Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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Wednesday, 13 February 2013 12:00 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 16: Tackling the Problems

Excerpt from my memoirs.

It was no easy matter deciding on how to tackle the enormous number of problems I had inherited and all the more because money was the key to dealing with many of the issues: especially as the government was facing a general election within days and the treasury coffers were empty.

My first priority was to send out a clear message that the police was under new management and to tell the policemen and policewomen that they belonged to one corporate body with a simple mission: “In partnership with the community, help create a safer and more secure Solomon Islands by providing quality police services.”

My policy was laid out in a single document that I given the Police Minister and which I used to brief all senior police officers at a meeting convened in Honiara within days of assuming command.

Later on I wrote, printed, paid for, and issued a Purpose and Direction document, which set out a clear corporate vision conveying the core values, the key functions and the future direction of the police service, as I had mentioned in an earlier chapter.

The next priority was putting our house in order and I was fortunate to have a supportive and hard working maintenance staff under the able command of Inspector Philip Matoko.

I asked Matoko to carry out a survey of the essential maintenance of all the buildings at Rove, excluding the residential housing, but including the men’s single quarters.

It was a couple of weeks before I got the requirements and the cost estimate came in at a huge sum with S$8,000, alone, quoted for repairs to the room where the band practiced.

A memo to the Police Minister confirmed what I had suspected – there was no money.

It was clear that if morale and the police image were to improve, I had to quickly improve our working conditions.

“In for a penny, in for a pound – isn’t that the expression?” -- as I emptied my personal bank account completely and handed Matoko all what he needed to do the work. I was committed.

The result was soon evident and in no time morale had picked up and public reaction was also favourable.

An editorial in the Solomon Star newspaper, concluded.
“Take yourself now to Rove Police Headquarters, you would certainly notice a far better place than in the 1970s and 1980s – cleaner- in order – and police are smarter than ever before.”

Matoko and his team went on with maintenance and repairs at other police facilities in Honiara, including constructing a new “shop front” at Honiara Central Police Station and repair work at Naha sub-station.

I paid particular attention to the ground floor reception area at Rove HQ. Fresh flowers were placed daily on the new hotel style reception counter. A glass display cabinet was made and it displayed all the trophies won by the police ladies netball team.

Pride of place in the reception area was given to a large painting of Sir Jacob Vouza, GM,MBE, a former Solomon Islands police officer from Guadalcanal,a war time hero and arguably the greatest Solomon Islander World War II veteran in recorded history.

Old broken down air conditioners were removed and replaced with new ones, or those which were economically repaired.

On the upper level, all the floral curtains were removed, the floor area sanded and polished and all the interior rooms and doors coated with fresh white paint.

The single men’s barracks were similarly treated and repairs undertaken. The men could once again flush the toilets, have a shower, use the lights and iron their uniforms.

The CID and SB offices were also renovated and brightened up with white walls and white doors.

Attention was then directed to ordering the removal of “wantoks’ out of the police residential quarters and the whole camp tidied up, including the destruction of some of the older shanty structures.

The move was welcomed by many of the police families who had been burdened with having to accommodate and feed their ‘wantoks.’

All things considered, I believe we all trusted that we were on the right track.

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 17: The Traffic Chaos