Diana Mahabir Wyatt
What with the budget speech looming, the costs of supporting the country’s infrastructure will be front and centre.
Among the issues of most concern for citizens are crime, which threatens us all, and corruption in public office.
We are told the police service employs some 8,000 people, if one can trust the numbers recently disclosed in the media. We are also told the police service is their employer, albeit one perhaps operating under some different constraints.
When a previous commissioner of police (CoP) was asked why he had not terminated officers who were notorious for demanding money for favours, or favours for looking the other way, he famously was quoted as saying with a shrug: "Those guys have guns."
That was then. Now it seems that private-sector managers are carrying as well, at least if they have a modest $30,000-$40,000 to spare. So the reappointment of a CoP who for trying to stop the police service from being used for private profit is being challenged.
The grounds of the challenge include: "Why can’t we follow what is done in the US?" – where anyone can buy and carry a weapon, even to religious services, and as a result, mass murders are not uncommon – there have been 163 over the past three decades, 34 of them in schools, including primary schools, killing 648 people, done by anyone who could buy a gun.
There are also challenges by people here quarrelling over whether the recruitment procedures for a CoP are in accordance with “protocol.” An old lawyers’ trick, to stymie a conviction by picking on an issue, however tiny, to try to invalidate proceedings.
It is used in industrial relations as well, where a disciplinary case over theft is excused not because the theft did not take place, but because the correct disciplinary process was not followed exactly. A document was signed by the wrong person, a letter was not opened by the person it was addressed to, the wrong union official was present at the in-company disciplinary hearing before the dismissal took place, making the process “unlawful” – that kind of thing.
Most of the rest of the population, who are not in danger of being exposed for illegal activities, are just saying, "For goodness’ sake, put him back and get on with it. He is the only CoP for decades to actually try to clean up the corruption in the TTPS.” He has actually terminated the employment of corrupt officers! Randy must be turning in his grave. As town says, any such reappointment in the TTPS will be hotly challenged by anyone who has cocoa in the sun.
It is a lesson in Trini culture, not only in the bubble of the public service, where discipline, production and tolerance are for the top 15 per cent. Even the new minister of national security claimed this week that only 40 per cent of the police service is operative.
While this has been known in the overall public service for some time, what is forgotten is that since this has been publicly commented on by the President and the Prime Minister…and now by the minister of national security, and experienced by citizens who line up hour after hour hoping to get service, the guilty 60 per cent get away with it.
So, on the old-time principle of: "If priest could play mas, who is we?” it has also infected the private sector, where, unlike the public service, it is resulting in discipline. And, apparently, vice versa.
According to the principles of good industrial-relations practice, when an employer is contemplating disciplining an employee of whatever status, from captain to cook, on a serious charge of theft or fraud, it is not required to have “evidence beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard required in a criminal court.
Ordinary employers are members of neither the constabulary, the military nor the judiciary, and evidence that shows "a balance of probabilities" is acceptable. There is a vast difference; hence the need for procedural exactitude. Theft with such evidence will result in dismissal, not incarceration. Unless, of course it is also reported to the police for them to deal with under the law.
Remember the OJ Simpson case where he was charged with the murder of his wife? The case was dismissed in the criminal court because a clever lawyer managed to persuade the judge that the evidence of the bloody glove still gave room for reasonable doubt. Then OJ was tried again in a civil court, where, on the same evidence, he was found guilty on a balance of probabilities and was ordered to pay millions in damages to the victims' families.
It is important to remember that lack of evidence of fraud or corruption is not evidence of absence of fraud or corruption. It could simply be that no evidence was presented, that witnesses to the fraud refused to give evidence due to fear or complicity. It could be that the employer did not want the company’s brand to be tarnished by admitting that fraud or corruption had gone on for so long undeterred.
This sometimes happens in banks, other financial institutions or in a political appointment where the guilty person is then allowed to resign “for family reasons.” It also happens in family firms, where one of the younger dependants, hired for reasons of family loyalty, proves to be a non-performer and in this guava season the organisation can no longer afford to support the extra cost of a non-performer.
As the budget speech approaches and the Ministry of Finance is making the plea, “We need the money,” in the face of new taxes about to be imposed, it will be interesting to see what productivity bargaining ploys the government will find to justify the enormous cost of that non-performing 60 per cent of the public service which is such a burden on the Treasury. Can hardly wait.