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Transfer as punishment? Most disturbing!

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I was most disturbed to read on the front page of the Midweek issue of SEARCHLIGHT that three police officers have been transferred as a form of punishment,it is implied. First of all, the news reveals that there is discontent within the police service, so much so that officers of the Police Welfare Association are involved, and secondly, that these officers were apparently punished for the manner in which they were seeking redress for their grievances.

Now, whether the actions contemplated to seek redress meet with our approval or not, is another matter. What the incident exposes is that there must be some level of frustration so high as to lead to such officers speaking of “storming the Prime Minister’s Office” in an attempt to seek maximum publicity for their grievances. According to the SEARCHLIGHT story, this was contemplated because “matters have not been addressed”, because “the situations are deteriorating…getting worse by the day”, and “the circumstances are way beyond our control and the organization’s (Police Welfare Association) control”.

If the situation has reached this state, then it does not speak well of the grievance-handling procedures within the police service, or within the administration as a whole, for it speaks of a failure to address problems, so much so that the drastic step of “storming the PM’s office” was being discussed by the officers. It can only give credence to allegations in the media, also raised by Opposition parliamentarians, that all is not well in the police service.

Yet, rather than trying to have the matters discussed frankly and some attempt at resolution, it appears to those on the outside that the old administrative heavy hand has been employed. This is where I have my biggest problem. How could a transfer be a form of punishment? What kind of old colonial thinking still prevails that we can speak of people being transferred “to the farthest ends of the country”, as the newspaper story reported? It is unfortunate that this phrase was used, for how do we measure “the farthest ends”? Is it the distance from Kingstown? This reeks of the colonial mentality where Europeans used to make statements like “go to Timbuktu”, implying the furthest place on earth. In reality Timbuktu, in Mali, in West Africa, was an enlightened university city, long before some European countries had universities of their own.

In “dis day and age”, assignment of public officers, whether police, public servant, nurse, teacher or doctor, is still being used as a form of punishment. What does this say to people who live in rural areas or the Grenadines? What does it say about the conditions under which public officers must work in those areas, since working there is considered a form of discipline, a punishment?

The history of the public and police services is filled with cases of such transfers, many of them for political reasons, but some, like this one appears to be, because of industrial disputes. But transferring public officers to “out stations,” as is popularly said, is a most regressive action. It stems from the colonial practice of banishing public servants who had fallen out of favour, for one reason or another, to the “farthest corners of the empire”.

When a police officer, or public servant, is sent to Owia, or Union Island for example, as a form of punishment, what do we expect of such an officer? What are we saying to the people in those areas,

that they must be serviced by “malcontents”? This foolishness must be put to an end. Working and living conditions for public officers in rural and Grenadine areas must be made as near as possible to those in urban areas. The failure to do so leads to reluctance of officers to want to work there and breeds an attitude of dissatisfaction. We cannot, in 2017, be entertaining such backward attitudes, and the organizations representing public officers must strongly insist on such a step.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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