PUBLIC SAFETY SERVICE DELIVERY REFORM IN PAKISTAN
Paper read by Afzal A Shigri in a seminar organized by National Reconstruction Bureau at Islamabad on 17th.August, 2006
Public Safety Service Delivery Reforms in Pakistan is the foundation for creating a police structure that is people friendly, service oriented and is designed to guarantee rule of law. In order to appreciate and understand the challenges in attaining this objective it would be necessary to look at the issue in its historical perspective. When East India Company after the grant of Dewani of Bengal, Bihar & Orissa, was transformed into a revenue collecting agency, the district collector of revenue became the most important functionary of the company and in order to maximize the collection of revenue he was armed with magisterial and police powers as well. The police under the revenue collector resorted to oppressive practice of realising revenue by torture that attracted the notice of even the British House of Commons where the matter was debated in 1854.
To enquire into these allegations of torture, the “Torture Commission” was constituted in 1855 in Madras. Condemning concentration of all administrative functions in one hand, the Commission recommended a distinct organisation of police completely independent of the revenue administration. Based on this principle, the city police was reorganised in 1856 in the Presidency town of Calcutta and later in the cities of Bombay and Madras. This was followed by the enactment of Madras District Police Act, 1859, which was framed on the principle of the separation of judiciary from the executive.
For the rest of India, the Police Commission of 1860 proposed a draft on the model of the Madras District Police Act of 1859. However, the events of the War of Independence of 1857 had transformed the entire policing perspective of the British government. It was first organized armed resistance against a foreign rule that united large section of Indians across the religious and ethnic divide. This event shook the empire and forced the British to re-examine their methods of dealing with the locals. The uprising had been suppressed ruthlessly but the ferocity and the wide spread involvement of large population of different creed and ethnicity created a fear and insecurity in the minds of the rulers. It was with this mindset that Police Act 1861 was introduced and the district revenue officer with magisterial powers as DM was again included in the chain of command. This arrangement was meant to suppress the local population effectively and protect the interest of the Empire. The system worked efficiently for eighty six years and safeguarded the interest of the empire through two world wars at the expense of public interest and safety.
Unfortunately after independence successive governments and the vested interest found this law very useful in dealing with the political dissent and perpetuation of their rule. The public interest was thus conveniently ignored. Politician also found bureaucracy a willing and useful alley in maintaining the status quo. This nexus of the executive and the bureaucracy can be gauged from the fact that introduction of Metropolitan Police System in Karachi through a legislation passed by the Sindh assembly in 1948 was not notified on some flimsy grounds of typographic mistake. That typing mistake was never corrected and the law was never implemented. The colonial structure of a police in the country therefore remained intact with extremely negative impact on any meaningful free and fair political development. For the political as well as the military rulers the perpetuation of this archaic and outdated structure was immensely useful for their immediate gains at a great cost of stunting the growth of a democratic culture in the country.
There was however a realization to change and reform the police after 1960 and the governments set up commissions, committees of local and foreign experts to come with a plan for reforms. These bodies produced twenty five reports on the subject but it was at the implementation stage that the political expediency and the desire to maintain a strangle hold on the police always prevailed and except some cosmetic and peripheral changes nothing was done to address the fundamental concern of creating a force that is answerable only to the law of the land and addresses the issue of Public safety.
The police establishments in the country thus continued to be prisoner of its past and followed the colonial system designed for an empire of nineteenth century. We therefore have a police that is devoid of any dynamism and unable to deal with the overwhelming challenges of 21st. century. There was a need to bring certain fundamental changes in the police structure. There was also a requirement to take bold decisions and to experiment with the modern concepts of depoliticizing police forces in the country, redefining their role and making them service oriented.
The government of General Pervez Musharaf (Chief Executive) embarked on changing the fundamental governance paradigm in the country when he decided to introduce the devolution plan for establishing an elected government at the district level. This also meant that erstwhile head of the district i.e. Deputy Commissioner will be replaced by an elected person. Government also took steps for complete separation of the executive from the judiciary that eliminated the executive magistrate and as a consequence of this decision the post of the District Magistrate was abolished. In addition to these fundamental changes the seven point agenda of the Chief Executive also included the de-politicization of state institutions.
Restructured administrative set up in the district necessitated creation of new equation amongst the various functionaries at the operational level. Without the District Magistrate and a separate judiciary the reorganization of police had to be addressed along with the devolution plan. It was imperative that the police being a key organization was insulated from extraneous influence and its misuse by the executive checked through effective institutional arrangements to ensure public safety. Police Reforms was therefore introduced in the back drop of this ground-breaking transformation. It was also realized that political interference in functioning of police was one single factor that was mainly responsible for a partisan and repressive police in the country. Its insulation from such an influence would be first major step in reforming it that would guarantee ‘Public safety’. The existing arrangement of over all control by the DC/DM who himself was a civil servant had failed to check political interference in the functioning of police and public safety had been sacrificed for political expediency. Persistent complaints of police high handedness and its balatant misuse by the executive belie the assertion that the DM was a check on police. The so called check by the magistracy was in fact a collusive relationship between the police and executive as magistracy was an extension of executive with judicial powers. The executive authorities gave unlawful orders to police which were carried out without any question and in case of protest by the people the magistracy white washed these illegal acts through magisterial enquiries. This tripartite nexus suited the powerful and the common man continued to suffer.
Under the devolution plan a political set up was being introduced for the district government and it was acknowledged that the politicization of police at this operational level will become more acute if police is directly placed under the district government. Moreover maintenance of law and order being the exclusive responsibility of the Provincial Government it could not be delegated to the districts governments. But police had to work as part of the district setup with well defined relationship with the political head of the district and other institutions at this very important level. National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) was tasked to come up with a practical and imaginative answer to this baffling problem that called for a depoliticized police in political structure. NRB examined the systems introduced in a number of countries where political neutrality of police had been achieved guaranteeing public safety despite a continuing political process in a democratic environment.
Similar problems were faced by these countries also but they had come up with a concept of external civilian oversight on police forces with very positive results. This was achieved through creation of police authorities, commissions and board at various levels that had the representation from a cross section of civil society. The systems in Japan, UK, Canada and USA were studied and based on their experience a three tier structure of Public Safety Commissions was introduced in the new police law. These Public Safety Commissions were designed keeping in view the local conditions of Pakistan. The members of the District Councils, Provincial and National Assemblies along with independent members were included in these bodies to involve the elected representatives to secure an ownership and support for their sustainability and effectiveness. The balanced composition of these commissions created an internal check on the members as they could only function as a corporate body.
The National Public Safety Commission has twelve members of which half are independent members and other half are the members of the National Assembly equally represented from the treasury and the opposition. The commission is chaired by the Minister for Interior who has a casting vote. This commission recommends the panel of names for appointment of the head of Federal law Enforcement Agencies, approves their annual policing plans and oversees their performance on the basis of targets set in this plan. Members of the opposition have equal say in important aspects of law enforcement by the federal agencies. This commission has the important function of preparing and placing before the parliament an annual report on the state of law and order in the country.
Similar arrangement was made in the Provincial Public Safety Commissions (PPSC). There too the opposition has a meaningful say in final selection and premature removal of the Provincial Police Officer and also has the responsibility of ensuring that the police acts strictly within the bounds of the laws. As part of the commissions they are involved in preparation of the Annual Policing Plan and monitoring of its implementation on ground. The functions of the PPSC were crafted in a manner that it ensured oversight of the police without direct interference in its operational duties. The commission could not interfere in the management and accountability of the mid level or lower level staff. This was to discourage the development of collusive relationship between the assembly members and the police officials.
At the district level the commission includes independent members from the civil society and the members of the District Council. The selection process of the members from the council is provided to ensure that all shades of political grouping in the district council is reflected in the selection of the members and it is not confined only to the majority group. Again after very careful consideration the duties of the district commission was drafted and they were given the additional functions of attending to the complaints from the public within clearly laid down limitations. The purpose was to provide a check at the local level without encroaching on the operational and administrative authority of the District Police Officer (DPO).
The law was drafted keeping in view the emerging challenges and complexities of a dynamic society in the twenty first century. It introduced a new concept of giving an effective role and voice to the opposition in the management of the most important arm of the government i.e. law enforcing agencies. As mentioned earlier the previous efforts to reform police was always frustrated at the time of actual implementation of such reforms due to political considerations. Unfortunately this happened again and all kinds of obstructions were created in the implementation of the Police Order 2002. Even at very responsible political level this law was criticized for nonexistent provisions in the Police Order and it was painted as an anti people law. Implementation process that addressed the issue of public safety was neglected. Under great public pressure District Public Safety Commissions in about ninety percent of the districts were set up but without proper resources and secretarial support. No steps were taken to notify their rules of business. These commissions therefore failed to deliver public safety service effectively. The safety commissions at the provincial level have yet to be established while National Public Safety Commission has been recently notified. The Police Order 2002 without full implementation was however amended in 2004.
These amendments have introduced certain basic modifications in the law that has changed composition of the commissions at the district and provincial levels and has also redefined their roles. The most important changes in the context of the role of the commissions are briefly :.
1. Role of National and Provincial Commissions in posting and transfer of PPO has been deleted.
2. Members of the National and Provincial Assemblies have been inducted in the District Public Safety Commissions.
3. Number of members of Provincial Assemblies from the opposition has been reduced and given to the government.
4. Independent Police Complaint Authority has been abolished and these functions have now been given to the Provincial and District Public Safety Commissions at the provincial level.
Despite these amendments the basic concept of public safety service delivery reform has been established as the most important aspect of the law enforcement. The National Public Safety Commissions has remained untouched except in its role in selection of PPO The other commissions at the provincial and district levels though changed structurally still retain the all important function of public safety through an oversight by civil society independently.
National Public Safety Commission is the first of this kind of institution in developing countries where the opposition has been given an equal opportunity to deal with vital and important matters of law enforcement. This is a giant step towards achieving the vision of a police that is only answerable to the law and the only way to reach the elusive dream of rule of law for a developing country. At the provincial and the district levels in spite of the recent distortions the Commissions can still address the public safety issues effectively in a transparent manner at the operational stage. It is expected that in spite of these hindrances National Public Safety Commission will play an important role in pointing out the deviations and shortcomings in policing in the country and trigger a debate in the parliament and ensure public safety service delivery. It has the powers, resources and the capacity to give a vision and show the way. And that is the expectation from the members of the commission. Will they measure up to these expectations? One would like to be optimistic and hope for the best.
To conclude I would say that we are far from Public Safety Service Delivery Reform but the National Public Safety Commission with the best from the civil society as independent members and equal representation of the treasury and the opposition from the National Assembly chaired by the Minister of Interior gives us hope of better times and a way forward in the right direction.