mardi 11 mars 2008

Wind of Change and The Seychelles Police

The declarations made by the Seychelles Police Commissioner on Friday 7th March before 65 participants of a two-week workshop on human rights and before “facilitators from the East African Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (EAPCCO), the Ombudsman, and senior officials from the police force and the legal profession” and as reported in the Nation of 11th March were startling, at least to me.
· It is only through proper practices in law enforcement that the police force will enhance the
eradication of corruption
· It is sad that the impact of the good work of devoted police officers is lost due to criminal
elements who do not have the public interest at heart
· ( The Police has ) to focus (our) efforts on the fight against corruption equally as we direct
attention on abuses of human rights. They are both detrimental to good governance

Were these borne from his personal and careful appraisal of Policing and his role in ensuring that it is correctly done? Or were they another series of declaration made from reading a speech prepared by someone else, with the aim of uttering the right –sounding phrases and exhorting the right sentiments in interested listeners?

Enhancing the efficiency, professionalism and performance of the Police will not be achieved on the sole declaration of good intentions from good –sounding speeches. It requires a solid knowledge and respect of Laws, Rights, Freedoms, Policing, Procedures and all the other Codes and Good Practices of Professional Policing.

Often enough, we have found this sadly lacking in the local Police Force, from the Police Commissioner himself, down. The Judge Riley report of January 2008 made that clear enough.
In denouncing “criminal elements who do not have the public interest at heart” and who therefore damage the “good work of other devoted police officers”, the Police Commissioner could not have missed the parallel with his own reported inadequacies and incompetence, that combined, contribute to giving the local Police a bad name.

That the Police Commissioner made the right –sounding declarations against corruption and human right abuses as “detrimental to good governance” is remarkable enough! However, one cannot help but be suspicious before the wonderful implications of this declaration.
The implications seem to me to be more than the recognition and acceptance that corruption and abuse of human rights are endemic in the Police Force.

While this is quite remarkable in itself, the declaration also goes further to recognise that eliminating corruption and abuse of human rights “is a basic requirement for peace, security, and sustainable political and socio-economic development”. That’s the bit where I got suspicious.
Things cannot be what they sound to be when a Police Commissioner start talking about stuffs that go far beyond Policing, into the preserves of national policy strategists. To me therefore, the words uttered were bereft of sincerity. They were merely the usual empty –sounding speeches delivered to fill in a moment of formal protocol before a no-risk audience.

But could I be wrong? Of course! There are as many interpretations of what a Public Officer says as there are persons who hear it. In my case, I may have missed the point that the Police Commissioner may just have managed to read the writing on the wall. A writing which seems to be spelling out the end of authority without responsibility so dear to those in office who are yet to be confronted with the need to be accountable for the actions they undertake during public office tenure.
The wind of change is wafting over the land and one can take heart that change will come in our time. The change to accountability, transparency and respect of human rights, on which the President himself dwelt lengthily in his 2008 State of the Nation Address.

If the Police Commissioner missed those messages and was locked into the usual lip-service declarations, then it was a blessing for us all that the Nation carried his statements. We may one day have to repeat his words and invite him to account for himself

vendredi 7 mars 2008

Dare We Hope For Judicial Reform In Seychelles?

The Nation of 07th March carried the article of Mr Barry Galvin, State Solicitor from the Republic of Ireland, having been appointed by the President to conduct a review of Seychelles’ criminal justice system.


A hum started deep down inside me and I was hard pressed to squash it before it burst into song!

Maybe this time round, Seychelles truly has a chance to move forward. Maybe this time, the new, democratically elected President of the country is seriously committed to break with the past culture of making empty placatory promises!

Law-breakers all over the world would reasonably always find cause to pick a bone with the courts, considering that none of them in prison is guilty of the crime for which they have been convicted. In our land, it would be no different.

But this is not why, for so long, we have regarded our Justice system with suspicion. This suspicion is over the whole Justice system, not only about the criminal justice system.

It is because those appointed to administer justice were, in our eyes, too often pliant to the undeclared wishes of those behind their appointments! To the point that for the average man on the street, in matters of respect of personal rights and freedoms, the courts and the judges were often seen as mere extentions of the ruling party.

And I am not even thinking about land acquisition in the public interest, nor of arrests and detention without due process so characteristic of the years 1977 to late 1980s. Those were years were the legislature gave Ministers legal instruments to do as they saw fit. Judges and courts were thus incapable to correct the perceived injustices.

I am thinking of those years since restoration of multi-party democracy from 1991. We were ostensibly a democracy with a new Constitution in which we had made it clear that the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary were independent of, and were to check and balance, each other.

Except that the Head of the Executive of the 3rd Republic was a carry –over from the days of single party dictatorship who, while directing the affairs of state, far from addressing the festering cancer in our justice system, blithely contributed to worsening it.

Driving the credibility of government and the judicial system into the ground is probably never close to any political leader’s intent. It more likely arises as the ineluctable outcome of yielding unchallenged power and considering oneself unaccountable. It becomes then a simple step to gather the Legislature and the Judiciary into one’s fist and squeeze or cajole as necessary to maintain one’s hold over the nation

The Head of our Judiciary was, until his recent resignation, the very same who, in his own words uttered at a mid 1990s regional conference held at the Plantation Club on good governance, found no problem with administering the oath of Office of the Presidency during the Single Party Dictatorship period. (to which some delegates quietly snickered ‘ another monkey enjoying nuts thrown at him’. A local participant, now a prominent local politician of the ruling party, quietly laughed and passed on the remark to those who had not heard)

The very same who consistently ruled against petitions and grievances brought before the courts by the political opposition and went so far as to express doubts that the political opposition will ever form a ruling government.

The very same who headed courts which awarded damages to petitions from the ruling clique who found local newspaper articles that exposed their disregard for the law, abuse of authority and priviledge of office, corruption, cronyism, trampling on our constitutional rights and freedoms, etc, as ‘frivolous, offensive, libelous and defamatory’.

The very same who remained silent before the pervading intrusion of the ruling party in the administration of Justice, including perverting the Constitutional Appointments Authority, which until recently and possibly after repeated public denunciation by the political opposition, was chaired by a member of the ruling party’s central committee, also a lawyer who in that latter capacity, thus appeared before Judges he had recommended for appointment.

The very same who remained silent when the head Judge of the Appeals Court resigned in what was strongly suspected as resulting from his vocal stance against unacceptable incursion by the Executive in the Judiciary.

The Country has for a long time been perplexed over criminal activities that remained unchecked. Drug trafficking is a scourge, and drug abuse a plague, in our land. Yet local law enforcement merely succeeds in catching the odd low – level dealers and illicit drug user or occasionally destroying the odd cannabis plantation in some remote part of the island only to see another sprouting up somewhere else.

The barons, who surely must be behind the local drug scene, remain untouched, unknown, and one would dare suggest, not unprotected.

It has happened that law breakers, particularly those who are related to or have connections with the ruling clique, often have criminal cases against them thrown out of court because damning evidence against them disappeared while in police custody (Though it can be reasonably argued that these instances were more the result of the peculiar conditions of appointment of individual police or other officers of the local law enforcement system, and their personal disregard for the law and procedure codes in favour of some immediate and direct pecuniary benefits. That's corruption which pervades law enforcement systems all over the world).

In many ways therefore, and not all of them directly attributable to the person of the Chief Justice, our justice system was seen as flawed and our courts and judges did not always show that they were truly concerned with only providing justice fairly to all. In effect, justice, that inseparable arm of law enforcement, had been rendered, after long being perceived, as ineffective and inefficient.

The effectiveness of any judicial reform will however depend largely on the merit of the assessor. Who he is and how fairly he was chosen, may be indicators to how correctly the assessment will be carried out.

It will also depend on the depth and pragmatism of his findings and recommendations and the strength of the president’s commitment to deliver on his promise for reforms.

It is my hope that in three months’ time, rather than sigh at the Galvin Report, which will join the Rilley report, I can burst into song.