Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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This post is part of a series. Previous post: Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 14: The Special Branch
Monday, 11 February 2013 12:00 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 15: Police Working Conditions

Extract from my memoirs.

Ranging from ridiculous through to pathetic, my initial reaction was sheer disbelief that an original British Colonial police force could have been allowed to become reduced to such working conditions.

My selection of unprintable words extended as I continued with my initial inspection.

How could this dereliction have been allowed to develop? What had my predecessors been doing? What had the government been doing? It was not as if the buildings were on some rarely visited little island somewhere. The Prime Minister’s Office, the High Court, other government ministries; foreign observers in the form of the British and Australian High Commissions were well within viewing distance.

Here is an outline of some of the conditions that existed – where the local police had to live and work on a daily basis.

Roofs on many buildings consisted of tin sheeting – well rusted, holed and leaking.

Floors were suspect and one noted that if others avoided an area one also did the same. In fact an example here was where the Fire Brigade had its offices – one walked carefully as it was easy to fall through the floor unless you knew where to plant your feet.

The police garage – for whatever reason, was the home for the Fire Brigade vehicles with its leaking roof, mould, misery, damp and less than functional fire equipment.

Move on to the single men’s quarters at our Rove operation. My inspection started by viewing blocked toilets, broken showers, non working electrical lighting, and leaking water pipes.

Dirty, dark and dingy.

All in all – a disgrace.

The headquarters building consisted of a double story complex with a narrow central corridor running the length of the upper floor – east to west.

On my first inspection, I found cheap, floral curtains suspended from wires draped across the windows on either side of the corridor. The internal doors were all dark blue and the wooden floor running the length of the corridor could have been much cleaner.

My immediate impression was I had entered a grubby Bordello; I couldn’t wait to do something about remedying the entire situation.

Likewise, the ground floor offices were just as drab, miserable and shabby.

The same dark colour schemes were found in the CID and Special Branch offices. Somehow it reminded me of war time conditions in Britain during the Second World War.

It had reached a point that a Solomon Islands police officer came to work and found conditions that told him or her that no one cared for them, that they might as well just sit in the dark miserable rooms until the end of the shift and leave. So much for morale and output.

Moving to the police residential quarters in the Rove Police Camp where officers and families lived was another eye opener concerning the deplorable living conditions. Apart from the dilapidated state of many houses almost all had unauthorized extensions constructed out of bush materials, either to create living space for growing families or to accommodate ‘wantoks’ who had moved in with an existing police family.

‘Wantok’ is the Island word for extended family member. It’s a custom that in effect, is a private welfare system that has its roots in history. Another way of understanding this is to call it a social protective obligation amongst people of the same tribal backgrounds. There are over eighty languages and multiple dialects in this Island chain.

Communications were next on my inspection list: here I discovered the most important roadblock of all – the almighty Solomon Islands dollar – missing in action.

A wider tour inspection of police facilities in Honiara depressed me beyond words.

The Honiara Central Police Station was shabby and run down, needing urgent repairs and renovations, including the single men’s accommodation.

At Naha – a densely populated suburb of Honiara, the sub-station happened to be a donated wreck of a building – if you could admit that; courtesy of a departing civil engineering company that moved out a few years back, and it was in its final stages of decay.

The Guadalcanal Divisional HQ was housed in a tiny room in the old District Commissioner’s Office which also contained the Guadalcanal Provincial Government.

This was the visual outline of the main Solomon Islands police force habitat.

Nearly all the police facilities in Honiara were in various stages of disrepair. Yes, they were usable; however the effort required in getting staff to work efficiently in such miserable conditions was high. Costly renovations were needed to make them habitable and truly functional.

And, as a picture of complete contrast, we had the Marine facility stationed across the street, so to speak, at the Mbokona wharf: modern, in excellent condition and well maintained. It had been custom built by the Australian government and was run by ACP Michael Wheatley who protected his charge.

More bad news I discovered: Government cheques were not reaching our suppliers.

Utility bills were way behind with payments: also telephones, fuel, stationery, office equipment, uniforms, maintenance equipment, general supplies – you name it. They were all way in arrears.

Except for the phone in my office, all phones were either disconnected or restricted to incoming calls only. The electricity supply was subject to shut down. Fuel for the few vehicles, which included the fire engines, was critically short. Office equipment, stationery supplies, all had to be scrounged for, or paid for myself.

And the key to most peoples’ reason for working was found wanting… the police were not being paid as their payroll was dependent on incoming revenue collected by the treasury.

I must confess that these problems were a ‘first’ for me! Then I remembered my chat with Joses Sangu and the thought of a ‘Volunteer’ position came back to mind.

Repairs to roofs, broken floors and windows, dark, dirty conditions – I had met similar situations before.

But cash flow was a new one. Didn’t government know how to produce money, manage their budgets and exercise fiscal policy? Other governments did and still do to this day.

Maybe the subsequent mysterious burning down of the Treasury building – an upcoming future event held the answer?

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 16: Tackling the Problems
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