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A century of policing calamity

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By Tresor Mema:

Heartfelt best wishes to Malawi Police Service (MPS) on your commemoration of 100 years since you came into being. Being an institution that dates back to pre-Republic days, you are probably the oldest State institution around. With such history comes a whole load of memories.

Yours has been a journey of all sorts. At 100 years, you have probably touched every living Malawian in one way or another.

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Some have visited your offices to lodge complaints of crimes and other forms of social disorder while others have invited you into their premises and communities following crimes of all kind.

On other days, we have come across your esteemed institution during social events where you provide security or traffic guide. Everywhere we look, police officers are doing their work.

With your level of entrenchment into Malawi’s social fabric, one would have expected the institution to be an agent of change and development in various spheres.

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Sadly, many cannot recall good memories as compared to bad ones of a service that is supposed to illuminate positively into society.

We celebrate with you for this centenary feat, albeit with reservations.

Look, the police have over the years become synonymous with bad things in society. Our generation cannot speak with authority on whether the police of four or five decades ago behaved differently from the current one.

However, what we know and remember so well, is that since the democratic dispensation dawned on us in the early 90s, the police entity has been an arm of so many wrong things.

There have been recruitment processes marred by political inclinations, nepotism and cronyism and promotions driven by amorous escapades; corruption at corporate and micro levels and human rights abuses towards suspects in police custody.

All these compromise what a real police service should look like.

In the past decade, numerous surveys highlighting corruption have placed MPS among the top of the pack of the most corrupt organisations on the land.

Self-enrichment has become the order of life for police officers; as such, there is no fear, none whatsoever, among traffic department officers deployed to the roads of Malawi in soliciting bribes from road users.

Even those from other departments have devised ways of taking bribes in exchange for services that are supposed to be free.

At the top level, there have also been spates of financial mismanagement involving huge sums of money.

Questionable procurement deals in billions of Kwacha at Area 30 have emerged in several forensic audits. Every high-profile suspect of corruption has a trail with some police procurement deal.

Safely said, corruption has become a deep-rooted culture within the establishment, such that it has blemished the 100-year story.

Furthermore, a police entity that was created to maintain law and order has become an abuser of basic civil rights.

It remains heart-breaking for families to lose their loved ones in police custody with no convincing explanation. Stories like those of late Buleya Lule have taken away a lot of credit from an institution that is supposed to be noble at the very core of its being.

Occasionally, the media have also unearthed disturbing levels of police abuse in form of hot iron wounds or metal bar beatings. Whether it is a way of soliciting evidence or mere sadistic tendencies, nothing justifies it.

Torture of any kind is wrong and not befitting the conduct of a state agency. These incidents are just representative of the things police officers do to suspects away from public view.

Besides corruption and human rights abuses, there could also be many reasons why, after 100 years of existence, our police service looks like it is still in its formative years.

The gains that were realised from the 1960s to the 90s seem to have been lost in the era of political patronage, thereby affecting service delivery.

Doesn’t it break your hearts to note that MPS once had functioning aviation and marine departments equipped with choppers and boats, respectively? Some of these have since been relegated to museum artefacts; a sad spectacle for every Malawian.

I am glad to hear that the new government wants to revamp MPS’s pride.

They are talking about the ongoing housing project for officers, modern equipment, a police academy, a counter-terrorism unit and a fully-fledged forensics department, among other plans.

It is also encouraging to note that other initiatives are still working so well.

Think of how community policing helps in keeping communities safe. This is the more reason the police needs to have good relations with, and trust from, the public.

If these vices are eradicated, there is a potential of achieving more from the 14,000 officers allocated across the 41 police installations in the country.

I am hopeful that it is possible to have a police agency with integrity; only if we discard tendencies that have left the past century wanting.

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