The stability and progress of Mauritius rest on a few key pillars of governance. The police force has been one of these. Our law enforcement agency has generally been a force for good, having contributed as much as possible, within the means at its disposal, towards ensuring the peace and stability of the country.
Public services are bound to be criticized at the micro level. Overall, however, the work of the Police Department of Mauritius has been highly beneficial towards keeping the country safe. However, the police has often been criticised for errors and omissions to which it has been subject from time to time. It has also not been immune at times from unwarranted undue outside interferences. But this is also the fate of quite a number of other public institutions. Some of our latter-day politicians in particular don’t seem to know where to draw the line. Many of them don’t appreciate how markedly improved and efficient the public service would be if such pressures were not exerted upon the normal working of public institutions.
The core philosophy behind the setting up of a police force is that it is primarily meant for the protection of the citizen rather than being a coercive instrument at the beck and call of the State, for which reason the Commissioner of Police’s post is a constitutionally guaranteed one so that he can perform his duties in full autonomy. Any political pressure to tamper with this autonomy can have a boomerang effect on the initiator of such a departure from the norm when the tables are turned at the next election, and cause havoc in the polity. This real risk must always be taken into consideration.
What has been perceived as the instrumentalisation of the police to track down and harass political opponents or for settling political scores, as seen during the last few years, has blemished the image of the police in a large measure. Fortunately abuses whenever they occurred were checked by the judiciary.
There have always been cases of certain police officers who have taken advantage of their position in the force for private gains. Others have worked below the expected standard and frustrated the pursuits of the entire police force by so doing. The aim should be to give exemplary signals that such departures from discipline and respect for established rules will not be tolerated. Good credentials and a solid track record of impartiality and trustworthiness will prove essential for the police for doing its work efficiently and for fulfilling its responsibility towards society as a respected force. This is the direction which must ever guide its officers in the exercise of their duties vis-a-vis the population.
There are countries in which the law and order situation has become untenable because the police force and the army there pursued their own interests at public expense. We have managed to steer clear of such chaotic situations in which quite a few countries in Africa and Asia have been plunged due to the complicity of the police and the army which became willing instruments for advancing the private interests of unscrupulous politicians in power and their own.
If Mauritius has not failed like those states, we owe it in a large measure to the political leadership and culture which have prevailed in this country since Independence and to those of our independent public institutions which have refused to give in to unlawful entreaties to pervert the state apparatus. If we have not strayed in this dangerous direction for so long, we have not the least reason to embark on such a course now – for our own good.
A number of disturbing cases of murder, aggression and alleged suicides have hogged the headlines for the past few weeks. The police is looking into these cases. The self-proclaimed ‘Avengers’ group of lawyers, who have taken the defence of the wife of Soopramanien Kistnen, have taken the credit for prodding the police into expediting their inquiries into that particular and other cases. They may have a point there. But we would nevertheless like to think that its sense of self-dignity would inspire the police to want to live up to and always fulfil its lofty mission – without fear or favour – for the good of the country.
* Published in print edition on 26 January 2021