On February 27, an alleged police impostor was conducting traffic in the middle of nowhere in Jali, Zomba, stopping motorcyclists who rode without crash helmets, duping them as they believe they were dealing with a genuine law enforcer in uniform.
It is not known how Madalitso Nkhoma, 34, who was eventually nabbed, got the uniform, but do you know that is it possible for a civilian to buy police uniform from Police Quartermaster?
This reporter, working under cover with clearance from the Anti-Corruption Bureau, (ACB) managed to acquire the grey piece of cloth for shirt and boots right from the Police Quartermaster in Zomba.
A security expert at Mzuzu University Eugenio Njoloma in an interview said unlawful acquisitions of the uniform can enhance the erosion of the credibility of the police service.
The weak system, according to the expert, can aid criminal elements to commit crime in police uniform as they know that it has a profound psychological impact on people because it is regarded as a symbol of power and authority.
Our nine-month investigation led us to Quartermaster, a section of the Malawi Police Service (MPS) responsible for producing uniforms for the service in Zomba, where we discovered that it was possible for literally anyone with money and connections to get a complete police kit.
Later in the investigations, Nation Publications Limited (NPL) presented its findings to acting Inspector General Duncan Mwapasa in the presence of second most senior Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officer Isaac Norman who expressed shock at the rot in his agency.
The IG said the sale of the cloth to officers, let alone civilians, was being done fraudulently since it is illegal.
MPS initiated its own investigation, which corroborated our findings.
NPL shall, however, return to police the cloth and boots we bought through ACB.
How the uniform was acquired
This journalist managed without hassles to meet a police officer at Quartermaster in Zomba who assisted us to acquire the uniform without being asked about the name or proof that he was an officer.
We talked for about 20 minutes outside his office, explaining that we needed to acquire a police uniform and a pair of police boots.
He asked for our police rank and the police station we were from.
“I am a constable based at Blantyre Police,” this journalist responded.
Instead of vetting the journalist, the officer went ahead to ask for the type of material we wanted to buy upon which he was told that we were looking for a pair of police boots and the police grey cloth.
“Then, he gave us a price list: “Jombo [pair of police boots] is at K12 000, grey shirt is at K6 000 while the white shirt is at K5 500. Camouflage is at K6 000; that’s top and bottom.
“Nsalu is at K2 000 per four metres. I will bring to you a jombo [police boots] and cloth.”
He asked for cash and was given K17 000, promising to deliver the goods within an hour.
After an hour and 40 minutes, the package was delivered and we got the size 10 police boots and four-metre grey cloth.
“Sizophwekatu kutulutsa nginiyi [it is not an easy job to smuggle out these materials]” he said.
The officer, however, did not produce a receipt only saying we needed to be in touch with him whenever we wanted to buy a police uniform.
So, this is how we got a brand new pair of boots and grey cloth both produced by ALPS UK, a military manufacturing company that produces uniforms and army footwear.
This also demonstrates how easy civilians can find police uniform for criminal reasons.
When contacted on December 3 last year, acting Inspector General Duncan Mwapasa was shocked at the revelations. He could not believe that a civilian could sneak in and acquire a police uniform in such a manner.
“That is impossible! You mean a civilian buying a police uniform? This is my first time hearing this. You bought our uniform? Sure? How?” reacted Mwapasa in disbelief.
“No one can buy that uniform, not even a police officer. It is not for sale and I am surprised at this news. Those uniforms are not supposed to be given or to be sold to anyone who is not a police officer. The one involved must be prosecuted,” he said.
Mwapasa also identified the uniform and the boot and confirmed to be exclusive police material.
“Ours is [procured] from ALPS. So, yes it is a military gear,” he responded. When we wanted to publish the story on December 7 2019, Mwapasa asked NPL to pend the story, arguing its publication would put officers in trouble because they do not have identity cards.
“Our officers are identified by uniforms only because we don’t have police identity cards—something that we are working on. We believe by end of February this issue will be addressed.
“If you publish this story now, it means that a lot of police officers will be harassed due to the lack of IDs. Please bear with us,” pleaded Mwapasa.
He also promised to conduct investigation at Zomba Quartermaster.
Our investigations also found out that most police officers have to buy theirs at Quartermasters because they cannot get a new kit.
We met a police officer who is buying and selling police uniforms and boots. “I order them from our Quartermaster and sell them to police officers at a higher price,” he said.
He told us that some officers have stayed for almost a year without getting new pair uniforms and boots.
“They are forced to wear torn uniforms. Others don’t want to be embarrassed and get uniforms from our Quartermaster section through the same system.”
He said last year alone, he managed to sell over 20 sets of uniforms and 15 pairs of boots to officers.
But Mwapasa said it is a crime for a police officer to buy police uniforms.
“No one is supposed to buy or sell those uniforms. That is wrong,” the IG stressed, while acknowledging that some officers may indeed have stayed longer without getting a new uniform.
“We are addressing the situation. Government is assisting us [to ensure] that there are no gaps. We were neglected for a long time but now we are on the right track.” he said.
But Njoloma said police uniform is a great symbol of security which should not create mistrust and despair in the citizens.
He said: “If people lose trust with police, how can they effect the search warrant? How would you obey when an officer stops you? This is sad. Others will use that uniform to perpetrate various forms of crimes, we have seen that before.
“There is need those that are trusted with responsibility to manufacture uniforms should have a great sense of patriotism. They should know that security is a great thing. This is a very sad development and must end,” he said.
On March 6, deputy director in the CID Department, Isaac Norman told Nation on Sunday that they arrested assistant superintendent Michael Makata at Quartermaster section in Zomba after he was found with cartons of police uniforms.
“We recovered some uniforms at his house when we conducted a search. We are still investigating and more arrests will follow. We have also transferred another officer from the same section,” said Norman.
He also said the police instituted an audit at the Quartermaster.
On the issue of IDs, Norman said the process to secure identity cards is in progress. “We have been advised on how to print them, so everything is intact. We have also partners to support us,” he added.
Cases of impersonation
On February 27, police also arrested Madalitso Nkhoma, 34, from Nansasala Village, Traditional Authority Mwambo in Zomba for impersonating a police officer.
Eastern Region Police spokesperson Joseph Sauka said Nkhoma was found doing traffic checks, stopping motorcyclists for the offence of riding a motorcycle without a crush helmet.
A Blantyre resident, Geoffrey Kumimba, was also attacked by people in police uniform in the city near Kamuzu at night in 2018.
“I was driving home when I was stopped by two men in police uniform near Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre,” he said.
Kumimba said he was asked to produce a driving licence. “A minute later I saw the other guy with a panga trying to open my other door.
“I drove fast. I sustained a deep cut on my neck,” he said.
In April 2019, Lilongwe Police arrested five people who impersonated police officers and abducted Fernando Zacharia Phillip. They were in police uniforms and had guns.
In October 2018, Dedza Police arrested Davie Mkweu, 19, for allegedly collecting K28 000 from Florence Chikumbutso on the understanding that he would get her son out of police cell. He told her that he was a police officer.
In April 2018, Police in Mchinji arrested Staff Amani, 42, for impersonating a police officer and obtaining money by false pretence.
Amani approached a 73-year-old man, claiming he would facilitate the release of his son who was in custody. He introduced himself as Detective Sergeant Panganani. He allegedly collected K25 000 from the old man.
In April 2018, Police in Dedza arrested a 22-year-old Arnold Banda who erected a roadblock at Kafere and demanded money from people transporting firewood and charcoal. Banda was in MDF gear.
In March 2018, two people were arrested by Lilongwe Police for impersonating police officers. They were forcing shop owners who sell cooking oil imported from Mozambique to give them money.