By Caribbean News Now contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia — The Saint Lucia prime minister’s press secretary and the Royal St Lucia Police Force Commissioner of Police Vernon Francois both denied on Monday that he (Francois) had been requested to take accumulated vacation leave.
According to Francois, he was on duty on Monday.
Caribbean News Now accepts that, as of Monday, Francois was not on required leave, notwithstanding an earlier confidential report to this effect from a hitherto reliable source within the government itself.
Caribbean News Now therefore apologises to Mr Francois for any embarrassment caused.
In a statement on Monday, Jadia Jn. Pierre-Emmanuel, press secretary to the prime minister, also denied that Francois had been requested to go on leave.
“The government of Saint Lucia … wishes to make it absolutely clear that there is no intention to replace the commissioner of police,” the statement said.
While pointing out that “the only authority to fire and remove the commissioner is the Public Service Commission,” and further that “the government has made no such request of the Public Service Commission,” the statement did not elaborate as to whether or not the Public Service Commission must necessarily be involved in any required leave.
The current controversy was triggered by reports that Francois was not permitted to board a flight from Hewanorra International Airport in St Lucia to the United States to participate in US-organized and financed training programmes.
On Monday, Francois declined to elaborate on this incident, saying only that his US visa has not been revoked.
In a statement on Friday, the Saint Lucia government said it is aware of the concerns and anxieties expressed by the public over what it described as the decision by the United States to disallow officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force from participating in several training programmes arranged or financed by the US.
Francois also declined on Monday to elaborate on the details or reasons for such reported “disallowance”.
The statement said that Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony will, on a date to be announced early this week, explain and address the issues of concern and, in particular, the reasons for the actions of the United States against officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.
As of Monday afternoon, no indication had been given as to when Anthony will in fact address these public “concerns and anxieties.”
There is widespread speculation locally that the US crackdown may have something to do with the US State Department’s 2011 human rights report on St Lucia that described 12 potentially unlawful fatal police shootings during the year, some reportedly committed by officers associated with an ad hoc task force within the police department.
There was only limited progress by the director of public prosecutions (DPP) in reviewing and other investigations of unlawful killings dating back to 2006, the report added.
The report also said that the government did not implement the existing anti-corruption law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
In the meantime, recent events have refocused attention in Saint Lucia on these and a number of other unaddressed questions, some also dating back several years.
In particular, Anthony, then leader of the opposition, campaigned in the last general election on a promise, if elected, to make public the reasons behind the revocation of former housing minister Richard Frederick’s US visa. He has not yet done so since being re-elected to office in November 2011.
The prime minister has also previously been called upon, without response, to explain why Deputy Commissioner of Police Moses Charles is currently on leave, also said to be as a result of a reported revocation of his US visa.
The apparently deteriorating relationship with the US concerning law enforcement co-operation is also a source of local concern and the government itself acknowledged in its statement on Friday that “it is in our vital interest to maintain close ties of co-operation with the United States in security matters.”
However, according to local reports, a police vessel previously donated to Saint Lucia by the US but later sent back for repair, is currently held in Miami, along with a consignment of urgently needed spare parts for police vehicles.