Friday, October 23, 2020

Absence of clear operational guidelines for police threaten democracy

Botswana’s democracy remains vulnerable and public safety cannot be guaranteed until Government recognizes the rights of employees of armed forces and of the Department of Prisons and Rehabilitation, like other workers, to have a democratized working environment.

The absence of clear and proper guidelines and protocol regarding the execution of police work has resulted in increasing fear that the propensity for arbitrariness in the country’s policing regime could heighten.

Compounded by the lack of an independent complaint and investigation mechanism to address the excesses and abuses carried out by the police and other law enforcement organs, Duma Boko, renowned local Human Rights Lawyer, said Police Services require serious institutional surgery.

“An independent institution of integrity that operates as a check and restraint on excesses and abuses in the use of the powers given to the police is an indispensable aspect of policing in a democratic country,” stated Boko. Not for Botswana though.

Instead, there have been and still are many of such abuses of power by the police in the country, with the result that in some of the cases people lost their lives.

In a few of such incidents, members of the police were in fact prosecuted whereas regarding countless others, there has been suspicion of ganging up, closing ranks and police covering up for each other. Such cover ups are often made all the more easy by the fact that investigations in such instances are conducted by members of the police service.

Moreover, concern has been expressed that for the most part, the processes involved are devoid of integrity, making it an affront to the principle of democratic governance.

Often times, where there seems to be a sense of obligation to carry out the investigation, they would usually be carried out in secrecy even at the exclusion of families of the victims of such abuses.

Such that it becomes almost impossible to provide or obtain an independent audit of the investigation, so that there is no way of determining whether indeed any investigation ever took place.

Speaking at the international Symposium on Police Labour Relations, held last week at the Gaborone International Convention Centre, Boko highlighted the extent to which the lack of transparency in the country’s policing system negatively impacted on the image of the police services.

Such that members of the public, especially those who have suffered abuse at the hands of the police, find it a hopeless exercise, coming to lodge their complaints.

“The entire panoply of offences set out in the Police Act, in so far as it even remotely targets these abuses, is destitute of any benefit to the public,” lamented Boko.

One negative effect of the absence in law of proper guidelines and protocols for police officers in executing their power is that it builds a wedge between the police service and the public, as the public loses faith in the Police.

A vivid image of the inhumanity of the police service and lack of accountability that became largely manifest in the minds of the population was best projected in the killing of John Kalafatis in May this year, which to date remains clouded with mystery.

The denial, a few days after the incident, by the Minister of Justice, Defense and Security, Ramadeluka Seretse of an earlier pronouncement by the officials of the Botswana Police that Kalafatis was never on their ‘wanted’ list, for many it offered sufficient details regarding the cheeks and restraints in the system.

Section 6 of the Botswana Police Act CAP21:1 sates, “The service shall be employed in and throughout Botswana to protect life and property, prevent and detect crime, repress internal disturbances, maintain security and public tranquility.”

Against this background, Tshiamo Rantao, another local Attorney who presented on, Policing in a democratic country, argued that most of the excesses committed by members of the police services should be viewed in the context of the likely possibility of unlawful instructions given by those at management level.

As if to push for the importance of allowing police officers a platform where they can partake in the formation of their own working conditions, this will help officers feel partly to the outcome of whatever they set out to do.

“Once their own working environment would have been democratized, and then they will appreciate the meaning of democracy so that they could consciously and really defend it,” argued Rantao.

However, whether Botswana’s democracy is vibrant enough to warrant a place for the ammonization of the police services seems a matter that only time will adjudicate.

Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe, Vice President of Botswana, has in the past Said, “Botswana’s image as a democracy could not be dented by one or two extra judicial killings.”

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