In his campaign, President Lazarus Chakwera promised “to respect rule of law so that we protect the rights of people in the country”.
Similarly, in June, then-president Peter Mutharika said in his State of the Nation address: “I want Malawi to be a country where everyone must be accountable. Nobody should be above the law.”
Too often, Malawians are good at creating accountability systems, but not implementing them.
A decade ago, Section 128 of the Police Act established an Independent Complaints Commission, but it remains non-existent.
To take effect, the commission requires funding and staff as well as a public advertisement for its commissioner and an awareness campaign to awaken sensitise to present their grievances to the new agency.
The commission may seem redundant to the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), which has broader mandate than police misconduct. However, Malawians deserve an independent agency to investigate human rights violations by the police.
The commission is required to hold police officers accountable and devote resources to see systemic changes implemented instead of waiting for the next front-page story.
An independent police complaints body is also about respecting victims’ rights.
Over half of respondents to the government’s Justice and Democratic Accountability Survey in 2018 were unsatisfied with the fairness of the police when responding to crime.
The commission will allow victims to access justice through an impartial body that will respect their dignity.
Since 2010, voices ranging from the Public Appointments Committee (PAC) of Parliament to Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), and the Malawi Law Society (MLS) have called for the commission formation.
Most recently, the Women Lawyer’s Association (WLA) won a case against Government following allegations that the police raped and sexually assaulted 17 women and girls in Lilongwe.
The verdict forces the police service to investigate and prosecute police officers who allegedly committed these heinous crimes.
WLA also named Parliament for failing to ensure an independent commission could verify a police investigation and provide justice.
Earlier this year, an advertisement for the post of commissioner of the long-awaited body was quietly posted in The Nation.
We applaud the Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo Banda and Inspector General of Police George Kainja for recent statements in favour of the commission.
However, after so long, Malawians deserve concrete steps towards the establishment of the commission.
We commend PAC and the Office of President and Cabinet for appointing the commissioner.
Before passing the 2020/21 budget, Parliament must dedicate adequate funds for the commission to acquire staff, office space and furniture.
The commission also needs funds to create public awareness and begin to receive complaints.
Parliament must consider additional laws or regulations and lessons learnt from the implementation of similar commissions in Hong Kong, India, Kenya, South Africa, and the UK.
Commissioners must be assured of independence. The recent confusion over who was supposed to appoint the commissioner shows that the process needs clarity and impartiality.
Budgets for the commission must be protected. In Kenya, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority has seen diminished allotments even as police murders increase. This should be avoided.
The commission requires a broad mandate to collect complaints, initiate and conduct its own investigations and prosecute officers.
It is important to learn from the limitations of similar independent bodies in Hong Kong and the UK which lack subpoena power and the ability to open their own investigations.
And the commission must be given a mandate to serve the public with accessible offices, a national hotline and budgeting to get to hard-to-reach populations.
Malawi’s leaders are united in expressing the need for accountability in government. The Executive and Parliament should work together to finally create the Independent Complaints Commission without delay.