Honourable Folks, amid real or perceived rise in violent crime in Malawi, the most unhelpful public debate we should be engaged in is on the so-called shoot-to-kill policy.
While government spoke openly against the policy, probably as a sign of its commitment to the rule of law, there is no denying that the message turned out to be a bomb that exploded in governmentâ€™s own hands.
Listening to call-in radio debates on the issue, it is apparent that the majority of the people criticise governmentâ€™s position, arguing that it protects the rights of the criminals at the expense of their law-abiding victims.
Coincidentally, there appears to have been more media reports on violent crime, especially in the cities, after the Police Inspector General Lot Dzonzi and Internal Affairs Minister Uladi Mussa challenged at a press conference in Limbe that any police officer defying the ban on shoot-to-kill should resign from the police service.
Interestingly, the police say its records show that crime is on the decline, a factor it attributes to increased police patrols and good a working relationship it enjoys with residents who report criminals and criminal acts.
Lately, we have seen in newspapers pictures of recovered stolen property and a good number of stories on the police busting crime gangs. Iâ€™m not sure how comforting this campaign is, but how more assuaging it would be if the police displayed improved capacity to rush to the scene and thwart crime before it is committed!
At the same time, we also have seen an increased number of stories on people taking the law into their own hands by meting out instant mob justice, often by way of killing, to crime suspects, possibly a sign of growing frustration with crime within communities.
The opposition, especially DPP, has seen an opportunity for making some political gains out of the public concerns on security, promising to deal decisively with crime should we vote them back into government in 2014.
Most unhelpful was the argument I heard on Capital Radio recently in which a civil society leader who runs a think-tank body, argued that shoot-to-kill is unconstitutional because every citizen is presumed innocent until proven guilty by the courts.
I guess the confusion emanates from the fact that we, the civilian public, have engaged in discussing shoot-to-kill before the concept is properly defined. Surely, itâ€™s foolhardy to imagine there is anything in the Constitution that suggests the police use the gun for ceremonial parades.
I guess this is the wrong message that emboldens criminals to terrorise us in broad daylight.
I happen to have been privileged to cover crime as a visiting journalist in one of the highly developed Western democracies. There, like here, the citizen is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
However, at least there, police duty to protect life and property requires the use of guns, especially if the suspect is also armed or shows violent tendencies that may put livesâ€”including those of the officers themselvesâ€”in danger.
Shooting, even if it results in killing, in that context is not seen to militate against the provision that a suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty by the courts.
Only that, where an officer has pulled the trigger, leading to loss of life, a probe by competent authorities is immediately instituted to establish if indeed the situation justified the action. The reason for this is to prevent trigger-happy officers from abusing the weapons they carry.
These days criminals tend to move in groups, armed to the teeth and robbery goes together with killing, maiming or raping of victims. It should be up to the policeâ€”not politicians or human rights activistsâ€”operating within the law and dictates of their profession, to determine when and where to use the gun.
What the rest of us should be commenting on is the tendency by the police, who are expected to rise above partisan politics, to serve the political interests of the party in government as was the case during the Mutharika, Muluzi and Kamuzu regimes. Their loyalty should be to the Constitution and laws of the land not an individual.
Probably another debate for us should be to ensure that there is political will by those entrusted with sovereign authority to recruit more officers and ensure they are properly trained and equipped.
What we should avoid is sending wrong signals by creating a wrong impression that human rights or the Constitution requires of the police to hug criminals. It simply doesnâ€™t happen anywhere.