The St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) Police Welfare Association (PWA) has received local and regional support amidst the transfer of three of its executive members to out districts across the country.
PWA head Sergeant Brenton Smith, along with fellow executive members, Constables Kenroy Martin and Jeremain Roberts, were transferred earlier this month after the leaking of voice notes in which what are said to be members of the executive suggesting that they “storm” the office of the prime minister in an effort to have their grievances addressed.
The police high command has suggested that the police officers had untoward intentions and has transferred the men, even as they claim that the officers were not being punished.
Smith has been moved to Union Island in the Southern Grenadines, while Martin has been sent to Chateaubelair, the police outpost furthest northwest in St. Vincent, while Roberts has been sent to Owia, the outpost furthest northeast.
Speaking at a press conference this week, president of the SVG Teachers’ Union, Oswald Robinson, said he is very much aware of some the PWA’s longstanding grievances.
“I am pretty aware of the plight of the policemen because they have been having a conversation with the government about these issues. As I have said, we have sat at meetings with them; we’ve articulated our concerns. Some of the conditions are similar,” he said.
Robinson said that like teachers, police officers have same problems with their working conditions.
In the voice notes, said to have been sent to a WhatsApp group composed of members of the SVGPWA, the speakers said that the leave system needs to be changed and “the conditions at the stations need to be improved.
“Men need to work and work comfortably and we ought to have what we ought to have as an organisation. And we ought to prosper. Not those alone at the helm ought to prosper but the men and women who are working on a day to day basis ought to prosper as well.”
Robinson said that after listening to the recording, he concluded that the police officers were discussing “a strategy to move forward”.
“For example, you are a worker and nobody’s listening to you and you are accustomed to have a conversation with the Prime Minister. They used the word ‘storm’ but I don’t think it has anything to do with any rebelliousness or any conflict. When someone says I storm in, you just walk in,” Robinson said.
He said while the PWA is not a trade union, it is the body that represents police officers.
“That is the body that speaks for and advocates and gives representation. And if the leadership of the Police Welfare Association decides well I am just going to walk in, just to catch you then — you know sometimes you are trying to catch somebody, the prime minister has a busy schedule, yes. I am not saying he doesn’t want to meet with them. I am not in a position to say that. But what I am saying, they have been writing and they are not getting a hearing so they decide to say I am going to walk in and catch you on the spot to have a conversation. That’s my understanding. Nothing is wrong with that…” Robinson said.
“And I don’t think the hierarchy of the police should have transferred the brethren. That’s not the way. It’s dialogue they are calling for. That’s what they are asking for – to have dialogue,” he said.
In a statement, the Royal Saint Lucia Police Welfare Association said it “stands in solidarity” with the SVGPWA in the matter.
“The RSLPWA respects the authority of the hierarchy of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, however, condemns the action taken which appears to be an abuse of authority and lack of appreciation to the agenda of police welfare.
“The RSLPWA extends unwavering support and strength to the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Welfare Association and urges the association to stand steadfast in their commitment of providing professional service to its members,” the statement said.
And the Caribbean Federation of Police Welfare Associations, of which Smith is president, said it has been “closely monitoring” the transfer”.
It noted that Smith is president of the CFPWA, whose secretariat is in St. Vincent.
“The CFPWA is very concerned about the possible crippling effect the transfers may have on the Federation,” the grouping said.
The regional body said it has written to SVG’s Commissioner of Police Renald Hadaway “requesting a meeting to discuss the issues, with the hope of amicably finding the best way forward for the Federation, the St. Vincent Police Force and the St. Vincent Police Association.”
The group said that its executive will be travelling to St. Vincent to meeting with Hadaway to discuss the issues.
Meanwhile, acting Sergeant Sean A McCall, chair of the British Virgin Islands PWA has expressed his “strong and unwavering support” to the SVGPWA.
“We are extremely disheartened to learn of the unfortunate developments that have taken place in the Policing fraternity at a time when law enforcement agencies within the region are facing some severe challenges, the BVI group said earlier this month.