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Are we a dysfunctional society, or are we on the verge of becoming one?


These are serious questions for me to be asking as we celebrate 36 years of Independence, a period well into adult manhood. Even more worrying is that I do so as I write this column on the day of the anniversary of our Independence.

These questions popped up when I looked at the headlines of two of our weekend newspapers that highlighted the call for the Commissioner of Police to resign.{{more}} The headline of last weekend’s Searchlight read “Resign Now – Calls made for Commissioner of Police to demit office”. It states that the calls were made “…after he appeared at a rally of the Unity Labour Party last Sunday, clad in red, the colour of the ULP…” Not only was he dressed in red, it seems, but he apparently displayed the symbol of the ruling party.

I was truly alarmed. Not only is it an affront to the people of this country, but it constitutes to my mind the worst blemish to have occurred on our country since Independence. Perhaps some might point to the ‘Revolt’ in Union Island, but that was short-lived and few of us today remember it. The young people, at least, don’t know about it. The action of the Commissioner of Police could have a long-lasting negative impact on our country. The Commissioner, in his Independence Anniversary message, appealed to the public, “…the Police absolutely cannot function without your cooperation.” But how can he get the cooperation of the public by acting this way? Cooperation from the people can only come if they have absolute confidence in the police and particularly, the Commis­sioner, our chief security officer. Well, not necessarily absolute, but confidence nevertheless! What he has done is to create distrust, which is always difficult to restore.

I am surprised that there has not been a greater outcry from the public on this matter. In fact, what is totally frightening is to hear persons attempting to defend the Commissioner on this matter, speaking about his rights; people who should know better! Commissioner Charles is not an ordinary member of the public. He is no John Doe. He is Commissioner and with that he has responsibilities. What impact can this, for instance, have on the men who are under his command? He attempted to justify his behaviour as part of a strategy designed for ‘intelligence purposes’. How can we accept this! Our community is a small one and it will be difficult for the Commissioner to disguise himself by wearing the colours of any party at any rally that he chooses to attend. The question is: what message does this send?

How will any of us going into an operating theatre react if while awaiting an operation we see the doctor in charge prominently wearing red, yellow, green, or whatever colour, symbols of parties vying for political office? Of course, this example is totally ridiculous, but so is the rationale for the behaviour of the Commissioner! Some months ago the action of a Permanent Secretary, who represented the governing political party at a meeting with the Supervisor of Elections, was condemned by some. I understand from I Witness News that the Prime Minister agreed that the Commissioner’s decision to attend rallies of the ULP dressed in red, the colour of the party, was not a wise one. He went on to say, however, that it was not a hanging offence for which he should resign. This is to duck the issue. There are many things we do that might not be considered illegal, but which nevertheless are improper, especially when it relates to people in high office. So, the legality of the action is not the issue!

The two acts by two public officers constitute a rape of the Westminster political system that we have inherited. While we need to condemn both, because the Commissioner is the nation’s chief of security, we have to be even more critical of his behaviour. By those two acts the norms and values which help to define the political culture of our society have been completely disbanded. Are we unable to distinguish right from wrong? The Commissioner, as a public officer, is governed by the traditional impartiality of the Public Service. These might be the most visibly alarming threats to our 36 years as an independent democracy, but there is a lot more that can be brought into the equation. But why are some people, who should know better, blowing their trumpets for this ghastly defiance of the norms and values that have held our society together?

The development of our country has many dimensions, but at the centre of it all are the people. We seem to agree that our country has become unacceptably polarized, but the actions of the Commissioner can only make it more so. Let us be clear about this; all of us have the right to vote for the political party of our choice, but we have certain responsibilities that come with the positions we hold and these should be respected. The Commissioner holds a position that carries with it certain authority that demands respect from all law-abiding citizens. To infringe the norms associated with it and with our democratic society is to do a grave injustice to the people of the country and to reduce the respect which we hope will always go to anyone who holds that position. Commissioner, please do not allow us to reach the point where we lose respect for you and your office. We have to call a spade a spade, especially when it relates to matters that are fundamental to the functioning of our society.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.