‘Cops rely on gifts to operate’


. . . ombudsman urges police to put house in order


MASERU – Police officers stationed at different posts often rely on donations from local businesses and private individuals to meet some of their operational obligations. Ombudsman Advocate Tlotliso Polaki made the damning revelations this week and recommended that police authorities develop and implement a policy within six months to address sponsorship opportunities for the institution.

This policy, she said, should cover the authorisation of donations, handling unsolicited offers, criteria for assessing sponsorships, eligibility to provide sponsorships, approval and rejection processes, and guidelines for managing conflicts of interest and unethical conduct. Polaki’s recommendation follows her findings that police officers at stations and posts often rely on donations from local businesses due to a severe lack of financial resources.

This emerged from her inspection of police cells around the country last year. Polaki’s assessment was aimed at determining whether or not the conditions in police cells were fit for human habitation. Many police posts lack essential items such as flags, signboards, and blue lights, leading to reliance on donations from individuals or communities. Polaki argues that this dependence makes the police vulnerable, especially when donors are on the wrong side of the law.

She notes that some donations could potentially be acts of money laundering, hindering investigations. According to Polaki’s inquiry, donated items include police uniforms, cars, and branded signage at police stations. What is even more concerning, she said, is that some business communities go so far as to assist police stations by repairing their vehicles and providing fuel to keep them operational.

“While the acceptance of such donations can help the community feel that they are partners in the ‘public good’ of enforcing the law and fighting crime, and while they also benefit from the expanded resources and deepened relations of public trust, there are general concerns around officers being compromised in administering justice as a result of such good deeds, moreso when such donors have violated the law and need to be criminally charged,” she notes.

Advocate Polaki says the LMPS should only allow external organisations, individuals, or groups to sponsor police programmes or activities if the sponsorship does not conflict with police corporate objectives. She specifies that certain items should be excluded from sponsorship, including standard-issue police uniforms and equipment such as computers, radios, batons, safety vests, wet weather gear, and other personal protective equipment. These items, Polaki states, should remain the responsibility of the government to procure.

A retired police officer, who wished to remain anonymous, stated that due to a lack of resources, they would seek assistance from well-wishers from time to time, but not for items like gasoline. He noted that the ombudsman report, as narrated to him by this reporter, suggests that the situation has worsened. “During my time, resources were still inadequate, but we did not have individuals donating to the police; we preferred to seek assistance from other government departments,” he said. He recalled that they would borrow items like vehicles from other government departments when they needed to respond swiftly to incidents.

The Human Rights Watchdog, Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), insists that essential services such as security, education, health, and justice should remain the government’s responsibility. TRC Director Tsikoane Peshoane said, “We welcome the ombudsman’s finding that caution must be exercised with donations to the police. However, it has always been wrong for police and soldiers to receive donations from corporate or non-state institutions.”

Peshoane added that civil societies have consistently communicated and advised that donations to security agencies are detrimental, but the government does not listen. “We appreciate it when state institutions agree with us, and the question is whether this time the government will listen,” Peshoane contends that donations to security agencies pose risks that can create security challenges. In TRC’s view, developing a policy to address the challenges facing the police might not be the best solution because governments are elected to provide the very basic necessities being donated. He maintained that it has always been wrong for security institutions to receive donations.

Apart from the lack of resources, Polaki has established that some police posts in the country are not fit for purpose and must be reconstructed. She says the government must develop a plan to demolish and replace the dilapidated structures currently being used as police posts. These include the Thabana-Morena Police Post, Mofoka Police Station, and Mazenod Police Station. She noted that these buildings were not initially constructed as police stations, as some were once retail shops and rental houses. The situation at the Thabana Morena police post is particularly dire, lacking a single holding cell.

Suspects are reportedly chained to a pole or tree during the day and then share a room with officers at night. Other police posts, she noted, date back to the colonial era and are currently not fit for human habitation, with no usable furniture. “The furniture was dilapidated beyond explanation. A few pieces that were in good condition were shared among officers. Newly built stations or posts were the exception, as they were supplied with new furniture as well.”

The state of the furniture, she said, demotivates officers, who feel the current conditions tarnish the image of the police service in Lesotho and make them feel as if they are being punished. Additionally, the majority of the police posts lack electricity, making it difficult to offer services at night. In all the police posts visited, office space was also a challenge. Employees from different units are forced to share offices because they cannot accommodate all staff members. “The sharing caused inconveniences during interviews and consultations,” Polaki said.

The poor state of police posts not only inconveniences officers but also affects the citizens they serve. Advocate Polaki stated that for most stations and posts, the cell structure consisted of bare concrete floors, walls, and roofs. The cells were generally dirty, had no lighting, had inadequate ventilation, and, as a result, had a bad and unbearable smell to the detriment of their occupiers.

Furthermore, most stations and posts had only one cell designated for male detainees, while female detainees were kept on benches in the reception area day and night. “Even where there was provision for female cells, they were used for other purposes, such as storage or exhibit rooms.”

For these reasons, Polaki recommended that new police posts be designed with cells that provide more light and proper ventilation. Additionally, she made the shocking discovery that detainees at almost all police stations and posts were not fed at all. In the rare cases where they were provided for, they were poorly fed, receiving only bread or pap and soup every day. “Otherwise, the police officers are faced with ensuring that detainees are fed from their own pockets.”

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