Evaluating the national police commission
Five months after the National
Police Commission (NPC) came into being under the 17th Amendment,
public evaluation of its role and effect has largely been that the
glass is half empty rather than half full. This weighing towards
the pessimistic side of the scales is a boringly familiar refrain
wherein we create monitoring bodies with larger than life expectations
and continue to be resoundingly disappointed by their immediate
failure to perform isolated miracles.
though brought about by the political pressures of that day, had
answered a long existing demand by this country's rights activists
since the recommendations of the Basnayake Commission Report, for
an independent mechanism to inquire into charges of corruption and
errant behaviour on the part of police officers. When this mechanism
was ultimately created, it had, of course, a more grandiloquent
mandate; namely to engage proactively in cleaning up the service
end, the 17th Amendment put into existence a seven member Commission
appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Constitutional
Council. Puzzlingly, no qualifications were stipulated for the nomination
of members, unlike in the case of nominations for both the Elections
Commission and the Human Rights Commission. Every member held office
for a period of three years, subject to particular exceptions.
These are if
any member becomes a politician either at central, provincial or
local government level, upon resignation or removal from office
by the President on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council,
conviction of any offence involving moral turpitude, subjection
to an imposition of civic disability or vacation of office. Security
of tenure of the members are further guaranteed by the payment of
such allowances (as are determined by Parliament), that will be
charged on the Consolidated Fund and not be diminished during their
term of office.
are manifold. These include, in the first instance, the appointment,
promotion, transfer disciplinary control and dismissal of police
officers other than the IGP. The latter process involves the recommendation
of the President to the Constitutional Council and the consequent
approval of the Council.
NPC is given vital powers to establish procedures to entertain and
investigate public complaints against a police officer of the police
service. Such complaints may also be made by any aggrieved person.
The NPC is required to provide redress 'in accordance with the provisions
of any law enacted by Parliament for such purpose.'
Commission is given authority to formulate schemes of recruitment
and training and the improvement of the efficacy and independence
of the police service and ancillary issues, codes of conduct and
the standards to be followed in making promotions and transfers.
powers are assigned to it under Appendix 1 of List 1 (to the Thirteenth
Amendment), which contemplated a National Police Commission, the
composition of which was different and less satisfactory than the
existent body under the 17th Amendment. The NPC, as existing now,
shall not, however, in the exercise of its powers derogate from
the powers and functions assigned to the Provincial Police Service
Commissions, as and when such Commissions are established.In measuring
its performance within the past five months to its powers, some
hiccups have been evident in its functioning. Some of the problems
lacks membership of any individual with past serving experience
in the police force, posing a reasonable question as to how this
lacuna came about in the first place. Even though no qualifications
had been specified under the 17th Amendment in the nominations of
its members by the Constitutional Council, one might have expected
common sense to prevail in the actual process, either on the part
of the Council, the recommendatory body or the President in whom
the power of appointment is vested. What we saw in the first appointments
however, was an absence of this essential ingredient.
position has been that the NPC, devoid of the necessary expertise
in this sense, has exercised its authority under Article 155J of
the 17th Amendment to delegate to the IGP, particular powers relating
to transfers of police officers and recruitment to and promotions
in the lower ranks of the police service. Reportedly, these powers
should be exercised by the IGP in accordance with the directions
of the NPC as contained in its policy document on Delegation of
The 17th Amendment
confers authority to the Commission to delegate its powers in two
instances. Firstly, Article 155H stipulates that the NPC may delegate
to a Committee of the Commission, the powers of appointment, promotion,
transfer, disciplinary control and dismissal of such categories
of police officers as are specified by the Commission. This Committee,
not consisting of members of the Commission, shall be appointed
by the Commission.
In the second
instance, Article 155J states that the NPC may delegate to the IGP,
the above powers in relation to any category of police officer.
It is this section that has been utilised by the NPC in the instant
case. This same provision also gives the power to the NPC to delegate
the same powers, in consultation with the IGP, to any police officer
powers so delegated by the NPC to the IGP been better delegated
to a committee of the Commission under the former provision, comprised
of retired police officers possessing the required expertise, instead
to a single individual, subject as the IGP is traditionally to strong
political pressures? The purpose of setting up the NPC under the
17th Amendment was, after all, to bring in a measure of outside
monitoring to the functioning of the police service. As to whether
this element would be satisfied by the drafting of policy guidelines
and ensuring the availability of appeal to the NPC against the decision
of the IGP, is a moot point.
From a different
perspective, the failure of the NPC up to date, to put into place
procedures to entertain and investigate public complaints and the
complaints of aggrieved persons against a police officer or the
police service as a whole, is a serious drawback.
the Commission is planning to draw together a strong investigative
team comprising retired police and judicial officers and to station
hand picked investigative teams in key outstation cities for this
purpose. While this is laudable from an investigative viewpoint,
putting into place of procedures for the entertainment of such complaints,
essentially the first step in this process, remains important in
order to instill public faith in the Commission. It is a pity that
this aspect has not received as much attention as it deserves in
the debates that have hitherto taken place on the functioning of
is perhaps too short a time to measure the activities of the NPC
with any objectivity. The Commission itself, has complained of lack
of funding. In another sense, authoritative action that it has taken
to date, namely with regard to higher level promotions in the police
service, are already the subject of dispute in the Supreme Court
and the decisions of the Commission have been subject to variations.
These are all formidable teething problems that the body is facing
at this point in time.
must be understood that if the Commission captures the fundamentals
of public confidence and moral authority that this country so desperately
needs in its functioning, its ability to withstand pressures from
whatever quarter will increase by that commensurate amount. This
remains its most immediate - and imperative - task.