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Editorial: Bunting's cloudy clarification

Published:Thursday | July 30, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Peter Bunting now needs to clarify his clarification. For no one is any the wiser about his proposal for an oversight body for the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), the agency that probes accusations of excesses against the police and military.

INDECOM is one of the commissions of Parliament, which means it is accountable to the legislature, which usually delegates the job to one of its committees. INDECOM, however, is not much liked by Jamaica's constabulary, which, though improving, has a reputation for behaving with impunity and a poor record of policing the behaviour of its members.

In its five years of existence, INDECOM has insisted on its authority to arrest and prosecute members of the security forces who abuse their power and has been vindicated by courts. It has also had success in prosecutions of police personnel, a rarity in the past. There is little doubt that its efforts contributed to a near 50 per cent reduction of police homicides in recent years, although the more than 100 annual killings by Jamaican cops is still high by per-capita global standards.

The constabulary, though, claims that INDECOM is high-handed. They argue that its actions embolden criminals and have a chilling effect on how the police officers do their jobs. They have the support of Mr Bunting, the national security minister, who, whatever else, is keen to keep the police onside. He has pushed their demand for a regime to oversee the agency.

With good reason, many people feared that the real aim was to curb INDECOM - a view Mr Bunting set out to counter this week with his statement about the limited oversight of the agency provided by Parliament; his repeat of the police's claim about the supposed impunity with which it behaves; that it undermines the confidence of the security forces; and that a "slow and expensive judicial system" is essentially ineffectual in protecting the rights of law enforcers who may be unfairly treated by the agency.

While Mr Bunting's intent was "to provide clarification", he, in fact, failed to advance the Government's position on INDECOM. In the event, we repeat our own warning of March 7 "that any proposal for an oversight board of directors must be carefully weighed to ensure that what is offered doesn't have a chilling effect on the operations and efficiency of INDECOM - a layer of bureaucracy that impedes, rather than helps, its operation".




It is a fallacy that INDECOM is without oversight. A better proposal from Mr Bunting would be to get Parliament working and for the Government to fix the courts so that all citizens, including members of the security forces, are assured of timely access to justice.

The energy being expended on INDECOM, we feel, would be better spent crafting a civilian oversight authority for the police force, which would help the constabulary formulate and monitor its strategic and operational plans. No such agency now exists, except for the constitutionally narrowly defined Police Service Commission (PSC), which has responsibility for appointments and discipline.

A tepid stab at civilian oversight of the constabulary was previously made with the establishment of a Police Civilian Oversight Authority. That body was disbanded four years ago, ostensibly with the intent of reforming and broadening the PSC. That project was stillborn. Its resurrection is more urgent than some potentially bogus regime for INDECOM.