Maldives Police becomes a civilian institution in 2004
The island country of Maldives has undergone historic transformation from a dictatorial to a multi-party democracy in the last decade. This process has paved way for democratic strengthening of key institutions namely the judiciary, multi-party political system, the parliament and the security forces. A core part of this process was the civilianisation of policing. Till September 2004, the police was part of the military and functioned as a paramilitary force under the Ministry of Defence and National Security. But wave of public protests against police atrocity and international pressure on the island country prompted the then government to separate the police and set it up as a civilian institution under the Ministry of Home Affairs. New uniforms, ranks, structure and above all the title “Maldives Police Service” were all directed at cultivating a credible image and mitigating the widening distrust of policing. A five year Strategic Plan 2007-2011 was formulated setting out new goals, objectives and strategies to guide the institution. The Plan listed out a number of projects to enable better service by the police. Underlining these changes was a commitment to realizing policing that is accountable, professional, efficient and responsive to, and representative, of the community it serves.
The young institution got a legal framework only in 2008 with the passing of the Police Act in August. Although far from perfect, the Act was important because the roles, powers and functions of the police were legally defined for the first time in the nation’s history. A new vision of policing was articulated stressing on citizen-friendly, responsive, and accountable service to the people, one in tune with the Bill of Rights enshrined in the 2008 Constitution. Further, the Act also established an independent police oversight body called the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) to investigate complaints against police misconduct and ensure public trust and confidence in the police service. Given the history of police atrocities and deep distrust, constitution of such a body was a landmark.
The Act though did not address one major issue, i.e. political control over the police. The appointment of the police chief was left to the discretion of the President which affects the impartiality of the leadership. The chief is not seen as someone serving the public but instead the government. What was needed was to allow for independent vetting of police appointments for the organization to emerge as a professional force. Instead, today, it remains vulnerable to control by the political executive.
In order to address these concerns, a new Police Bill 2012 was introduced in the Majlis (parliament) in December 2012 and is currently under review with a parliamentary committee. But far from rectifying these maladies, the 2012 Bill goes the other extreme and creates a very powerful police organization with minimal government oversight. There is no doubt this Bill will only reinforce coercive and unaccountable policing, of the kind that people spoke out against as part of the democratic transition from 2004 onwards. It will reverse whatever progress that has been made in enabling policing respectful of rights. The need at this hour is to work towards building a national consensus on citizen-friendly policing, one which will help protect and strengthen democracy in the country.
The Maldives Police Structure
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