Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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Sunday, 13 January 2013 12:10 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 2: The Selection Process

Excerpt from my memoirs.

It was back in October 1996 when all this started. I had first seen an ad in the British ‘Police Review,’ calling for candidates for the then vacant post of Police Commissioner of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force in the south Pacific.

Time moved on, situations likewise; a resume and application to the UK recruiting agent; the Overseas Police Adviser at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London were submitted. A month passed and then a letter arrived acknowledging my application and advising me that it had been sent to the British High Commission in Honiara for forwarding to the Government of the Solomon Islands.

With the letter came a set of ‘In Country’ notes giving an accurate account of life in the South Seas – much different from the movie ‘South Pacific.’ The writer of those notes certainly had both a sense of humour and the desire to inform accurately about the climate conditions and health risks: constant reference to mosquitoes, malaria, hookworm and other forms of health affecting problems were prominent in the notes.

These notes were silent regarding the political situation as I was to find out soon enough.
The constant references to the prevailing health risks were enough, I thought, to put off the average English policeman seeking the Police Commissioner’s job and think, instead, of finding work in healthier places at home like, Eastbourne or Skegness.

In my case, going back to my original roots was not that simple as I had worked overseas for a lengthy period. Once you travel from your home base for more than a year things change. You have moved on, so to say, and have experienced different situations and different lifestyles and cultures in foreign lands. Those who stayed home have stayed put. Your experiences are not theirs.

You have lost touch with the local goings on, the TV series, the soccer league, even the weather: you have little to talk about with the neighbours: your focus points are in other countries – mention an episode somewhere else in the world during casual conversation and you get different kinds of looks, including resentment.

How can you chat about Mafeking in South Africa where Colonel Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts organization made his mark on history in a long forgotten war. Bring up meeting the original Suzy Wong in Wanchai, Hong Kong, the heroine of the 1950’s book and later movie. Being able to talk knowledgeably about the site of the plane crash of Dag Hammarskjold, the late UN Secretary-General, simply because you were stationed in Ndola in Central Africa after the crash happened.

The conversation tends to lag after the updates on ‘who is now married to whom, who is now divorced, who is now dead, who lives where’…….

Time continued apace until February 1997, when I received a fax telling me I had been selected for an interview by phone due to take place the next day at around 7.45 pm Honiara time.
Right on time the call came.

I was impressed by the polite and friendly approach of the various interviewing panel members, along with their searching questions. In fact I didn’t know until later that the chairperson on the phone was Sir Peter Kenilorea KBE., PC who had been the Solomon’s first Prime Minister after Independence and then the Ombudsman … a gentleman.

The interview went smoothly and it felt both sides of the discussion, questions and answers went well. It was noticeable that the panel had done their homework about me. The overall feeling was good – it felt as if were on the same page with the conversation; certainly not a waste of time.

Naturally, there were other candidates – five from the UK and ten or more applicants from the senior ranks of the local police force.

Time went on in its relentless way, as anyone familiar with the Solomon Islands will understand, and several more weeks passed before a late night phone call came from Joses Sanga, the then Secretary to the Prime Minister, the late Solomon Mamaloni.

“I had the job if I still wanted it,” was the basis of his message.

On the surface I should have jumped at it as I knew the region from my previous police experience when serving in Vanuatu, but at the time when it was referred to as the New Hebrides. I needed time to consider because I knew the government of the Solomon Islands was in serious debt and unable to meet its commitments.

To be continued ……….

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Frank Short, CBE and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.

This post is part of a series. Next post: Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 3: Considerations