Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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Friday, 19 April 2013 12:00 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 44 : "Unexpected Words. Thank you Gentlemen."

Extract from my memoirs.

Having had to endure an almost daily barrage of racist slurs and downright lies as I neared the end of my two year term in office, one found some solace in the words of two writers in particular.

My first inclination was to pass on what they wrote, followed by a brief commenting paragraph. Then I changed my mind and moved the end up to the beginning.

All I can say to Kanaka Kaitolo is, Thank you for the letter and your understanding of how matters went down in the Solomons, as seen through your eyes as a Solomon Islander.

If only the ‘True Media’ had throughout this time written with your clarity I would likely have stayed as asked.

Then maybe RAMSI would have been not so prominent, nor so costly to the Australian government.

Maybe one should also ask Murray of the Australian Federal Police what were his real reasons for, initially, trying to undermine me and thereby the Solomon Islands government, as I mentioned in an earlier chapter.

Did he really want my job as rumoured, or was he following orders from a higher authority?

In his excellent publication, ‘Modern History of the Solomon Islands,’ Ian MacNiell, wrote:

“Short was, like others who seemed likely to save the country, made to feel his position was untenable.

“The Solomons lost a man genuinely and deeply committed to their future when they allowed the forces of corruption to harass him.”

“Sinister powers were thus clearing the way for their own advancement.”

Earlier on, a day or so after my departure from the Solomons, a full page letter was published in the Solomon Times newspaper written by Kanaka Kaitolo from Mount Tamalapasi. The letter, quoted in full, read:

“Of the thousands of people who have been victimized by the national-ethnic ordeal, the former Solomon Islands Police Commissioner, Frank Short, rather oddly is amongst the hardest hit.

From its shadowy beginnings in the parliamentary attempt to oust the Prime Minister last year to its current stage, the ethnic crisis has seen Mr. Short subjected to character assassinations of one form or another.

Mr. Short, for example, has been called a racist, criticized as a Police Commissioner who loves being in the media spotlight, and criticized as expressing tough policies that deprive Solomon Islanders of their democratic freedoms of expression and assembly.

In the same vein, he has also been insulted by being ordered by a Member of Parliament to pack-up and leave.

As issues unfolded in his life and his job hanged in suspension, his dismissal is being called for by the GRA as one of the demands that must be met by the Central Government if true peace and reconciliation are to be achieved.

In essence, what the former Police Commissioner is being forced to do in the different allegations and demands is to accept the same plight that Malaitans have endured during the whole inter-ethnic conflict, forced displacement and back-migration, or repatriation.

One of the most frustrating things in reading and hearing about the numerous allegations that have been made against Mr. Short is that the public was never given adequate information as to why the allegations were made.

In many cases no reasons were given at all for the allegations. It was simply said in the newspapers or on radio that the Police Commissioner had said or done something and on the basis of that he should resign and repatriate himself.

This was true, for example, in the case where the Police Commissioner in a telephone conversation was ordered by a Member of Parliament to pack up and leave the Solomon Islands.

The same can be said also of the demands of the GRA that he should be dismissed from his position.

It is understandable that in the case of some allegations and demands, information was withheld because of confidentiality.

But in a democratic society such as ours, what good is confidentiality if the Police Commissioner did bow to allegations and decide to repatriate himself.

Conversely, it is hard to imagine that we would have cared what kind of ‘juicy stories’ he might be telling his friends and relatives about us back in England.

The unfortunate twist of irony in all this is that, in only giving partial information to the public about their demands and allegations, those making the allegations have unwittingly given themselves a rather lethal blow.

They have done this by way of both exposing themselves and having their credibility and motives questioned, ridiculed and trashed by the public.

Mr. Short, on the other hand, has emerged from the ashes of his character assassination not only purged of any wrong-doing but shown to be principled, as he should be.

What this shows, of course, is that democracy, the potent force that it is, is not so easy to silence.

In a world choked by the soot of greed, intra-and inter ethnic hate, immorality, individualism, arrogance, broken families, spiritual lethargy, dwindling resources, lethal chemicals, de-spiritedness,, homelessness, mindlessness, etc., perhaps only a saint might pass through life without a smudge on his or her character.

Although Mr. Short is not a saint, in light of the meager resources that he has had to work with since becoming Police Commissioner, he has made major achievements as far as our Police Force is concerned.

“Thousands of us can admit that only months ago our Police Force was in such a listless state of existence that police officers on duty around Honiara, for example, were an eye-sore.

The lack of confidence, dignity and profession savvy visible in a crisis situation, one was perhaps better off taking the law into one’s own hands rather than seeking help from the police.

Since Mr. Short became Police Commissioner, the transformation one sees in the whole Police Force in general and in individual officers is such that one now feels a sense of the transformation.

In view of the inter-island crisis that our country has been through, it is hard to imagine what Honiara would be like now if Mr. Short had not assumed the office of the Commissioner of Police and the physical and psychological transformation that he has helped bring about in our police force had not taken place.

With due respect to previous leaderships in the police force, our country would have been truly brought down to its knees by the current inter-island crisis, politically and otherwise, if our police force had remained the law-enforcement organization that it was only months ago.

The whole country owes the Police Commissioner and his police force a resounding “thank you.”

Throughout the national ordeal the only incident that the police can perhaps be faulted for was the killing that took place on Bungana Island during the early stages of the national crisis. Other than that, in all the confrontations that they have had with members of the GRA and other law breakers, the police has maintained a gentle and dignified composure, avoiding retaliation and focusing exclusively on peace and social stability as their primary responsibilities. Undoubtedly, only a police force guided by strong leadership and the true spirit of mutual respect and trust can uphold such a level of professionalism in the face of unprecedented lawlessness.

Beside criticisms of his handling of the inter-island ethnic crisis, Mr. Short has also been criticized by some for what they describe as his love of being in the media spotlight. Quite honestly if the Police Commissioner does enjoy the media spotlight; he ought to be encouraged because unlike several of our true mediaphilliace, he does so for very good and totally unselfish reasons.

Mr. Short is clearly someone who believes that, as a democracy, we the people, have a right to be educated about the functions of the police force and the role he himself plays as a leader.

After all, leaders in other areas – e.g. the church, business, education, public health, kastom etc. – use the media every time they need to address the public.

Therefore, the call by some to have the Police Commissioner cut back on his use of the media for public education about our police force is total nonsense.

It is not entirely clear why Mr. Short has been criticized when, in fact, he is doing a laudable job being Commissioner of our police force.

A number of speculations can be made though. For example, one thing that is very clear is that the Police Commissioner executes his duties with principled objectivity meaning that he takes the strict legal line in carrying out his responsibilities and does not engage in the filthy politics of “wantokism.”

For those used to having things their own way the Police Commissioner is a social threat and an aggravation.

Therefore to put it in friendlier terms, he should be gotten rid of.

Another reason for being criticized is that Mr. Short does not seem to fit or agree with a certain colonial image of the ‘big boss’ espoused by many of his critics.

According to this image, big bosses like the Police Commissioner should sit in a large black leather covered chair behind a large metal desk in an office and dish out orders to his underlings. Instead, he carries out his own orders by going out to the communities around Honiara and mingling with the people, educating them about the work of the police.

As in the above case, the Police Commissioner is seen as a threat to those who for so long are used to having things their own way.

The threat in this case that these individuals feel shown up by the Police Commissioner’s modus operandi because they are the ones who, by virtue of their positions, should be going out into the communities whether around Honiara or in the other Provinces.

“But for whatever reason, they do not, have not and never will – except when they seek re-election during which time good old bribery is the light that shines before men and women so that they may cast their good votes and fatten the office holder’s bank account yet again.

What makes the Police Commissioner’s non-charlatan attitude so extremely tormenting to his critics is that residents have been saying things like, “look even the Police Commissioner, a white man, comes to visit us. Why can’t our Chinese, Polynesian or Melanesian representatives do the same?” Who knows?”

If our country was truly guided by the principles of democracy and the ordinary citizen could participate in the nomination of ‘real’ distinguished civil servants for the prestigious award of the Knight Commander of St Michael and St George, the person a great many of us would proudly nominate is Mr. Short.

His show of professionalism during the national crisis has prevented our country from total political collapse.”

That about sums things up.

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.