8 January 2019
A contribution to the debate on the reported need for discipline in the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF)
His Excellency, the Governor-General, Sir Frank Ofagioro Kabui, GCMG, CSI, OBE, revealed in his New Year’s message, as quoted by the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) that the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) was lacking discipline, contradicting its constitutional responsibilities.
Quoting from the SIBC news bulletin it went on to say:
“I have witnessed many acts of indiscipline by police officers. I am surprised at what I have witnessed. “Acts of insubordination in the Police Force is common. Orders or instructions coming from superior officers are often not followed. In some cases, orders from the Police Commissioner are not followed. “It is a concern. There is a general culture of corruption in the Police Force.”
The Governor General said a Commission of Inquiry should be set up to investigate this and re-instate public trust in the Force. “I think there should be Commission of inquiry into the discipline culture of the Police Force. This is important to re-establish public confidence in the Police force.”
Following the Governor General’s address to the nation, the incumbent Royal Solomon Islands Police Force’s Commissioner, Matthew Varley, said he welcomed the statement on the issue of discipline within the force and gave the assurance that he and his fellow officers were working very hard to improve the standard of discipline in the force.
I wish the police commissioner success in the work he has outlined is being done to improve standards within the police ranks.
Particularly bearing in mind the past historical and tragic events we now refer to as the ‘Tensions’ between late 1998 to 2003, it is vitally important for the police service to be once more seen to be a well disciplined body of men and women trained in such a way to obey orders and follow instructions in laid-down procedures to ensure compliance and meet the required public expectations of a professional police organization.
When I assumed the position of Commissioner of the Royal Solomon Islands Police in July 1997 I immediately laid down clear policy instructions and ‘Standing Orders’ for the guidance of the police members, including very precise orders on the use of minimum force when undertaking all duties.
Copies of my orders, policy documents and ‘Standing Orders’ on disciplinary matters can be sourced today by referring to the Opinion Column (in my name) on the website of the Solomon Times online publication, or by referring to my book ‘Policing a Clash of Cultures’ available on Amazon Kindle bookshelf.
Despite written orders and verbal orders I gave on the minimum use of force and specifically orders I gave at the time to the then Assistant Commissioner of the NRSF, my orders were disobeyed when an incident occurred in December 1998 on the island of Bungana involving a young follower of Harold Keke and a known member of the Guadalcanal Liberation Army (GRA). The young man was shot and fatally injured by a “rogue” Tulagi stationed police constable.
The constable was very soon afterwards arrested, charged with manslaughter, convicted in court and sentenced to a lengthy term of imprisonment.
(A full account of the Bungana incident can be viewed by reading my account of the situation in the Opinion Column of Solomon Times on Line - Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 34 : A Police Officer as a Murderer? The Bungana Incident).
The total disobedience to my orders by the police constable essentially meant the public lost their trust in the police overnight and it must be said the loss of that trust followed by false, inaccurate press reports, particularly by two regional based news reporters, began to see splits occurring in the ranks of the police service along ethnic lines that only intensified as militancy continued.
I mention the particular insubordinate act to underscore how essential it is to ensure the police in the Solomon Islands have, and retain, the public trust.
Following the Bungana case, the New Zealand police officers I had seconded to carry out a fully independent investigation of the shooting incident recorded in their report to the Solomon Islands government that my orders had been wilfully disobeyed and went further by adding to their joint report the following comments.
“All the documents seen in an endeavour to assimilate and understand aspects of the royal Solomon islands police policy practice and procedures, clearly and succinctly conforms the Commissioner’s determination to ensure the minimum force when dealing with incidents – and the Commissioner has a particular vision and commitment to ensuring accountability in the police service, equally the Commissioner espouses the principles of fairness and equity of a commitment to human rights.”
Let me end by reiterating that incidents of police misconduct can seriously harm years of work to establish trust and confidence between the police and members of the public.
It would be my respectful suggestion now that the RSIPF initiates a research project to explore present-day police integrity from several aspects, including the susceptibility of the members of the Force to corruption, the level of personal accountability for their behaviours that police officers, men and women, feel and the attitudes that police members have towards the orders and policies in the organization that are designed to promote integrity.
In a country as vast as the Solomon Islands needs to effectively police, and the obvious need for 'hands on' supervision throughout the Force at the provincial and station level, I would want to know how supervision is and possibly consider creating an Inspectorate Unit at Headquarters to provide for ‘Inspectorate Officers” to visit each police unit on a regular basis to monitor, performance, discipline, morale, welfare and compliance with police ‘Standing Orders.’
Such a system functioned well in the Colonial experience of policing and I can vouch for its value in ensuring the code of discipline and professional standards His Excellency the Governor General and Commissioner Varley wish to ensure.