, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 18 – Human rights groups and security experts in Kenya say a vetting process that is key to reforming the police force has barely got off the ground, and needs urgent action to make it both credible and effective.
They are concerned that repeated delays, lack of transparency and failure to engage the public have badly undermined a programme designed to check the professional background of every police officer in Kenya’s 78,000-strong force.
The process is required by the National Police Service Act, which came into force in 2011 as a way of invigorating efforts to reform policing.
Vetting by the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) began in November last year, but it has fallen badly behind schedule and is unlikely to be completed by the target deadline of August 2015.
In almost a year, only about 200 officers have been checked.
“By now, they ought to have finished vetting all senior police officers, from the rank of superintendent and senior superintendent moving upwards,” Ndungu Wainaina, executive director of the International Centre for Policy and Conflict, a Nairobi think tank, told IWPR. “They should [now] be screening middle-level cadre which involves officers commanding police station [OCS], deputy OCS and senior sergeants.”
The commission’s work suffered a major setback in February, when four key members of the vetting team resigned.
A series of terrorist attacks by the Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabaab further diverted the attention of the security services. The Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh, as well as parts of Kenya’s coastal and northeastern regions, came under attack, with nearly 100 people losing their lives during June and July.
To make up lost ground, the NPSC subsequently created vetting panels at regional level, with reports on officers then forwarded to Nairobi.
Aside from delays, critics also point to a lack transparency which they say casts doubt on the strategy’s effectiveness. In particular, some question why the vetting panel has failed to hold officers to account in cases where there is clear evidence of human rights violations. So far, fewer than 20 officers have been deemed unfit to serve.
While the overall process is public, security constraints dictate that some sessions in which abuses are discussed are held in private.
Peter Kiama is director of the Independent Medico-Legal Unit, part of a working group of Kenyan organisations that monitor police reform.
“We have not seen any clear case of officers being held accountable for human rights violations, yet organisations and citizens have presented evidence of such incidents,” Kiama said, calling for “a more robust inquiry” into culpability.
Wainaina also questioned the panel’s impartiality.
“There is no guarantee that the final decision made by the panel is not biased,” he said.
While the vetting process is designed to identify past misconduct, it is also part of a longer-term effort to clean up the police force and instil high standards of ethics and professionalism.
Corruption and human rights violations are still widespread, and critics say the level of progress is not encouraging.
“I have not seen any change in terms of mindset, attitude and practices,” Kiama said. “We have a long way to go.”