Date: 14 May 2017 02:41
Vetting of police officers has almost disappeared from the public debate due to inherent weaknesses within the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) including corruption and weak mechanisms, an assessment by a human rights organisation states.
The International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) also accuses NPSC of creating hurdles for the public to robustly engage in the process by excluding the media and limiting the flow of information to the public.
“This analysis finds that the Commission is unable to rectify glaring weaknesses of the ongoing vetting process, despite the fact that these weaknesses have been raised to the Commission by civil society and human rights defenders over time. This has in turn contributed to apathy and loss of confidence in the process among human rights defenders. Countrywide consultations with human rights defenders (HRDs) suggest that these weaknesses are so severe that the Commission will not achieve the objectives of the vetting,” ICTJ says.
Vetting of police officers who were in service at the time of the promulgation of the Constitution on August 27, 2010 was envisaged as the cornerstone to a reformed police service after decades of rot. The vetting started in December 2013 and is still ongoing.
ICTJ’s analysis follows its engagement with human rights defenders (HRDs) and members of the Police Reforms Working Group (PRWG) in six counties namely Nairobi, Bungoma, Kisumu, Garissa, Nakuru and Mombasa for a period of five months in March, April, May, June and September last year.
In its analysis, ICTJ points out seven specific challenges are undermining police vetting, and in the end eroding the police reforms envisaged in the 2010 Constitution.
The first challenge is that the exercise has been blighted by allegations of high level corruption and interference by NPSC staff.
“These allegations, first raised in the media, are to the effect that police officers facing vetting bribed commissioners to get favourable outcomes. There are also allegations that some commissioners and Commission staff are being bribed to overturn decisions. Although these are just allegations that are yet to be proven, they have nonetheless eroded public confidence in the process,” ICTJ says.
The allegations of corruption within NPSC were first highlighted in a 2016 anonymous letter “purportedly authored by police officers both serving and those out of service” to President Uhuru Kenyatta alleging connivance between top NPSC officials and investigators deployed to the commission “to doctor the investigation reports” after allegedly receiving bribes from officers undergoing vetting.
The anonymous letter was alleging that some commissioners were demanding between Sh1 million and Sh5 million to clear officers found unsuitable.
Though the anonymous letter was forwarded to the Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) Ndegwa Muhoro on February 8, last year “to commence investigations....” and complete the same by March 3, the same year, the outcome of the investigation by the DCI is unclear.
In response to the corruption allegations, ICTJ on October 25, 2016 wrote to NPSC on behalf of civil society and human rights defenders demanding answers.
NPSC chief executive Patrick Odongo responded to the letter a month later denying the allegations.
“The issue of credibility is misplaced since the Commission has maintained the same standards since the exercise commenced. As for the leadership of the Commission, it would be subjective for HRDs to pass judgment since those holding office have gone through the due process and uphold tenets of the Constitution,” Mr Odongo wrote.
But ICTJ maintains that “the lack of a strong response from the Commission in undertaking investigations into key persons alleged to be involved has cast doubt over the vetting.”
ICTJ’s report also raises questions as to how NPSC was able to clear some senior officers despite a trail of eye-catching M-Pesa transactions from their juniors on a regular basis.
“Officers of lower ranks in the traffic department have confessed to doling out bribes through mobile money transfer services to their seniors. These lower ranking officers were unable to put forward a credible explanation about the source of their money or reasons for continuously sending money to their seniors. The Commission, having cleared the said senior officers and dismissed the lower ranked officers, appears at a loss on how to deal with this unforeseen development,” ICTJ says.
Mr Odongo however defended NPSC against the accusation stating that expecting a “whitewash” from the vetting would be farfetched.
CAUSE OF DELAY
The police vetting, the assessment notes, has also been undermined by failure of the NPSC to independently and competitively recruit professional staff. Rather, majority of the staff are seconded from other government departments.
The Commission does not deny this state of affairs in the December letter but blames government austerity measures as the cause of the delay to fully operationalise its secretariat.
Other weaknesses of the police vetting, ICTJ says, revolve around failure to acknowledge complaints received and lack of communication and public engagement by NPSC. On the latter, the report cites reports of the media being kept of the vetting venues and the manner in which the Commission calls for submission of complaints.