Last week, Malawi President Peter Mutharika appointed new Inspector General of Police Lexten Kachama. Engages associate professor of public administration at Chancellor College, Happy Kayuni, on the appointment and finds out how the police can regain public trust.
Q: Since the country adopted democracy, we have seen government changing Inspector General (IG) of Police frequently (as opposed to the Kamuzu era). What impact does this have on the police service?
A: Changes in leadership in any organisation are welcome but when it is excessive it seriously undermines institutional development. A certain level of leadership stability provides an opportunity for the organisation to identify and critically reflect on the direction it has to take. The police have been embarking on several reform programmes hence a more visible, inspired and stable leadership in the institution would reinforce and sustain the planned changes. Frequent leadership changes in the police have negatively affected progress.
Q: After taking office, the late Bingu wa Mutharika appointed an IG, so did Joyce Banda and now PeterMutharika has appointed a new IG after the one he appointed three months ago resigned on medical grounds. Is there any relationship between the presidency and this top police post?
A : There is obviously a need for trust between the office of the presidency and IG. Recently, there has been a debate on whether the term of the office of presidency should be tied to that of the IG. My view is that the major problem is relating to procedure for appointment. Although currently Parliament has to scrutinise every presidential appointment, I feel that we may have to improve on this process. Mistrust comes in because a new president feels that the IG is loyal to a former president. Consequently, just as there has been a suggestion that every senior position in government should be subjected to interviews, the same should apply to this office. In this case, an independent body would be responsible and not the President. Ultimately, this would not only reduce the mistrust when a new president takes over, but also ensure that the best person in the police takes up the challenge; not merely appointments of people who are physically and intellectually unprepared for the tough job. The parliamentary scrutiny is based on one candidate that has been identified by the President. An open system will provide several candidates who have to compete and convince the independent panel that they are the best the system has to offer.
Q: Lately, there have been concerns over compromised security in Malawi. In some cases, police officers have been implicated in armed robbery cases. Where is the country getting it wrong?
A : Despite several efforts towards police reform, my view is that not much has been done. I feel that these recent security concerns, coupled with police being implicated in them, should be regarded as an opportunity for the institution to have a serious inward reflection. Any organisation that passes through a crisis but does not recognise its state is doomed to failure. The police should move into a crisis mode and review its basic operational processes: Questions should be asked in relation to how officers are recruited, trained, promoted, rewarded and monitored. There is a need for a major review in these basics.
Q: What, in your opinion, does the police need to regain the public trust they had during the Kamuzu era and to achieve national security?
A: Indeed, public trust in the police has progressively gone down over the years. One of the first tasks in policing is to inspire trust and this is a product of good character and competence. Studies have shown that the citizenry who consistently believe that the police are performing their duties with professionalism and integrity are more likely to obey laws and also provide the necessary support to curb criminality. In Malawi, trust in the police has seriously deteriorated. For instance, according to Afrobarometer surveys, trust in the police was 68 percent in 2012 but has gone down to 60 percent in 2014. What is striking is that the survey results in 2005 indicated that the trust in the institution was as high as 79 percent. Furthermore, in the previous Afrobarometer surveys, the police as an institution, have consistently been perceived by Malawians as one of the most corrupt in the country. Studies have also shown that most Malawians do not report crimes because they did not have trust in the institution hence, demonstrated fear of reprisals. Credible and sustainable platforms where communities and police may effectively interact do not exist in Malawi. The police and other stakeholders should work towards creating this platform which will help the police to understand and respond to the expectations of people across a range of possible situations. It will also enlighten the communities to the challenges that the police face in their everyday duties.
Q: We have a new IG Lexten Kachama. What is your take on his appointment?
A: I cannot say much about him because I do not have information on his track record. However, my view still remains that we need a review of the appointment system.
Q: If you were to advise him on three issues to prioritise during his first 100 days in office, what would you say?
A: His first task should be ‘putting the house in order’ by asking for a review in the basic organisational processes that I have already mentioned. Secondly, let him re-examine the platforms that need to be created or reinforced which would help the police to effectively reach out to communities and other key stakeholders. Finally, engage with social and security researchers/experts to build the capacity of criminal investigation in the institution.
Q: Any last comment?
A: I wish the new IG all the best and he should know that there are many people out there who will support his efforts to deal with criminal activities in the country. Although the challenges are many, it is possible to build a secure and safe Malawi if the IG takes this as a cooperative effort.