In early June this year, Zodiak Broadcasting Station aired a debate in which panelists discussed merits and demerits of either maintaining or doing away with some laws they branded “outdated” from the Penal Code. In the meantime, the programme is continuously being rebroadcast, maybe to seek public sympathy on the importance of embarking on such a path.
The programme attracted intellectuals from the Malawi Police Service (MPS), the Judiciary, Malawi Prison Service, human rights organisations and other concerned citizens. They argued that the Rouge and Vagabond, Idle and Disorderly law and other related laws target and infringe on the rights of the people. The debate became very interesting and enjoyable as events unfolded.
To begin with, the debate showed clearly that some Malawians even after 51 years of independence whether by design or not do not know the functions or duties of MPS. It was so surprising and shocking that some panelists spoke as if the laws were made and are being enforced by MPS for their benefit not for the general public.
Such Malawians should not be blamed because ignorance of our laws is a terrible problem in our country although in court proceeding it does not qualify as defence.
The debate has exposed that the majority of Malawians have little or no knowledge of their own laws or what happens in court. Who is to blame? Whose duty is it to educate the masses on their laws? It is vital that Malawians know the laws of the land and how courts operate.
As the Constitution of the Republic is the Supreme law in Malawi, the sole purpose of these laws, which are enshrined in the Constitution, is to protect every Malawian while the role of the MPS is to enforce the laws.
It was very strange and disturbing during the debate to note that the police was attacked from all angles but thanks to Commissioner George Kainja and his team of police officers who did their best by explaining the role of the police on these issues.
Those who are championing for change of rogue and vagabond laws allege that police offers infringe on the rights of suspects of the offence. But rights ought to be accompanied by responsibility. Where is the responsibility for a reasonable father, mother, son or daughter who leave their comfortable homes to loiter in public places at odd hours when they are supposed to be in bed just in the name of rights? Any peace-loving Malawian would wish to be schooled on this.
The police are professionals in their field just like judges, accountants and doctors. Police officers are trained on behavioural tactics of a criminal. A criminal can more easily be identified by a police officer than anyone else, before, during and after committing a crime. As such, darkness and criminals shall remain darlings but enemies of peace-loving people.
You will recall that not long ago some selfish Malawians also cried in similar manner for the removal of some police roadblocks for reasons best known to them. What followed? A lot of firearms were transferred between points that the outcome is still haunting innocent Malawians to date.
Maybe rogue and vagabond laws are being described as bad laws because of how they are enforced by law enforcers. The conduct of some police officers both during the discharge of their work or free time might not be conducive. This can be so because police officers are human beings, they make mistakes. The upbringing of an individual has an effect on their personal behaviour, it is a natural problem. Such rotten apples are everywhere.
Police is a listening and disciplined organisation that does not tolerate its bad apples. All bad apples in MPS are treated according to their behaviour with the help of the MPS Standards Unit and other agencies.
However, as a matter of improvement and progression, people responsible for correcting rotten apples in MPS continue vetting newly recruited police officers and frequently conduct courses to help in grooming responsible police officers.
There are more benefits out of police operations during enforcing the laws in question than alleged infringements of human rights. Records and experience show that after every sweeping exercise, police carries, police registers 80 percent success. Habitual and notorious criminals, who could have broken into buildings, rob and rape innocent people have always been apprehended and valuable stolen properties recovered as a result of enforcing the Rogue and Vagabond, Idle and Disorderly law.
It is also a blatant lie to insinuate that police officers during such operations arrest innocent people from their houses, rest houses and bars deliberately, thereby infringing on their rights.
The police philosophy is that a criminal cannot be separated from women and beer when it comes to enjoyment and police officers usually go to such places based on intelligence information with the belief that criminals would be found there.
When several suspects have been arrested, all those deemed innocent are sorted out from places of arrest while the doubted are sorted out at a charge office whether rich or poor. The purpose of such operations is to arrest wanted suspects, recover suspected stolen or unlawfully acquired items and prevent further commissioning of crimes.
If the police officers are being blamed in the manner they enforce rogue and vagabond laws, why not teach the law enforcers how to handle the suspects through funded seminars instead of abolishing laws that are helping in dealing with crime?
Coming to the shoot-to-kill concept, there is no law or act in Malawi that mandates either the police or criminals to kill each other. Every police officer knows when and how to use a fireman as outlined in the revised Police Act Section 191-196, (United Nations chatters 9 and 10.)
Practically, how can an armed robber shooting at you be overpowered and arrested without you also shooting at him, like was the case in the K46 million Petroda robbery and the Blantyre FMB shooting incidents? Is it possible that during such violent situations ‘shooting to disable’ as required in Police Act and UN Theory Chatters 9 and 10, can be achieved?
Have all those who are discouraging police officers from injuring or killing dangerous criminals armed ever come across a shooting situation? Is their talk just a verbal proposal for aid?
Police appreciate the role and powers of the courts but giving bail to armed robbers and murderers of innocent police officers and businesspeople is not just worrisome but is also an injustice. Loss of life is a regrettable matter and arresting notorious armed robbers is not as easy as writing or talking.
Peace and truth lovers in Malawi are tired, worried and surprised as to why the so-called human rights champions regard a life of a criminal more important than that of a businessperson, his property or his wife? Why are human rights activists soft on criminals killing a police officer or a businessperson? Are they waiting for such a day when these criminals will pounce on them or their loved ones?
Human rights declarations are only enforced and implemented on police officers of this country. Why do activists pretend not to know how suspects are treated in developed countries?
We are seeing and reading about serious and terrible killings of even unarmed people in these countries, it is not an issue. Recently, in one of these nations for example, a child who threatened a police officer with a piece of sugarcane pretending it was a firearm was shot dead by police. The nyakula style of arresting suspects and all sorts of torture are commonly and publicly done in these countries as the human rights proponents are just watching and doing nothing, what is so special with our criminals?
Are you really blowing the whistle for all Malawian citizens or for criminals? Is it not right when some people brand outspoken activists as criminals in human rights skins? Why is it that during the debate many of the panelists except police officers and other peace-loving individuals fought for rights of suspects not that of slain police officers and businesspeople?
Lastly, the issue of organised armed robberies occurring in this country and the issue of shoot-to-kill could be avoided only if Malawians refrained from using old-fashioned money transactions. This is a technological era, stop transferring hard cash between points. Stop moving huge cash to pay your employees on tables, use banks. Stop purchasing items from shops, fuel from filling stations using hard cash, use money cards. Stop banking by moving huge hard cash to banks; bank money right-away from companies, just play with figures. This will help to save loss of both life and money.
Let us know that this country belongs to us all. Malawians have the mandate of protecting and improving the economy and lives of the people with the help of the laws. No country on this planet developed or will develop minus sound security. All countries with strong economies prioritised and are prioritising security as a foundation for their economic growth and national development.
There is no country in the world that allows its citizens to be loitering day and night like we do in Malawi. The MPS is working with limited resources and there is need to look after police officers by sorting out their problems.
If criminals are treated with kid gloves, one day the victim will be you, your relative or friend. Reasons for changing the laws should be for the benefit of the majority of Malawians and the future generation not only criminals.—The author is Officer-in-Charge for Zalewa Police Roadblock writing in his personal capacity
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