STAR Person of the Year 2018
Along time ago he had learned from close observation how addictive was praise and the countless consequences attached to the addiction. It was next to impossible to know for certain when the words that fell out of a man's mouth proceeded from his heart. And even then, who could tell by looking at a man's face when his heart was pure and when it was, well, pure evil?
Yes, so even as a young boy he had acquired the wisdom to trust first of all his own instincts, to operate at all times by the book and to be always accountable for his decisions. It will come as no surprise, then, that some who claim to know him well describe him in terms altogether contradictory. A small sample: naïve; calculating; humble; secretly ambitious; a bit loose in the head; stubborn; unpredictable.
Then again, there is the idiom “you can't judge a book by its binding,” that first appeared in a 1944 edition of the African journal American
Speech, and was modified in 1946 by Lester Fuller and Edwin Rolfe in Murder in the Glass
Room to “you can never tell a book by its cover!”
Those who prefer to wrestle with Scripture may wish to consider the Apostle John's “do not judge by appearances, but judge with the right judgment.” The question remains: Who determines the right judgment? Under our legal system the determination is made by a judge and a jury comprising peers of the accused after meticulous analysis of the evidence before a court. But as George Orwell reminds: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”
Were it not so, no elected representative of the people could on the one hand shout out loud to the world that “our Constitution enshrines three separate arms of the State— the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial. I will not allow the Executive which I lead to transgress the province of the other two arms. I intend to fully continue respecting that sacred separation,” and on the other declare, with reference to a matter yet to come before a properly constituted tribunal: “I can report that the findings of the investigators are extremely
damning. I will state some of these findings tonight to bring home to you the extreme
gravity of this matter. The findings relate not only to those officers who were involved in the operations but additionally, members of the High Command who may have been involved in covering up this matter.”
Additionally: “The report confirms that the ‘black list or death lists' referenced by the media, human rights organizations, victims' families and citizens alike did exist . . . All the shootings reviewed were fake encounters staged by the police to legitimize their actions . . . Weapons supposedly found at the scene of the alleged extra-judicial killings were from sources other than the victims. The investigators say that the weapons were planted on the scene of the shootings.”
As if already he had not “transgressed the province of the two other arms” earlier mentioned, the leader of the Executive said: “The report has also recommended that some senior police officers be held accountable for their actions or for their failure to take appropriate action when the alleged killings occurred.” The investigators had also concluded that what operated . . . “was an environment of impunity and permissiveness designed to achieve the desired results.”
Perhaps most shocking of the widely disseminated revelations was this: “Willful blindness existed in respect of the Commissioner of Police and particular members of his leadership and management team.” (All the above emphases mine.)
Not long afterward the Public Service Commission took the unprecedented step of announcing the police commissioner had been invited via two letters to “resign in the public interest.”
Never before had the constitutional rights of a citizen of Saint Lucia, with or without a criminal history, been so callously trampled underfoot. And certainly not by an official who had sworn on the Bible to defend the Constitution and the rights it bestows on all citizens. Even suspects were to be deemed “innocent until proven guilty.”
The nation fully expected the fingered police chief to stand up in defense of not only his own rights but also on behalf of others not nearly as well placed to speak up for themselves. Alas, not a word not a word not a word! There was much
speculation about what he was up to, why he had disappeared as if from the face of the earth. And yes, many of the officers who had looked up to him in earlier times abruptly started reconsidering, if only mutedly, their earlier assessment of their former chief—especially after it was bruited about that he had accepted a golden handshake from the same government that had so brutalized his reputation and by extension the good name of every straight member of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.
And then there he was on TV, larger than life, more relaxed than he’d appeared in a long, long time, seemingly without a care in the world. He had written a book pointedly entitled Restored Confidence, an obvious play on Operation Restore Confidence—a police initiative launched on 30 May 2010, in the time of the Stephenson King administration. The book’s subtitle: “My Journey in the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.” The front cover featured a headshot of the author in ceremonial tunic taken in the sunny outdoors, his eyes and most of the left side of his face effectively obliterated by the shadow of his official head gear. In much clearer view are his epaulet depicting the Queen’s crown, and the silver badge that is the nation’s Coat of Arms pinned to his cap. Outstanding is his smile, as inscrutable as the eyes of a Buckingham Palace Guardsman on duty.
Released in August 2018, the book was favorably reviewed at home and abroad by professionals as well as by regular readers. As for our normally garrulous politicians, it was as if Restored
Confidence had never been written. There was palpable silence even from the man whose name is the first mentioned in the book, and appears in the second paragraph of its preface on page 4: “Following former Prime Minister Kenny Anthony’s inflammatory address to the nation concerning the Jamaican investigation into local police operations in 2011, I had some decisions to make. My instinct was to stick around and fight to protect my character and integrity. I considered ventilating the matter in the courts. I had no doubt truth was on my side. Throughout my career I had operated above board and knew I had always acted professionally. I knew too that I had spent my life fighting oppressive and nefarious behaviour with respect to human rights and human dignity at the forefront of my every interaction. I could also have taken to the media in defense of my character. I did not envisage any difficulty defending my actions before, during and after Operation Restore Confidence.
“I decided on none of the above courses of action. I took no one to court; I did not jump up in defense of my character; I granted no interviews. I quietly returned to life as a private citizen and whereas I wished my former colleagues only the best, I had no desire to get involved in their situation. I determined the best way to relate my story was not in the form of an autobiography, as I had contemplated, and chose instead to encapsulate my journey in the police force in this book carefully entitled Restored Confidence. “Another motivation for writing Restored
Confidence was to challenge the irresponsible and altogether bogus address delivered by the then Prime Minister Kenny Anthony on 8 March 2015. My response to various aspects of the address is intended to lay out the truth of the events of 2011. I have also utilized the occasion to advance the political reasons behind the United States government’s imposition of the Leahy Sanctions, in the process sacrificing the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.”
To date—that is to say, over six years since the sanctions were imposed—there has been no visible progress with regard to “a credible judicial resolution” of the socalled extra-judicial killings allegedly by members of the RSLPF. Many are of the view that the IMPACS report is for several reasons unprosecutable. But the vast majority of Saint Lucians believe officials immobilized, as much by fear for their own safety and the safety of their loved ones, as by what a serious prosecution might uncover. After all, the IMPACS report, according to then Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, says local crime “is facilitated by members of the force, politicians and certain businessmen.” The murder last November of the wife of a police officer has been linked to the IMPACS report!
Meanwhile, one man has shown the courage to take the bull by the horns. By the publication of his book he has demonstrated his readiness to confront in the open whatever dragons have taken refuge in “the system” they control. Especially in this hour of Jamal Khashoggi, we at the STAR can think of none more deserving of our Person of the Year award than Vernon Francois!
When the former Prime Minister Kenny Anthony (right) initiated the IMPACS investigation in January of 2012, he knew (as he stated in 2015) it would result in “deep wounds.” Acting Police Commissioner Vernon Francois (above) was confirmed in his position by the same Kenny Anthony administration on 1 May 2012. He suffered his own 911 three years later when he resigned under pressure!