber may bang the national table, but the rest of us are still caught up in the procedural twists and turns agreed in 2006 PNM-UNC negotiations to deny the Prime Minister enjoyment of arbitrary choice.

For once, then, good reason (meeting demands of transparency) can be adduced for the usual delay in getting things done.

About nine weeks ago, the PennState consultants began ranking the applicants by merit. From the PennState top five, the Police Service Commission will choose one name for submission to the President and the Parliament.

The chamber people aren’t the only ones looking hopefully to the new commissioner as to a great liberator from crime and disorder. The police service itself is a priority battleground against criminal behaviour, mismanagement, and loss of disciplined order.

Getting the police service to work is the most urgent and influential first step toward restarting the engine of public administration in general.

Reflecting on his four service decades, Winston Cooper sounded sanguine last April only about the timing of his retirement as deputy police commissioner.

“Nothing works,” he said, confirming public suspicions about the administration he had left. “Even the best input seems not to work.”

Mr Cooper should write confessional memoirs narrating causes and effects of the moral death of the police—as an institution—that occurred on the evening of July 27, 1990.

For reminders, that was the occasion of the attempted coup, whose signal moment was the firebombing and rout of the moral and physical citadel Police Headquarters had represented.

The crime of the century took place. Police had neither useful foreknowledge nor capacity for credible response.

Past that historic expiry date, something called the police service has been maintained on the equivalent of medical life support.

Endless injections of money, applications of equipment, and transfusions of consulting expertise, have produced the illusion of vital signs.

Still, everybody could sense a lost cause when, to the already hollow police motto, “To protect and serve,” were added the desperate words “with pride.”

It is pride that has been notably lacking among officers who, among other things, so disdain their uniform that they evidently take every opportunity to avoid wearing it.

Uniform reform has been one clamorous need, amid piecemeal adaptations and improvisations for various needs and assorted new squads.

Doctrine, discipline and methods of operating have been ignored rather than upheld and updated, or they have remained fallow and irrelevant.

It’s unclear if the 1965 Judges’ Rules still apply. Keeping records, starting with individual pocket diaries, is notoriously shrugged off.

If he is to write at all about his experiences, Mr Cooper will need to rely on his own personal records. Unless a chronicle exists somewhere, documenting and analysing why, when they had fewer vehicles, the police had employed a fleet manager, a civilian functionary engaged to keep rolling stock on the road.

What became of the human resources manager, another non-uniformed professional from the 1990s?

In January, National Security Minister Martin Joseph reported that, of the approved strength of 7,691, only 6,051 police bodies were available to be encased in grey and blue and the Kevlar vests.

While crime has remained rampant, the human resources work of recruiting officers, to preserve numerical strength and operational capacity against depletions, has demonstrably fallen down.

Murders, mostly unsolved, reaching 200 before mid-2008, may be taken popularly as the main measure in assessing government performance.

But the response to crime is only one area in which the Government’s machinery appears not only to falter but often hardly to start.

The Government created the Special Anti-crime Unit as the law-enforcement equivalent of a special-purpose company set up to perform where the regular service machinery has failed.

Mr Manning has also justified the Government campus buildings on the ground of meeting the need for better public service accommodation.

“It is not,” he said, “that we like large projects or we like to spend money. We are providing better office accommodation so that our public service employees will work in some of the best conditions.”

In those buildings, they will need administrative creature comforts, and the Central Tenders Board has advertised its efforts to be proactive.

The board wrote asking permanent secretaries, heads of departments, and top local government and statutory board executives to finalise their 2009 requirements for office machines, appliances and furniture.

For this relatively small and routine item of internal government business, however, the director of contracts took a newspaper advertisement. Was it fear of failure to communicate by paper memo or e-mail?

The advertisement demanded responses “not later than May 15, 2008.”

Alas, in a laughable defeat of the purpose, the advertisement appeared not before the deadline but after it, on May 16.

It’s not a crime, but it’s part of the reality any hotshot new commissioner is up against.

©2004-2005 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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