The Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda (RPFAB) is in a bit of turmoil. Okay, “turmoil” may be a bit of an understatement, or the wrong word to be used altogether, so let’s just say that things are far from ‘all right.’ That leads some to say that things have not been ‘all right’ for a very, very long time and still are not, and others are finally breathing off and saying “finally!”
There is a well known idiom that states, “a fish rots from the head down” and it is being sung like a chorus on the street after the Police Service Commission (PSC) moved to suspend two senior officers from the police force while investigations into possible wrongdoings are conducted. By the way, compliments to the PSC for taking action. It may be a case of us complimenting them for just doing their job, but there is nothing wrong with that. Now back to the story …
The most recent suspension from the force was a well-known police officer, Assistant Superintendent of Police, Ray John. His suspension, which was delivered with “immediate effect,” resulted from an ongoing probe into alleged skullduggery with our precious Antigua and Barbuda passports, and shortly after more than a dozen officers swooped down on his Gunthorpes home, armed with a search warrant, and left with at least two bags full of possible evidence. Most people found it strange that the assistant superintendent was on the scene at the time of the search but it is very normal for the subject of a search warrant to be present during the execution of the warrant. We make note of this because the conspiracy theorists are already hatching theories as to “Why?”
John’s suspension comes just days after the Commissioner of Police, Wendel Robinson, was suspended to allow for an investigation into serious allegations of impropriety which have lingered for some time without action, and which had been minimised by Prime Minister Browne. However, the recent pressure on the PSC to take action finally reached a boiling point and could no longer be ignored. Action was demanded, and eventually action was taken.
Robinson has denied the allegations, and through his lawyer, Sir Richard Cheltenham Q.C., he has threatened legal action if he is not reinstated within one week. He alleges his suspension was “unlawful.” In a four-page letter, to the Chairman of the Police Service Commission, Kelvin John, the suspended commissioner’s lawyer accuses the body of several wrongs when it suspended Robinson on April 5. In strong words, Cheltenham states the commission has no authority to suspend Robinson and violated the law by: acting ultra vires, legalese for saying that they were not complying with the rules of fair play, natural justice and due process; acting in a manner which is inconsistent with established practices and protocols; committing errors of law; failing to give any or any adequate reasons for the punitive steps taken; failing to take relevant considerations into account; abusing its authority; acting without administrative consistency and; violating the Commissioner’s legitimate expectations.” Whew! That is a long list that is not even complete, but it demonstrates that lines have been drawn in the sand and we should all get some popcorn because this will be a long drawn-out battle.
This is all happening when morale, and the force’s relationship with the public, are said to be at all-time lows. But, while everyone is saying that these two most recent suspensions have made a bad situation worse, we have a different take on it. We think that this is a positive step. Like the rest of the public, we have called for action, and now that we have received action, we cannot criticise the PSC for doing exactly what we asked for. Sure, the suspensions and allegations against such senior officers are an embarrassment but what are the alternatives?
Oftentimes, there is a need for demolition in order to renovate and make things better. That is how we view these latest moves by the PSC. And keeping with our construction analogy, if the investigations prove the allegations, then it is akin to the engineer determining that a section or foundation is weak and needs to be replaced. If the investigations determine that the allegations are not supported by firm evidence, then the structure will get a clean bill of health and the renovations can continue. The risk, of course, is that sometimes the testing itself is destructive and the elements need to be removed in order to make the overall structure better.
Whatever the outcome, we are happy that the PSC has become engaged on the matters, and we are confident that the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda will be better because of the actions taken.