The terms of service of the inaugural commissioners of National Police Service Commission (NPSC) ended in September 2018. The Johnston Kavuludi-led commission served at a vital time — when Kenya was attempting to transform policing from a force into a professional and accountable service that abides by the rule of law and human rights.
Many have observed the initial design of the police, since its inception by the British in the early part of the last century up to the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010, was more concerned in the preservation and protection of the colonial state, or the government of the day, rather than protection of law, order, life and dignity of the people. Contrary to legitimate expectations, Kenya’s independence and governance by black Africans never changed this objective.
Brute force was used to deal with “troublemakers”, often civilians who for one reason or another disagreed with or challenged the position of the Government. As such, the modus operandi of policing remained the same from the 1920s, during the state of emergency, at independence, post-independence, during the second liberation all the way through to 2010.
Often, the rights of arrested persons were ignored and excessive force was used. In the same vein, freedom of peaceful assembly, right of association, political organisation and freedom of expression were violently trampled upon by the police at the behest of the Government of the day. Other violations included citizens being held incommunicado or being bounced from one police station to another without the knowledge of their relatives or legal counsel and the use of torture and cruel or unusual treatment and or punishment.
As such, the new Constitution sought to infuse accountability by forming a commission made up of professionals from relevant fields; a lawyer with the qualifications of a judge as well as two retired police officers, Inspector General of Police and his two deputies. Their overall mandate is to take up the human resource management function of the National Police Service in terms of appointment, promotions and ensuring diversity within the National Police Service.
Before the formation of NPSC, the National Police Service was known for hiring almost entirely from certain ethnic communities and regions regardless of suitability and competence. Appointments of majority police officers and promotions often reflected the regional, ethnic or political bias of the person who happened to be in power at the time - so much so that the drafters of the Constitution ensured that Article 246 specifically provided that NPSC would ensure the composition of the NPS would reflect the regional and ethnic diversity of the People of Kenya.
The outgoing commissioners will be remembered for many positive things. This includes recruitment of staff and establishing the structures of the new commission, overseeing appointments of the first National Police Service senior officers, recruitment of 38,000 police officers and rolling out the police vetting process that was considered transparent and laid bare the entrenched corruption within the police.
Setbacks to the work of the commissioners included the nullification of the police recruitment exercise by the High Court for disregarding the constitutional and statutory requirements, the barring of the media from covering police vetting in early 2017, citing “sensitive information” yet the vetting was of traffic police.
The commissioners also put more emphasis on financial probity as opposed to human rights violations in the vetting process and also acquiesced to executive pressure and control with regard to police reforms. This was evidenced by the limited between the executive and the NPSC with regard to the recently announced police reforms.
The entire police vetting process revealed large corruption cartels that seem to move up from the junior levels. To date, many officers have failed to explain how they accumulated millions of shillings while on modest salaries. It is also curious that none of those who have been found unfit to hold office have been recommended for prosecution, yet they were clearly compromised.
Owing to the recent vacancies brought about by the end of the terms of the former commissioners and the ongoing police reforms announced by the President two months ago, Public Service Commission should move with haste to set up a selection panel made up of statutorily required representative from Judicial Service Commission, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, National Gender Equality Commission, Association of Professional Societies, among others, to advertise the vacancies, shortlist, interview and select suitable candidates.
Because of the importance of policing in maintaining the rule of law, enforcement of the law, protection of lives and maintenance of security, the selection panel must endeavour to choose the best of the best to steer the Commission and the National Police Service by extension in the right direction for the next five years.
Moreover, considering the current police reforms and ongoing restructuring, any redeployment, movement, appointments and transfers of officers above the rank of superintendent constitutionally and statutorily require endorsement and confirmation of the National Police Service Commission, which as we speak is not properly constituted.
Demas Kiprono is a Human Rights Lawyer.[email protected] Twitter: @kipdemas