Police Reform

Editorial

In reply to the PNQ put by the leader of the Opposition last Wednesday, about the recent cases of police brutality involving a particular unit of the CID and others, the Prime Minister has dismissed the proposal of Hon Xavier Duval for the setting up of a Commission of Inquiry, which he said ‘would not give the desired results’ given that the evidence provided before one such Commission cannot be used for the purpose of prosecution. The Police would have to start investigation afresh, call witnesses, gather evidence and submit the file to the DPP for advice. He also stated that the independent Police Complaints Commission is already carrying out an investigation and once it is completed, the IPCC will refer the matter to the appropriate body.

There had earlier been calls by various parties for the DPP to initiate a judicial inquiry into this matter, but it’s for the latter to exercise his constitutional prerogatives and decide accordingly. Opinions will differ about the effectiveness or otherwise of a commission of inquiry, but one alternative course of action that could be seriously considered in the present circumstances would be to go for a Presidential Commission on the lines of the Mackay Commission, as suggested by a group of lawyers. It would go beyond the investigation of cases of police brutality to look into the effectiveness of the police in fighting crime, the input of technological means for that purpose, the training of officers for policing duties as well as in ethics, community policing, etc.

This said, we have to acknowledge that if public services often find themselves at the receiving end of recurrent criticisms, the work of the police force of Mauritius has, however, been beneficial for the proper upkeep of the country overall. It has employed discretion whenever and wherever necessary before applying sanctions, and taken decisive action in order to prevent situations from deteriorating. The 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 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, the emergence of new drugs, in particular the cheaply available synthetic ones, all over the island may give the impression that the situation is getting out of hand. It is to be hoped the police is taking all the necessary steps to prevent the situation from becoming untenable.

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; hounding of individuals, NGOs or communities expressing their grievances, the presence of rogue elements in some units of the Force, variation in weight of drugs seized, which prompted the then Minister Mentor Sir Anerood Jugnauth to express publicly his dissatisfaction at the explanations of the police, leading to the institution of an inquiry presided by a former Judge of the Supreme Court. There has also been on the one hand the perception of an ‘instrumentalisation’ of the police to track down and finish off political opponents, and, on the other, its perceived ineffectiveness to go to the bottom of criminal cases which might embarrass prominent figures or those close to them. The yet unresolved murder case of political activist Soopramanien Kistnen is a case in point.

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. It is expected that the holder of the post will ensure that the Constitution of the country will prevail over all other considerations, political or otherwise. What is additionally needed is to demonstrate this concretely. Like Caesar’s wife, trustworthiness in the vast majority of decent police officers and their conduct has also to be clear to all impacted stakeholders in society and rogue elements have to be taken to task with utmost celerity.

As in all countries, the stability and progress of Mauritius rests on a few key pillars of governance. The police force should be among these pillars.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 17 June 2022

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