All eyes are on the police force and Prime Minister Gaston Browne who has since weighed in on the passport matter involving Assistant Superintendent Ray John and the alleged passport documents that were discovered in St. Vincent. According to the PM, the entire matter smacks of “mischief” and he is baffled and concerned because it seems like there are several people involved. In making his comments, he said that no stone would be left unturned in the investigation because there was something fishy about the discovery of questionable Antigua and Barbuda passport documents.
Motive remains a mystery to the PM. He said, “we are still unable to determine the mischief that they are seeking to commit.” Beyond the suspended John, we do not know to whom the “they” refers. As well, beyond his assertion that all Antigua and Barbuda passports were accounted for and the document has significant security features, the PM gave no additional details to support his claim of mischief. From that, we can only glean that the PM knows more than he is letting on and certainly more than us, so we have to trust that all will be revealed in due course.
While the passport matter is certainly a big deal, there is another “big deal” that needs attention and that relates to the leadership of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda. With Commissioner of Police Wendel Robinson suspended, and now Assistant Superintendent Ray John following, the upper levels of the force have been shaken. In response, there has been a shuffle of resources and leadership roles but moving forward, what is the plan? Is there a scenario where the suspended officers can return to effectively help lead the force if their names are cleared? Will the people and their peers accept them if they were to return to their previous roles?
Already, the force is under pressure to improve morale and its relationship with the public. Recent vacant town hall meetings are evidence that the public’s trust in the force has eroded and the people have no desire to meet with the police to discuss anything. We have already lent our voice to this topic, so we will not re-hash our opinion other than to say please keep the channels of communication open and the dialogue going. The only people who win when that happens are the criminals.
But we are facing leadership and morale issues that need immediate attention. Ray John was considered a rising star and he had hopes of becoming the deputy commissioner of police under Commissioner Wendel Robinson. He openly said that his ambition was not to challenge Robinson but rather act in a supporting role. He quickly moved up two ranks and although he attributed his promotions to his dedication and hard work, others questioned his meteoric rise and criticised some of his methods. Despite his critics, he supported and seemed to have the support of Commissioner Robinson.
Now, both Robinson and John are suspended and Deputy Commissioner of Police Atlee Rodney has taken over. These recent developments, scandals i.e. do not bode well for the immediate and short term leadership of the force and its attempts to boost morale and improve its public relations. There is talk about the formation of factions within the force and support being derived from loyalty to personalities. We suspect that we will soon hear about political meddling and allegiances, because this is Antigua, after all.
This has all left a feeling of unease with the public. Since the announcement on April 5 that there would be an investigation, we have heard nothing since and no one knows who this independent investigator will be…at least no one has made it public.
As we stated before, we are seeing action where there has previously been inaction, so that counts for something.
As with all things, time will tell, but we should all be cautious that time is also scarce and if these matters drag on, the police force and our communities will be the worse for it. Idle hands and idle minds wait for opportunities like this to take advantage. If the criminal element detects that there will be a prolonged period of disunity and leadership issues, they will pounce. So, let us all be wary of that.