The stability and progress of Mauritius rests on a few key pillars of governance. The police force and related key institutions should be among these pillars
The report of the Commission of Inquiry on Drug Trafficking, which according to press reports has been submitted to the Government, will hopefully be made public in the days to come. One can safely presume, based on the public proceedings of the workings of the Commission, that the police force, or a few departments thereof, might not elicit positive comments from the Commissioners. That is too bad for an institution which has generally been a force for good, having contributed with the means at its disposal towards ensuring peace and stability in the country.
True, public services often find themselves at the receiving end of public criticisms at the micro level. But overall, however, the work of the Police Force of Mauritius has been beneficial for the upkeep of the country. Several Commissioners of Police have handled their job with diligence and care, taking into account the various sensibilities which are present in Mauritian society. They have employed discretion whenever and wherever necessary before applying sanctions, and have taken decisive action in order to prevent situations from deteriorating.
As regards specifically the drugs issue, it must be said that the quasi-daily drug hauls and arrests of drug dealers is a testimony to the combined efforts of the police, in particular the ADSU, and the Customs Department, of their increased vigilance so as to outsmart the ever-newer tricks and ploys that drug traffickers and dealers have recourse to in their attempt to break through the surveillance system. However, it is also a fact that much more widespread media coverage highlighting these incidents may give the contradictory impression that there is a deep rot in the country – whereas in fact the country is being cleaned up according to official policy which so far is one of considering the drug issue as being solely a criminal one, thus the repressive methods employed to combat this scourge. Until that policy is modified, therefore, we will unfortunately have to continue facing such scenarios.
This said, there are countries in which the law and order situation has become untenable because the police force and the army 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 remained sunk into for long number of years, due to the complicity of the police and the army which became willing instruments 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 pervert the state apparatus.
But it cannot be denied that the police force has attracted for itself negative publicity for a number of reasons over the last few years. The facts speak for themselves: alleged “punitive transfers” for taking to task politically connected individuals; variation in weight of the drug seized in March 2017, which prompted the Minister Mentor to express publicly his dissatisfaction at the explanations of the Commissioner of Police, leading to the institution of an “independent enquiry” to be presided by a former Judge of the Supreme Court to shed light in this matter; the latest – and unheard of before – are the apprehensions expressed in a letter addressed by two senior police officers in the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police to the Commissioner of Police (which has found its way in the columns of the local media) regarding a promotion exercise to be conducted soon.
That is not all. Besides criticisms for errors and omissions to which it has been subjected from time to time, the police in Mauritius has also not been immune at times from unwarranted undue outside interferences. This is unfortunately also the fate of quite a number of other public institutions given the quality of our latter-day politicians in particular those who do not seem to know where to draw the line. There has thus been the perception of an ‘instrumentalisation’ of the police to track down and finish off political opponents or for settling political scores, seen during the last few years in particular, which has blemished the image of the police in a large measure. Fortunately abuses were checked by the judiciary, and things now appear to have gone back to a situation of normalcy.
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 politicians, 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 when the tables are turned at the next election, and the “oppressors” of today find themselves in the shoes of the “oppressed” tomorrow, besides the havoc this causes to the polity.
Countries which succeed the most at the international level cultivate their public institutions with care and attention. Mauritius could follow the same route if it looks forward to have a truly performing set of the highest public institutions generating mature performers who would be no less than world class. For this to happen, however, it is not sufficient for our institutions to have qualified, skilled and competent manpower at all levels. There must be the overt and stated political will to actually have such institutions and manned by such high calibre officers, and they must have absolute support of the political establishment to carry out their tasks fearlessly and independently. Further the latter must possess the sagacity to see beyond the next election and beyond narrow sectarian interests. In other words, for them the country must come first – they proclaim it.
What is additionally needed is to demonstrate this concretely. And the way to this is not to mess with our institutions, not to pressurise its officers to bend or bypass the provisions of the law in favour of X, Y or Z. This is what led to the BAI affair; this is what led a President to be forced into exit in ignominy. With consequential tarnishing of the country’s image and other negative fallouts.
As in all countries, the stability and progress of Mauritius rests on a few key pillars of governance. The police force and related key institutions should be among these pillars.
* Published in print edition on 27 July 2018