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Friday, 1 April 2011

Reforming our policing services

By Chola Mukanga

 “One of the challenges we face…is the intimidation of police officers…. some officers are threatened with dismissals and this makes it difficult for them to perform their duties effectively”
Those are the words of Inspector General of Police (IGP) Francis Kabonde[i] when he appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs earlier this year. Kabonde should know a thing or two about intimidation because he presided over the Mufumbwe violence[ii]. A bleak chapter in our recent past now best remembered for the spectacle of Kabonde running for his life in fear of Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) cadres. Though the blame can be laid at his door, Mwanangombe is right to note that Kabonde’s woes reflect the political predicament of every IGP since 1991, not least his predecessor Mateyo: "In Lusaka two days before the by-election that picked Rupiah Banda (MMD) as president of Zambia, Mateyo decided to set aside areas to enable all political leaders in the election to have their rallies simultaneously.....This arrangement did not please the MMD, as it allegedly split the attention of voters. After Banda won the vote Mateyo was promptly out of a job, under the pretext that he was going abroad as a diplomat. He is still languishing in Lusaka".
At the heart of any approach towards better public safety is the capacity of the policing authorities to fulfil their constitutional duties. Understood dynamically, this “capacity” is inherently institutional and depends heavily on the extent to which the policing authorities can genuinely fulfil their given responsibilities under the law. This in turn depends on how much operational freedom the constitution gives them to fulfil those duties. Without operational independence the police are effectively reduced to being a toy of political leaders whose overriding desire is to remain in office. Kabonde and Mwanangombe’s assessments, though from different angles, appears to suggest that this is the state of play in Zambia. More importantly it is not ideal.

A feudal lord with corrupt knights
Under the current constitutional arrangement the President appoints the IGP, Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Police. These officers serve at the President’s pleasure. The IGP has, subject to the orders and directions of the President, superintendence, direction and control of the Force. The President also has powers to determine the numbers of the various ranks within the police as he sees fit. There is no security of tenure for the IGP and other senior officers. This explains why the job of IGP has changed so many hands since 1991. The President exercises significant de-facto control. It really does not matter whether Mr Mateyo or Mr Kabonde is in charge the President to all intents and purposes runs the police force. It is no different from how barons in Middle Ages Europe used to run fiefdoms with their knights.
Supporters of the status quo would contend that the current framework exists to “guarantee security” by ensuring the President has his man, after all he is the Commander in Chief. There are suggestions among some partial observers that the precarious nature of our nation does not lend itself to an independent police force. This argument should not be entertained because we may as well ensure all branches of government are made up of the President and his relatives. That way we would really ensure that all was well. But no one would accept that because it is folly.  More importantly such simplistic defence of the status quo ignores the interplay between weak appointing rules and other elements of governance. In particular, without clear incentive structures it becomes difficult to address a serious monster that lies in Kabonde’s organisation, namely corruption.
Police corruption is rife and a large reason is lack of publicly accountability from the top commanding structure. This should worry us because economic intuition suggests that while corruption may have some detrimental effects on growth, it’s likely that the severity of impacts would vary by the type of corruption. Not all corruption is the same and given the limited resources available to government, the appropriate policy response is to focus on those areas of corruption which may be more harmful in terms of growth and equity.
Corruption in the police has strong negative impact on our society for two reasons. First, it usually hits the poor twice. Police corruption represents an instance where poor people pay bribes in connection with misfortune or adverse events they experience, with the consequence that the expense and possible disutility of bribery compound the original problem. The central point is that misfortune or adverse events can lead an individual or household to bribe simply by increasing their need for police service. For example, victims of crime will want to report the crime to the police, an act that may require a bribe to ensure police cooperation. The magnitude of the effect would depend not only on the severity of the problem, but also the degree of police corruption when victims seek police support.
Secondly, police corruption is damaging generally because it affects an institution that is there to prevent it. Police corruption is likely to encourage corruption in other areas, since the possibility of detection is reduced. For this reason, many people have emphasised that any fight against corruption must begin with eradicating corruption in the police force and the various watchdog organisations. In many ways the current corruption in our police force is more likely to damage the “fight against corruption” than any corruption taking place in education or elsewhere. Criminal activity in the police sends the wrong signal to other areas of society.

But how do we deal with all these challenges?

A new social contract
A professional and effective police force won’t be delivered overnight, but we can make a start.  A place to begin is to move away from paranoid structures and think more holistically on what delivers a sustainable relationship between institutions with overlapping authority. In that vein, a better approach is to think of policing services as based on a “social contract” between the Zambian people and the Force. Underpinning that contract is two things. First, the Zambians must recognise they are the managers and the police force merely exists to serve them. Secondly, there should be clear operational independence guaranteed to the police in exchange for clear and effective accountability on their part. Police officers should do their work unhindered and should be well remunerated for doing so. In turn, every citizen would expect each and every police officer to be held to account.
As part of that broader revised social arrangement, it would be necessary to guarantee operational independence within a new working framework. The IGP should ideally be appointed by an independent body, such as the Parliamentary Select Committee on Home Affairs or a service commission. This process must be done through open competition, with opportunities for people to apply based on competence and proven track record.   Parliament can play a quality assurance role through an enhanced ratification process[iii].  Whilst the Executive would now purely set the targets that the police force should meet annually. At the basic level this would focus on ensuring the police are fulfilling their duties, but perhaps more fundamentally it ensures that in carrying out their activities the police are not themselves above the law.
The social contract can be supported through soft reforms that do not cost anything. A key aspect of this is the need to send a clear signal to the members of the public that the police are not above the law and that any crimes committed by members of the Force would be investigated and prosecuted. This is best done by giving oversight institutions (e.g. Anti Corruption Commission) freedom to investigate the police by decoupling these watchdogs from the Ministry of Home Affairs and placing them solely accountable to an autonomous board or Parliament. These institutions would have power to investigate, arrest, and prosecute without reference to any other authority. This would send a strong signal to the police and helps to serve as a deterrent.
Investigation of malpractice relies on information. This principally comes from members of the public and the police officers. On the public front, there's need to strengthen the Public Police Complaints Authority (PPCA), the current oversight mechanism for providing checks and balances and in theory is meant to act as deterrent to abuse of police power and violation of people's rights. The PPCA was established in 2003 with the power to investigate complaints from the public against the police as well as injuries or deaths in police custody. The PPCA submits its findings and recommendations to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), IGP and ACC.
As an institution the PPCA has been a complete failure. Since its establishment the PPCA has received over 800 complaints, made near 50 rulings and dismissed only 13 officers for abuse of authority. Many people continue to lack information on their rights and where and how to seek redress against police brutality. As a result the PPCA has been totally inadequate in acting as a mechanism of keeping trust between people and the police. It has been ineffective in reducing police cruelty, torture and degrading treatment of suspects. Last year for example, we saw unrestrained police violence with respect to university students, something that led the IGP to apologise. Commenting on the levels of police brutality and the debate on compensation, Charles Mulipi[iv] aptly noted that if all people abused by the police asked for compensation, our country would be bankrupt.
A key problem is the PPCA lack of powers to ensure that the police comply with their recommendations. On many occasions the IGP has refused to comply with the recommendations of the PPCA and the Authority had no power to enforce them. This weakness means that there's no systematic or effective framework for ensuring that police officers responsible will be brought to justice. This in turn creates the perception in the minds of the public and police officers that the police enjoy immunity from investigations.  
Providing more human rights training to police officers, raising the educational requirements for new officers or other reforms cannot make up for the lack of an impartial, systematic and effective investigation into the violation of human rights by police officers. Something more drastic is needed. An Independent Police Complaints Authority (IPCA) should be established to ensure proper investigation of crimes and other violations by members of the Police Service. An independent authority would receive citizens’ complaints, investigate them and take criminal and/or disciplinary action against police officers found to have perpetrated violations. To be truly effective, such an authority should have full powers under law to deal effectively with complaints, including enabling powers to order the release of persons held unlawfully and powers to ensure immediate access to police dockets, statements and post mortem examination reports.
The police themselves can be a vital agent for rooting out malpractice. Effective legal protection for whistle blowers within the police force may encourage many officers to come forward. Whistle blowing is a "public good" whose benefits go beyond the individual. In economic speak, the social benefits of whistle blowing are greater than the private benefits, hence it is underprovided. More importantly, no one is going to be a whistle blower if the private costs outweigh the private benefits. So what we need is the change in incentives so that police officers find it attractive or less costly to blow the whistle. This calls for a combination of effective legal protection and financial rewards. Recent legislation on whistleblower is awfully inadequate to meet these challenges[v].
The reform of law should not just be restricted to whistle blowing it must also be extended to laws relating to policing practices. There are significant areas where legal loopholes exist with respect to the police and other enforcement areas. A key part is that Zambia has not criminalised acts of torture and abuse by police officers. Although Zambia ratified the Convention Against Torture, it has not "domesticated" or ensured its tenets are fully applied into law. As a result there’s no deterrence to police abuse of human rights and degrading treatments of suspects and offenders. Torture should be made inadmissible in a court of law. This can be done partly by criminalising acts of torture by government law enforcement officers and other security personnel. The integrity of investigations and the safety of witnesses must be protected at all times.

Operational capacity
The proposed reforms would do much to ensure the police force is held accountable while operating within a proper sphere of operational independence. The other side is ensuring that our police have adequate resources to improve their "operational capacity". A lack of resource capacity in many key areas continues to undermine efficient service delivery and from the police force’s perspective, it can be argued that the "police are not being looked after". If we want the very best from the police we must do more to resource them.
The FNDP Review 2006-10[vi] reached similar conclusions: "Over the years, the working environment and functionality of these law enforcement agencies have continued to deteriorate. The agencies lack basic operational requisites while the housing situation for officers has persistently been a worsening scenario. Consequently, this has compromised the credibility and integrity of the law enforcement officers and has resulted in low morale of officers, rendering them less effective and efficient in the execution of their mandates."
Among the "recommendations" it made includes : increasing funding to enable recruitment and retention the required skilled human resources; strengthening the capacity of training institutions that provide the human resource; undertaking a comprehensive training needs assessment with a view to determining the extent of human resource needs for the sector ; reviewing the curriculum for the different levels of training; and, review the conditions of service with a view to improve the morale of personnel. These are perfectly legitimate ideas which can be distilled into three specific categories for action.

First, more man power. There are currently only 13,000 police officers throughout the country. This is half of what is thought to be the ideal figure. The figure has remained static in recent years. The FNDP Review[vii] noted that accessibility to the policy had actually reduced in recent years: "For the year 2008, the staff ratio to the appropriate population in the Zambia Police Service was reported at 1:843, as opposed to the target of 1:580. The ratio increased from 1:653 in the year 2007 due to the non-recruitment of new officers to replace and increase the staff strength". One suspects that HIV / AIDS has also not helped with many officers dying leading to lost capacity. There's a significant need to increase recruitment.

Secondly, more training. We need to provide more training to police officers. Professional training should include modules on accountability and public trust. Induction programmes should focus on what it means to be a police officer in a democratic society, with special emphasis on policing by consent. Training can be provided through existing institutions such as National Institute of Public Administration.

Finally, more and targeted resourcing. This could take many forms and would require learning from other countries. For example, it might be good to have a government research centre on corruption sponsored by the ACC. We can also set up a UNZA / Government collaboration research programme on corruption. Such a research facility or Criminal Justice Inspectorate can be established to provide regular reports to Parliament on the state of policing and criminal justice system in the country. We may also consider establishing a modern forensics laboratory. Expertise from the Diaspora to help for many of these initiatives, to help minimise resourcing pressures. 

The question of resourcing of course brings the "how question" given the limited resources. Many of the reforms we have suggested are not costly and can be provided at minimal cost. Improving operational capacity will involve target spending and may require more focused police budgeting. However it should be clear that our collective willingness to spend on law and order depends on the value Zambians place on it. It is a view of many that law and order is paramount and therefore resources must be found. The number one role of government is to keep the public safe and secure. If as a nation we kept to our original budgetary commitments set out in the development plans, there would be sufficient funding to ensure the police are being looked after. Unfortunately this is not the case. The FNDP allocated K371bn for 2006-10, in practice only K125bn (or 33%) was released. It appears that the problem is the political will to carry through what we already know.

Chola Mukanga is the founder of Zambian Economist which provides independent and non-partisan perspectives on Zambia's progress towards meaningful development for her people.

Copyright: Zambian Economist, 2011

[i] Florence Bupe, Kabonde complains of political intrusion, (The Post)
[ii] Lewis Mwanangombe, Violence Threatens Polls, (IPS)
[iii] Zambian Economist, Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2010: Part IV (Ratification Process) . This piece has argues the process suffers from a well established problem in economics called “chain store paradox”.

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