IT’S GOOD to see Finance Minister Colm Imbert and Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith sit down to discuss the thorny issue of the disbursal of funds from the Treasury to the Police Service. This newspaper called for such a meeting to take place given the sensitivity of the functions performed by both office holders.
However, Monday’s dialogue at the Twin Towers, Port of Spain, should be the start of a more profound engagement on how best to service the needs of the police while upholding checks and balances overseen by the ministry. One thing that engagement needs to address is how to get police debt under control.
Whatever the nuances of their closed-door discussion, going forward both officials should exercise discretion on how they voice positions in the public domain. It’s important for Griffith to avoid doing anything that could weaken the authority of his officers. Equally, Imbert should eschew deepening any fallout between the State and the police – both must work together within the parameters of the law and the Constitution to maintain order in society.
Yesterday’s murder on Ariapita Avenue, done in broad daylight, is a reminder of the need for a united front against crime.
That said, the police need to be properly funded if measures to bolster their effectiveness are to have bite. In this regard, the extent of police debt is a cause for grave concern. While the Finance Minister told Parliament the police had been given $1 billion for the current year, Griffith quickly countered that $850 million was allocated for salaries and the balance went towards paying off debts from the previous year. Some of this debt goes as far back as two calendar years.
“What I am trying to get now is $47 million to pay off bills that the TTPS owes, approved in fiscal 2017-18,” Griffith disclosed last week.
The State sector is notorious for the slowness of its payments. But the Police Service, which has its own vote in the budget, has too important a function to fall within this category. And it’s not right for the new commissioner to effectively have his hands tied due to outstanding obligations.
Still, Griffith has a fiduciary duty to manage the service he now leads responsibly. He cannot expect the Treasury to function like an ATM machine. The ministry must be able to process payments and should have oversight – along with the Auditor General – to ensure police spending conforms to the highest standards possible. Crooked cops can’t control crime.
Inversely, efforts of good cops are tarnished if the service as a whole is not perceived to be reliable when it comes to payment. That could hinder officers from doing the job. Reform needs to take place to allow controls to be tightened while also speeding up disbursal . We hope Monday’s meeting represents the start of this process.