Having investigated and reported on a torrent of questionable and disturbing policing actions over the course of Gary Griffith’s three-year tenure as Commissioner of Police, this newspaper welcomes the probe into the activities of several senior police officials hand-picked by him.
At the same time, however, we must admit to some queasiness about the timing of the probe and the circumstances which prompted the Police Service Commission (PolSC) to launch it.
For almost three years, the PolSC has ignored well-substantiated reports involving many of the same senior police officials who are now under investigation. The fact that a probe will now occur in the midst of the PolSC’s short-listing of candidates for the vacant position of Commissioner of Police raises the possibility of further delay if one affects the other. More disturbing, however, is the fact that a probe which could impact the selection of the next commissioner is being conducted on the basis of the findings of a government-appointed investigative team reporting to the prime minister who, presumably, passed its findings to the PolSC. This chain of events introduces an uncomfortable political element in the work of a supposedly independent commission.
If the probe gets tainted by allegations of interference, the PolSC would have only itself to blame. Its failure to step in and take action where required over the last three years effectively left the job up to others, in this case the government.
The PolSC could have spared itself and the government the risk of being accused of political interference if it had done its job. The information which this newspaper, for one, has been putting into the public domain since 2018 cried out for investigation by the PolSC which, in every case, chose silence and inaction. In the same way that the government secured the services of a former chief of defence staff and a former head of the Special Branch, the PolSC could have requested resources for independent investigations as the need arose.
Some of the more damning allegations against the senior police officials under investigation go straight to the management decisions of Commissioner Griffith, all of which would have been relevant to the evaluation his performance since August 2018. However, as far as the public has been told, at least by Griffith himself, his performance has been nothing less than outstanding. Assuming this has a basis in fact, one can see the problem likely to confront the PolSC as the investigation gets to the point of an actionable case. Overhanging this latest investigation is likely to be the spectre of then Deputy Commissioner of Police Deodat Dulalchan whose candidacy as the PolSC’s choice for Commissioner of Police went down in flames in 2018 amidst a government-generated report about his occupancy of state lands. The bungling of the selection process in that case convulsed the society and threw the parliament into confusion.
Clearly, there were lessons to be learned which were not. This time, an extraordinary effort must be made to protect the process while figuring out how to restructure service commissions to ensure their independence and equip them for fulfilling their mandates.