West Kingston Commsission of Enquiry: “I wasn’t born yesterday!”

It’s part of the posturing of people in responsible positions to give the impression that all with which one is involved is as it should be. Nothing is wrong. Perfect foresight. Flawless execution. Not a bad apple in sight. Well, it just so happens that this week we had a vivid reminder that is such utter hogwash, as FIFA officials were arrested and charged with corruption. Suddenly, many officials who’d previously professed innocence and saintliness are ready to set off an ‘avalanche’ of dirt on all and sundry.

Jamaica’s police force is known to be corrupt. Just today, I read SSP McGregor, who’s just moved to St. James from West Kingston, to deal with escalating crime there, lamenting such a fact with regard to facilitating lottery scams. He talked about how it’s likely that police are also involved in scamming.

While some bad apples may not rot the barrel, a lot of taint gets onto the crop.

The police also have a bad reputation for ‘extra judicial’ killings, in part based on findings by Amnesty International, as well as ongoing INDECOM cases against so-called ‘death squads’. When this reputation was touched on, during the enquiry, we heard a lot of answers that were pure denial. Though DCP Blake let loose that “it’s declining”, which was at least acknowledging the problem.

So, in giving testimony it’s been interesting to watch if and how the JCF deal with these issues of character.

In general, the senior officers have put up what I’d call the ‘politically correct’ performance. No disrespect to any of them, but the story doesn’t hold together well given all the supposed planning. It’s clear that communication within the JCF and between them and the JDF was not as good as it could have been. Much seems to have left to the ‘good training’, but also many assumed connections that did not seem to happen. There did not seem to be much cross-verificaton and establishment of key facts as events unfolded, e.g. people found dead, but no personal details sought; multiple allegations of police brutality but no single report by a police officer of any complaint or misdeed. That gap is too wide to be comfortable.

This week we heard from several DCP and ACP level officers. Now, I’d understand that they’d find some of the questions tedious, and not just because the lawyers are trying to probe as if totally unfamiliar with procedures. But, some of the replies have sounded a little over-dramatic. Maybe, men were shooting from trees, but to say that they were fought back successfully without ever admitting to seeing anyone fall to the ground or even utter an “Argh, he got me!”?

Earlier this week, the Commission chair got frustrated with the stance of the police respondents and told one he was “being evasive”.

Today, the session ended with another seeming admonition. ACP Graham (in charge of on-the-ground operations) was asked if the police made errors. He chose to reply that the police were trained to not make errors. That did It. Sir David asked him if in his 20 plus years of service he’d ever known of errors. He admitted he did know of such. “Let’s leave it there,” said Sir David, tapping his fingers as if to say “You cheeky little whippersnapper. Do I look like this is my first rodeo?”
The chairman could be excused for being a tad ‘up to here’, after a politician had demanded he apologize for a disclosure in the enquiry yesterday. Sir David refused. He is a no-nonsense kind of guy and the enquiry has seen more of that this session.

It’s on break till late month. Other JCF witnesses may come and also JDF officers. I think the chair gave a clear sign that he’s not into much foolishness. He was a chief justice. He knows politicians and political processes well, having been a Cabinet minister. He’s no infant in a nappy.

West Kingston Commission of Enquiry: John Terry didn’t play, but joins the victory celebrations, again?

In recent days, the Chair of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry reminded participants that all they need to note was when his right hand moved, and his pen was in action. So far, precious little has made his hand quiver. Poor man, needs a crossword to keep him occupied, but unless he’s ambidextrous, filling in 11-across would signal something important when it was the exact opposite.

So, it was interesting yesterday afternoon, when he pulled out his metaphorical yellow card to warn ACP Leon Rose that his pen was being called into action. “C’mon, ref! I went for the ball,” yelled Leon. No ACP, video replay shows you did not. You had the man in your sights and you tried to take him out. You didn’t make contact, but an attempted strike is still a foul. That was the sense of Sir David’s actions, yesterday.

Leon had been playing a brilliant holding midfield role, blocking and tackling all the diagonal balls that were being sprayed across the field–aka conference room. His head, cleanly shaved, glistened under the floodlights, and could be followed like a beam. In fact, his ability to head away almost every attack was bringing rave reviews from his high command: “Go, Leon! That’s my boy!” He even pulled off his now signature move, that required him throwing himself flat on the deck to avert one such attack. Rumour had it that ACP was being watched by scouts from AC Milan.

The only thing that was looking to be against him was his reluctance to ‘pull the trigger’, as they say in sporting parlance. He himself said, proudly, “I did not pull my weapon”. Now, before some of you turn and wonder if the subject has strayed into an area which Dr. Michael Abrahams touched upon recently (excuse the turn of phrase), our lad, Leon was just making clear that his commanding role did not mean he had to pull on anything but his rank to get things done. His protection and safety was as much in the hands of his fellow officers as was their weapons pointed at men in trees.

But, all this allusion to things floral and fauna, made me lose my track.

Sir David was not happy. Why? Well, our midfield maestro had gone over the top. Lord Gifford, was probing the defence with a short pass, that had a lot of spin, and Leon was looking to just block it and tap it sideways. Then, up came David, looking like Goliath: “You are being evasive, and I have noted it in my book,’ he told Leon, straight into his face. Nose to nose, it was about to get ugly.  

Scenes from tense moments during the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry, as David Simmons (left) warns Leon Rose (right)

You don’t believe me? Listen to the tape, yourself.

Sir David is more wont to make allusions to the game that West Indians like–cricket. So, I think he might have seen it as more ‘sledging’ than a case of ‘handbags’, as it’s known in English football. Given the Caribbean sensitivities about anything that might suggest that a man is not a man, and all of that baggage, let’s leave handbags out of it. But, Leon had been warned , and if he wanted to make something of it, then that could be taken outside.

The game resumed, and ended up as a tame goalless draw. Rookie attacker, Carol DaCosta, came close to scoring a few times with her attempt to suggest the police operations were an “abject failure”, in not arresting Coke, or not apprehending 300 ‘imported’ gunmen (what is our obsession with imports?), and in destroying over 90 houses and damaging numerous other buildings. But, each of these strikes was foiled by the Bar. (Stay with me, now.)

Leon was taken off the field, after these incidents: one more yellow card and he would have to take an early bath, alone. Who’s coming on the field in his place? One of the lower ranks, who knows how to work things on the ground. It looks like the game is still interesting. Take a break, have some tea and a sausage roll, and get back into your seat.

West Kingston Commission of Enquiry: Things go better with Coke?

Today’s proceedings have not been proceeding. If anything, I have watched grass grow faster. We’ve been treated since last Friday to testimony from ACP Leon Rose, who was in charge of the JCF Mobile Reserve. Suffice to say that the questioning has been ponderous, more so since Ms. Carol DaCosta began her cross-examination for the Tivoli Committee.

She’s within her right to “test the credibility of the witness”. She’s going about it slowly, as she’s trying to pin down details that may show the police testimony to be incredible. She sounds as if she wants all the nitty-gritty of the operations, and ACP Rose is like a thorn, and sticking to “I was not in the area of operation” mantra that has become his.

This Monday morning has seemed like watching treacle move up a glacier. In fact, the Commission was won’t to wonder if people were having problems getting over the weekend. However, it begs many questions about how the Commission is proceeding…or not.

Maybe, we need to treat this like a basketball or American football game, with time-outs and water breaks. However, at the risk of taking liberties, they need a boost, and fast. What better than a few bottles of Coca-Cola? In keeping with the principal reason for this spending of public money, let’s get a move on! In good Tivoli fashion, let Coke be the answer. Things can go better with Coke?

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While people ponder whether public sector workers can get wage increases over 5 percent, it’s hard to make the case that public funds are being well spent elsewhere, especially, when one sees high-paid attorneys take highly valuable time to get nowhere very fast. Just a personal observation.