President Uhuru Kenyatta recently ordered Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnett to come up with a framework to revitalize policing, and in particular get a solution to the perennial housing problem.
The directive presents a fresh impetus to revisit and decisively deal with deep rooted ills that have defied decades and continued to bedevil law enforcement in Kenya. More so on housing. The technical team on that assignment need not look very far since somewhere on Government shelves lays a document; Research Report on Police Housing Crisis in Kenya.
This document, available since January 2016, should be retrieved and dusted because in those pages, are findings of an in-depth research on the housing problem with accompanying remedies after input by experts. If implemented, the recommendations will address the housing headache and other aspects of policing.
For instance, it suggests that by abandoning the old colonial-era routine of sheltering police officers and their families within the station police lines, officers should be allowed to live in residential areas where members of the public stay. This, among other things, will help improve relationships through community policing.
Living among the larger community, the police will have a better chance of convincing the public that they are there to protect them and not solely to protect the interests of the government.
The report is not blind to the fact that police stations are vital security installations and thus officers should not leave them unmanned round the clock.
It goes on to say that at any given time, a particular number of police officers who are on duty must reside at the stations for ease of mobilization, securing the facilities and to respond to emergencies promptly. The report also lays bare other facts that it abhors, like where officers,their spouses and children are forced to share single rooms with families of other police officers.This is degrading and deplorable and demoralizing to the officers who, as a consequence, perform poorly in the conduct of their work.
This report was compiled following an in-depth study by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA). IPOA may be well known for investigating complaints lodged by members of the public and police officers against fellow police officers, but besides that, the IPOA Act No. 35 of 2012 also empowers the Authority to conduct inspections of police premises, monitor and investigate police operations affecting members of the public and make recommendations.
It is in execution of this mandate that IPOA carried out the study and made these recommendations.
In the report and working with experts, IPOA proposed that “NPS should abandon government supplied police housing and shift to an allowance based scheme. The system of government building police houses has not worked so far. The turnaround time of government contracts has been problematic with stalled and abandoned police housing projects littered across the country.”
Further, it observed that the government also lacks land where new houses can be constructed, as evidenced by the presence of police stations and patrol bases on private land in many parts of the country. Where there is public land, the problem is worsened by land grabbing.
Experts who worked with the researchers also noted that the principle of ‘supplied police housing’ is an antiquated concept that has largely been abandoned throughout the democratic world. However, the proposed arrangement of residential area accommodation should be applied with exceptions, the report notes, and identifies specialised police units like the General Service Unit, Anti-Stock Theft Unit, Rapid Deployment Unit and the Rural Border Patrol Unit, whose officers should continue being accommodated within their camps.
These units often require deployment at short notice, and also are usually situated in remote areas where availability of decent housing may not be easily available.
The report is also alive to the fact that house allowances for officers should be increased to allow them to rent units at market value.
At present, only officers of the rank of Inspector and above are paid monthly house allowances while the bulk, more than 70,000 officers in the lower cadres - Constable to Senior Sergeant - are required to live at the stations. It is this bulk that suffers the inadequacy of housing and the deplorable conditions.
And in the long term, the government, the report also suggests, should take advantage of the sheer numbers to negotiate specialized and fairly-priced mortgage with financial institutions to enable officers to own their own homes.
To also ensure that NPS retains its officers, an individual enjoying the negotiated mortgage would have it revert to the market rates in the event he or she leaves the Service. This way, the government would keep in line with global best practices, like in Australia, United Kingdom and the United States, where police officers enjoy mortgage at special rates.
Mr Mbogo works with IPOA