NAIROBI, September 26 – The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) on Friday dismissed the newly-formed Police Oversight Board terming it a ‘toothless bulldog’.
KHRC Senior Programmes Officer Tom Kagwe said the board was unlikely to achieve its target because it lacked a proper legal mandate to carry out its work. He said the board would have been better placed if it had been appointed under an Act of Parliament rather than a Gazette notice which gave it lesser powers.
“The board is toothless because it cannot even summon the Commissioner of Police who is an appointee of the President. How will it operate if it cannot operate above the police chief,” he wondered.
Speaking at a forum to deliberate on the functions of the board that was gazetted three weeks ago, participants felt there was need to quickly establish a clearly defined legal framework to empower the board carry out its mandate.
The board as currently constituted, they said, was more of a public relations tool by the government to convince citizens of a commitment to check the excesses of the security agents.
“It does not even have powers to summon. It cannot investigate because it does not have that mandate. That is why we feel there’s need to establish a clearly defined legal framework,” he said.
The board chaired by Rev Philip Anyolo was established via a gazette notice by Internal Security Minister Professor George Saitoti on September 4.
Board members include retired deputy police chief Alice Kagunda, lawyer Ahmednassir Abdulahi, former Provincial Commissioner Peter Raburu and Mr James Mageria.
Others include former AP Commandant S.M. Muhiu, Dr Jean Njeri Kamau, Dr Julius Kipng’etich, Dr Pius Akavanga Kigamwa and Brig John Waweru.
Joint Secretaries to the board are drawn from the complaints department at Police headquarters and the AP complaints desk.
The team is an internal investigative unit, which will probe complaints made by the public against regular or administrative police, as well as complaints from officers against their colleagues.
During its launch at Harambee House, a board member, former AP commandant Maj S.M. Muiu sought assurance that their recommendations will be acted upon by the AP commandant Kinuthia Mbugua and police chief Major General Mohammed Hussein Ali. The concern was prompted by Ali’s absence at the launch.
Similar fears concerns were raised by the KHRC on Friday, with calls to have an Act of Parliament to define the board’s mandate.
Mr Kagwe said the commission had formulated a Bill which outlines their proposals which are aimed at strengthening the oversight board.
“We have lined up a number of requirements which will help a police oversight board achieve its target. We are not proposing for the formation of a parallel board,” he said.
The proposed Bill calls for the appointment of the board’s chairperson and its members by the President.
Unlike the current board which was established under an Act of Parliament by the Security Minister, the proposed Bill calls for more comprehensive roles for the board including conducting inspections of the police and monitoring its funds management and other resources.
“The board shall also receive, initiate and investigate allegations of misconduct by the police,” the proposed Bill states.
Previously, all complaints against the police from the public and fellow police officers were directed to the complaints desk headed by former Nyanza Provincial Police chief Grace Kaindi who sits at Vigilance House.
The oversight board was established following numerous complaints that the police were unlikely to be objective when left to investigate their own wrongdoing.
The new board’s core mandate is to receive and evaluate complaints from the public against the police, complaints from the police themselves against their colleagues and reviewing complaints resolved by the police.
They will also develop a sectoral National Action Plan and a co-ordinating framework to promote, monitor and evaluate effective implementation of discipline within the police framework.
A cross section of police officers interviewed welcomed the establishment of the board but expressed fears over its composition.
There are those dissatisfied with the presence of former police officers in it, some of whom, they said, failed to carry out adequate reforms when they were at the helm of the force.
“It is a good gesture by the government because now we have somewhere we can report to whenever there are injustices in the force, but we wonder what role some board members who failed to reform the police will do. Some of them are to blame for the mess at the force today,” a police officer who sought anonymity for fear of victimisation said.
But another officer said: “We are certain that this board will go along way in improving the police force. Let us just wait and see.”