Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Police Reforms

Article was published in The Nation Pakistan in 2004
Police reforms
After innumerable marathon meetings in the NRB and extensive consultations with all the stake holders Police Order 2002 was drafted and later promulgated on 14th August, 2002. It was a modern legislation that provided a unique opportunity to transform the police in this country from a nineteenth century colonial law enforcement force into a modern police that would be answerable only to the law of land. It was an achievement that the military government could be proud of, as this law safeguarded the interests of the people instead of vested interests. The implementation of the provisions of this law particularly the ones that checked the arbitrary and whimsical authority of the executive were not allowed to be implemented. The police officers who stood for the change were transferred or removed and marginalised. The provinces continued to drag their feet and delayed the process of reform. This was taken note of by the Federal Government and a number of meetings were called with new deadlines for the implementation of the law. The provinces instead of implementing the law started proposing new amendments in the Police Order. Some of these changes were in conflict even with their earlier views on this law.
The provincial governments though comprising of different political parties found a common ground in making the police subservient to the executive. Reportedly a consensus was developed in a meeting where the police leadership generally were excluded from the deliberations. Based on this consensus major changes were approved in the police law in the last meeting chaired by the President. These changes in the law are yet to be incorporated in the Police Order. According to the press reports the following amendments stand approved:
* Two MPAs and one MNA will be included in the District Public Safety Commissions.
* In the National and the Provincial Public Safety Commissions the number of opposition MNAs and MPAs have been reduced from three to two and those of treasury benches increased from three to four.
* The Police Complaint authorities at the National and the Provincial levels have been abolished and the task has been entrusted to the relevant safety commissions.
* Investigation wing has been again placed under the SHO.
* Annual Confidential Report of the District Police Officer by the Zila Nazim.
At the face these changes look innocent and harmless and the Chairman NRB has bravely defended these as improvements on the present draft. But the fact is that these provisions hit at the heart of this law. These amendments will negate the fundamental principles of reforms that were built in the Police Order 2002. Police Order 2002 in its original form introduced a modern police system that ensured de-politicisation of police, effective oversight by the civil society, professionalism with de-concentration of powers at key operational levels and a credible accountability of police.
The members of assemblies could only be nominated in the National and Provincial Public Safety Commissions with equal representation of the treasury and the opposition along with equal number of independent members from the civil society. While they were integrated in this manner at these levels, they were intentionally excluded from the District Public Safety Commissions as it was feared that their inclusion will formalise political interference in the policing in the country that will result in a collusive relationship of the members of the assemblies and the police officers at operational level with serious repercussions on law enforcement. The public interest will stand compromised and the misuse of police by the politicians will create fiefdoms of influence and power centres outside the formal institutional system of governance. In the National and the Provincial commissions disturbing the balance between the treasury and the opposition members of assemblies will compromise the neutrality of these bodies which have been tasked to perform certain important and sensitive functions and oversight of the civil society being one of the key areas.
With these fundamental changes in the structure of the Public Safety Commissions at all these levels the entire complexion of the law has undergone a drastic change that has unfortunately undermined the rationale on which the entire edifice of the legal provisions were drafted. The very essence of this reform was to create neutral bodies with fifty percent representation of the civil society as a check at the three levels that had specific and different functions. A fine balance had been created in their composition but this now stands compromised with over bearing presence of the members of the assemblies at the district level and majority at the national and provincial levels who have their own political agenda and any kind of meaningful oversight by these bodies stands nullified.
Institutional arrangement for an effective, impartial and independent system of accountability i.e. Police Complaints Authorities, have been abolished and the functions entrusted to the National and the Provincial Public Safety Commissions. While proposing this amendment no one seems to have considered that the functions of the commissions and the complaint authorities are totally different. The members of the commissions are part time while that of the complaint authorities were full time. The presence of the members of the assemblies in the commissions make them totally unsuitable for acting as complaint authorities as their findings will invariably be tainted with political considerations and even if they act impartially, there will always be a credibility gap and lack of trust by the common man. There was continued resistance to create these institutions because the executive perceived such independent bodies to be a check on them. The party in power does not like accountability of their minions who in police uniforms carry out their illegal orders. Thus these institutions stand aborted even before their birth and replaced by a system that will be used not to address the grievances of the public but a tool to ensure total submission of any police officer who dares to act independently against the wishes of the political bosses. The public interest has once again been sacrificed for political expediency.
In order to bring certain level of professionalism and to address the growing concern of delay in investigation, non-availability of officers to the complainants and to de-concentrate the powers only in a few operational appointments, the investigation was separated completely from the watch and ward duties. This decision has been reversed as it creates a check in manipulating the investigations at the police station level. The investigation staff has again been placed under the all powerful SHO. Separate investigation staff was an inconvenience for influencing the investigation as one had to deal with a different set of officers who at times were not very cooperative. This amendment will reverse the process of specialisation in police and will also give rise to extraneous interference in the investigation of cases.
The recording of ACR by the Zila Nazim will have serious repercussions on the day-to-day working of the District Police Officer who will be forced to accommodate the requirement of the Zila Nazim. It formalises the subordinate status of police to a political functionary even at the local level. In case of a Zila Nazim being from a different party than the provincial government, the conflicting instructions will also create serious management problems. This arrangement eliminates all possibility of impartiality by the police even in day-to-day routine cases to the detriment of public interest. Such control of police by the local governments even in advanced countries has proved counter productive and the central governments had to put in place effective systems to insulate the police from political interference. In certain cases new departments had to be created for specific important functions that required total impartiality by the law enforcement machinery and it was not possible in a setting where the local mayor controlled the police. There is no justification for allowing the Zila Nazim to record the ACR of the DPO.
The preceding paras will show that a law that was drafted with such good intentions and after a thorough consultation and in-depth study of the modern police systems the world over and in line with the stated policy of the government to make fundamental changes in the governance, has been completely recast. These changes sadly negate the vital principles on which all its provisions were based. At the face of it seems that only a few changes have been made but these have transformed the entire law and unfortunately introduces a spoil system in the most vital organisation of the country with far-reaching impact on the entire criminal justice system and the governance in the country. We are likely to end up with a more corrupt, more repressive and unaccountable police in the country with tragic results for the people of Pakistan.
When we embarked on the police reforms we were inspired by the reforms that had been brought about in Japan and UK. We had the lofty principle of the complete political neutrality and rule of law.
After distortion of the Police Order 2002 what a come down from the lofty and dizzying heights of an independent and neutral police that upholds the law and only acts on behalf of the people.
The writer is a retired Inspector General of Police