Monday, March 19, 2018

Another planning failure

AFTER multiple warnings, the colourful and out-spoken Russian forensic pathologist, Valery Alexandrov has thrown in the towel in frustration at the national Forensic Science Centre.

At age 70, he has finally given up after repeated complaints about being over-worked and under-resourced.

The Government's lack of response to his repeated warnings and protests, which included him walking off the job, has clearly convinced him that nothing was ever going to change.

In tendering his resignation, Dr Alexandrov has joined a list of foreign forensic pathologists who arrived on contracts, presumably on an interim basis until Trinidad and Tobago trained its own specialists. Like him, each has left exhausted and fed up after so many contract renewals that they left begging for relief. In every case, the lack of a clear succession planning strategy was patently obvious yet never prioritised. In Parliament on Friday, the government presented yet another stop-gap solution in response to Dr Alexandrov's decision to walk. Acting National Security Minister Stuart Young said the vacancy would be filled by the return of Dr Eastlyn MacDonald-Burris who is to be “brought back onto the payroll from October 1, 2017” for an “interim period”.

What this means is that for the rest of the month of September, the centre will have the services of only one pathologist, Dr Hughvon Des Vignes. When Dr Borris returns, on conditions yet unclear, the centre will be back to the bare bones operation of two rostered pathologists. At a time when murder is on the rise, and the centre's capacity for forensic pathology is being tested to the limit, this situation is far from acceptable and unbefitting of a country with claims to international best practice. Our entire judicial system rests on the integrity and quality of the centre's output. Lapses and shortcomings in forensic pathology can lead to erroneous autopsy conclusions and to court cases being thrown out on the basis of reasonable doubt about the scientific accuracy or integrity of post-mortem reports.

It is a matter of great wonder how successive governments have resolutely ignored the need to develop a professionally-run, well-equipped forensic science facility. It reveals a failure of planning and a stubborn refusal to invest in people in order to align training to development goals. As a people, we would seem to have no objection to chasing high-cost construction projects of dubious value at the expense of services that are critical to a good standard of living and superior quality of life. Equally, we have no objections to paying huge sums of money to foreign consultants and some local attorneys while baulking at paying even a reasonable salary to attract nationals into key areas of the public sector. Government after government seem to have no problem subjecting the population to relentlessly sub-standard service delivery instead of tackling the problem to an effective resolution.

Dr Alexandrov has served this country well, not only through his professional duties but by his willingness to speak out. We wish him well and hope his words have not fallen on deaf ears.