BY PROFESSOR BIMAN PRASAD,
LEADER OF NATIONAL FEDERATION PARTY
We are repeatedly told that a well-equipped, well-trained and efficient Fiji Police Force has resulted in reduction of crimes in our country. That may be so statistically – or the actual number of crimes that are reported. Or the widely held perception is that statistics that are tailor-made to make us look good.
But the reality is starkly different from what comes out of Fiji Police Force headquarters or from the current Government. We are told that we have a well-equipped, well-trained, well-resourced and well-paid police force. We are told that we have a highly efficient and fit Police Commissioner – who we know from experience is a highly trained exponent in martial arts – not forgetting a senior military officer.
And we may have a police force that prides itself in its decades old more of “Salus Populi” – welfare and health of our people.
But have all the enforced attributes of the police force resulted in a reduction of crime in Fiji?
One thing is crystal clear – despite the severity of sentencing by our Courts, sexual offences are on the rise. This has even been conceded by the Police Commissioner who told FBC news on 5th December 2017 that rape, sexual assault and sexual offence cases had more than tripled in the last ten years.
Which basically means that since the military coup of December 5, 2006, sexual offences against our women and children had increased by more than 300% compared to 2006.
The Police Commissioner appealed for help of all stakeholders in the society saying the trend was worrying and police alone could not eliminate these crimes. He appealed to all stakeholders in the society to join the fight against sexual crimes saying that the society needed to look at this issue holistically.
It is accepted that police cannot stop cases of sexual assault or rape, as an overwhelming majority of these crimes are committed within the confines of homes or premises where there is no police presence. Likewise, police cannot stop a murder or manslaughter. Or fraudulent crimes at workplaces including the civil service and top echelons of government – we say top echelons of government because we have seen in the past how there is an “Animal Farm” treatment where some are more equal than others. We certainly saw this during the reign of the military regime. We can only hope this is not the case now.
But police do and must have the capacity, capability and resources to eliminate if not prevent crimes in public places or in residential areas. This can only be done through beat policing or regular patrols at timely intervals. This task may even have been made easier by either the donation or purchase of a substantial number of vehicles including lease or through donations.
We believe the Force manpower has also increased substantially since the coup. So there is no excuse for failing to regularly patrol or have police beat patrols (on foot) on our streets in residential areas every half an hour. This was certainly done before the December 2006 coup.
We have received countless reports of robberies, burglaries and threats against people from victims who did not bother reporting the criminal acts to police because of their lack of faith in the Force. They lost all confidence in the ability of the Force to effectively, efficiently and impartially deal with their complaints.
How did this happen? Why did “Salus Populi” lose its objective of health and welfare of all our people? What happened to “Salus Populi” when police aided by armed soldiers broke into the home of a high chief of Bau and arrested him at gunpoint, in the process traumatising his family. Health and welfare of all the people was thrown out the window and thuggery reared its ugly head.
Social and moral decay
The lawlessness in the society is due to the social and moral decay of our society. The Police Commissioner revealed that sexual crimes increased three-fold in the last ten years, Why?
The answer is simple – the social and moral decay is related to how we are governed. We are governed by imposed laws. Common and equal citizenry paraded by this government counts for nothing. People become the law unto themselves just as this government had done when it was a military regime.
One must remember that Fiji – a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation, is leader-driven. That is the natural tendency. If the nation’s leaders can get immunity, so thinks an 87-year-old who sexually assaults a child or a teenager. This was unheard of previously.
That is the sad but unmistakable reality.
The other is poverty and lack of meaningful employment, coupled with very high cost of living. This hasn’t been addressed even by this latest budget of the current Government. The other issue is that drugs is fast becoming a scourge on the nation. Gone are the days when one only heard of marijuana. Now even hard drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine or ice are being found and used Fijj-wide.
What will we do
The Police Commissioner is right in one aspect that police cannot prevent sexual crimes. This is totally dependent on the morality, character and credibility of our people.
At the same time, it makes us question the effectiveness of the lengthy sentences being dished out for sexual offences. Because these jail terms have failed to deter sexual crimes. We had corporal punishment before where the High Court used to sanction the use of cane for convicted rapists. This has been outlawed.
We need ethical morality to be rejuvenated amongst our people. We need a culture of tolerance. This starts from the top. We do not want the behaviour of our leaders to transcend to gutter level and become a law unto themselves. We have seen this on many occasions in the last 31 years.
This naturally leads would-be criminals to think that they too can get away with lawlessness. This is especially so for some well-known drug users who regard themselves as professionals in their individual careers. A few are closely linked to certain politicians. We haven’t heard of any action being taken against them. Yet again this is linked to social and moral decay in our society that we need to change.
We also need to boost the morale of our policemen and policewomen. Paying them well and providing them vehicles will not by themselves make them efficient in their work. The environment that they work in must also improve.
The effectiveness of any organisation depends on the work environment. This means whether one is satisfied with those working with him or her; or has to carry the workload alone. That is why meritocracy both in the recruitment of members of the force and promotions are important.
A disenchanted worker will never be productive no matter how well paid or resourced he or she is. They will only treat policing as a task and not as a career. Therefore their response to any calls for assistance from the public will be lackadaisical. We have had many examples of this.
The best way to reduce crime is to increase police visibility. This is to vastly increase police patrols and police beat at regular intervals. This is currently lacking. Previously we saw police beat on the streets in residential areas every half an hour 24 hour daily. This was the single most effective change in the force plus its very quick response time to reports that was inculcated in the force by former police commissioner Andrew Hughes. This aspect of policing must return.
We also hope that the significantly increased number of vehicles in the police fleet is also used for regular patrols and not only for traffic duties and escorting our political leaders.
We will have more initiatives in our manifesto.