IT is not only the potholes and bumps along the road that make a motorist want to know its history, regarding the expertise and professionalism of the firms involved in its construction and probably why the road remains in a bad state. Even the sight of a road built with perfect workmanship as well as with road signs and markings – can set motorists’ admiration on. Policing, as a service, can be reviewed from similar angles.
In any working democracy, policing ranks among the important services in which a government or municipality is expected to perform well. A weak constabulary or metro-police can cost its local authority dearly in the next election. Remember that there is even room for a motion of no confidence if things go badly in a true democracy.
The rule by congress parties in Lesotho only started in 1993. By its nature and philosophy, the congress movement has respect for the public interest. To see this, one only has to examine policies which they adopt. One may even ask why district councils were abolished in Lesotho way back before Lesotho became independent. Basotho had confidence in the congress movement.
The first Basotho Congress Party government moved to amend the 1993 constitution which had been written by the National Constituent Assembly. The name of the Lesotho police was changed from “police force” to “police service”, through the third amendment to the constitution.
In 1997, that government issued a White Paper entitled: “A new partnership with the police: The Lesotho strategy of policing”. Government even ensured the White Paper was translated into Sesotho. Conventionally, accountable governments use White Paper to engage the public and citizens before any major policy or change is effected. The translation into Sesotho was intended to ease dialogue with Basotho of all levels on the kind of policing they would be provided with. The public had a right to make proposals.
The outlook of the White Paper included a proposition to demilitarise Lesotho police and free it from “political interference”. It expressly stated that no politician should be allowed to give the commissioner of police or his officers instructions e.g to arrest this or that person or to investigate which crime. The final output was to be an independent, professional and an apolitical police service.
The Lesotho Police Service Act 1998 is a product of the foregoing. Regulations were subsequently gazetted. Of interest could be a clause which prescribed that a member of the police service shall, at all times, abstain from any activity which is likely to interfere with the impartial discharge of his or her duty, and in particular shall not take any active part in politics.
Over time, those regulations were perfected through a schedule listing disciplinary offices by members. It listed about 42 offences which included utterances by members, assault of members of the public etc.
It does not seem the congress government had any room for discrimination in the recruitment into the police service. Height restriction for both males (1.64m) and females (1.58m) was removed. Basotho only have to observe any pair/team of constables on the beat along Kingsway in Maseru or elsewhere, to read whether officers’ height gives any message to the eye. Even Ma-short deserves to wear His Majesty’s crown. And, by the way, it was a congress government which appointed the first female commissioner. It was only opposed to the recruitment of criminal elements – thieves, murderers etc, into the service. To affirm the importance of a police service, that White Paper was clear: “No police service stands alone”. This opened up for the LMPS to seek the operational help from the Lesotho Defence Force in situations of need. The nation is familiar with the frequent sight of members of LMPS and LDF at road blocks.
Congress governments have previously enjoyed SADC interventions to normalize situations in Lesotho, including the security agencies themselves. During previous tensions in the Military and Police, these were internal to each. It came to be known that SADC would bring in their captains and sergeants to talk to/with their Lesotho counterparts, in the coinage of the former Minister of Home Affairs, Hon Thomas Thabane or maybe in his other capacities as he was always in the midst of the goings-on in government. Tensions which occurred during the rule of his first coalition government were different in that they were, and continue to be, largely between the military and police –confrontational. Intervention this time requires only diplomats.
This time around, SADC interventions included measures to harmonize relations between the LDF and LMPS. The most visible event was a joint LDF-LMPS march through Maseru City to showcase their willingness to work harmoniously. Sadly, a caretaker Commissioner who seemed determined to push this agenda through had to revert to his subtractive position and had to even resign or retire from the police service. Whether or not there was any invisible hand which was opposed to the unfolding reconciliation is another matter.
Another conspicuous feature of congress governments is the location of their police service within structures of government. Unlike in non-congress governments which preferred to have the police under the Head of government, congress sees to it that the police are under another Minister and separate from the Military. The first coalition had its two eggs in one basket like in the Jonathan era and under military rule.
The collapse of the 8th Parliament and its first coalition government has lessons for Basotho youth who are still to grow into active party politics. Understanding of the past will prepare them to identify the difference between political parties and be alert to the sour grapes mentality, and the slightest signs of possibilities for mis-rule by individual parties.
There are many incidences which often appear attractive on the surface, disguised to act as a pull for supporters. The moment a political party splashes out gifts and distributes free garments decorated in party colors even to non-members can be a tactic to misdirect the electorate away from the real issues to be addressed through campaign manifestos. Concerns abound that some members of the service were at times seen with such decorations. That ought to be unbelievable if our democracy was in the right shape during the 8th Parliament.
The re-election of a political party into government during elections is a normal aspiration. However, the need to rule in the public interest has been emphasized here. If everyone looks back, the finding will be clear: Only congress governments have been re-elected before: because they are public interest oriented.
It could be this that brought down the first coalition government. The attitude of the congress government towards policing of Lesotho could be a sample of how to serve the ordinary citizen well.
The current situation is debatable. There are those whose hopes rest with the much talked about future security reforms. There are those who will argue to the contrary that the current Police Authority arrangements are enough to put things right. The Lesotho Police service Act 1998 gives this authority a clear functional mandate “to maintain an efficient and effective police service for Lesotho”. The current authority is at a ready to achieve just that, the majority might argue.
Lesotho is probably where is it today only because rule in the public interest faded away too swiftly. Rather than consolidate the game of coalition government to stick together, attention drifted like an amoeba in an attempt to promote and consolidate personal power. Some even compare this with a well-engineered and expensive car which ought not be blamed for its untimely and early break down since the driver had the misfortune of being reckless.