The government’s war on crime

The government’s war on crime

Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro needs to assure us that the government has declared a state-of-emergency on crime not only because of the recent increase in numbers of members of police personnel who have been murdered.
To put Lesotho’s problems of maintenance of law-and-order in perspective, coming out of colonialism, we adopted a vulgarised form of petty-capitalism which came with forms of crimes which we lack capacity to deal with.

Added to these, our petty-capitalism required us to criminalise, or to continue to criminalise, practices which it was outright silly to criminalise, such as possession, smoking, and sale of matekoane. This forced the state to dedicate scarce human and other resources on such ‘crimes’ — sending teams of police to go and destroy matekoane plants on people’s fields, for example.

It is unlikely that maintenance of law-and-order has improved since independence and it is unlikely that since independence there has ever been a time when the government and the police could declare themselves to be ‘on top of’ Lesotho’s law-and-order situation. Our police have been at their best only when they suppress workers and students’ protests.
We have a track record of abandoning the basics of law-and-order maintenance and seizing on newfangled practices and arrangements. It may be these are necessary, given what authorities know, and what they plan to do.

Looking from outside, though, many changes away from basic policing seem to have had little impact on maintenance of law-and-order.
It may be that our prevailing law-and-order problems have little, or nothing, to do with perspectives presented above. Anyhow, the problem of crime in Lesotho is huge. Petty criminals roam communities, and break into people’s homes with impunity, despite being reported to the police.

As seen recently, kids who have never been to prison not only adopt symbols of prison-gangs with pride but they also actually commit crimes.
When petty and other criminals are arrested, they are released the very next day, on some promise to the victim that arrangements are underway for their prosecution. There are cases where this never happens, and members of communities live with the daily pain of meeting those who broke into their houses.

It is never clear whether prosecution fails to happen because the police official in-charge of the case lacks the will, skill, etc., to proceed to the next steps or, for reasons including lack of resources, police official in-charge is unable to gather evidence enough and necessary for conviction.
It can take up to four days for a police officer to visit a crime scene, and try and arrest suspects. In large part, the police say, this is a result of shortage of vehicles at police stations. There may be some truth in this: it is observable, for example that, the army has a helicopter, and the police do not.

Among suspects who are released after arrest, some will tell you they are out on ‘bail’ that they paid to either the police official who arrested them, or to the person who was supposed to prosecute them. Not to the court, following court process. This is becoming common.
Then there is doubt about the presence of an anti-crime consciousness at the highest echelons of the LMPS. Earlier this year the Police Training College was opened in flagrant violation of government protocols intended to arrest the spread of Covid-19.

When the Commissioner of Police was forced to shut down this deadly police recruitment session, in which some recruits unnecessary lost their lives, to the dismay of many, he lamented, not the fact his crime-fighting capacity had suffered a setback, but, instead, the fact that many families had lost out on an opportunity for income.
To some, his reaction was a reflection of an inadequate anti-crime consciousness at the highest echelons of the police force.

Enforcement of adherence to traffic regulations is another area where the police seem overwhelmed to a point where, it can be said, they have decided to ignore commission of traffic offences. Traffic offenders offend with total abandon, causing enormous inconvenience on our already crowded — and deadly — public roads.
The problem takes many forms, including people parking on pavements and forcing pedestrians to walk on the road — as in Maseru city centre; people parking in the middle of the road and putting emergency lights on while they chat, or simply leaving the vehicle to go about their business.
Traffic offences that have hitherto been associated with taxi drivers have become society-wide.

Traffic offences strongly suggest a lot of criminality in public institutions: offenders who know nothing about traffic regulations because they never took proper driving lessons, and because they received their driving licence without undergoing a proper driving examination.
When compared to serious criminality, such as murder, petty criminality and traffic offences may be viewed as worthy of only minor government concern. But it may be unwise to see and understand petty criminality and traffic offences as being unconnected to serious crimes of murder and others.

As they say about money: If you do not pay particular attention to your lisente, you won’t build-up your Maloti reserves. Tackling petty criminality might have a positive impact on fighting serious criminality.
Equally, it might be unwise to declare a state-of-emergency on criminality without addressing problems in other links of the chain of maintenance of law-and-order. A while back, the judiciary reported that they had been allocated, and received from government, funds that seemed grossly inadequate to pay for the institution’s activities.

We need to reckon with questions about our capacity — attitudinal, resources, anti-crime consciousness, will, etc. — to deal with crimes of our petty-capitalism.
Lesotho state’s struggles with funding institutions of law-and-order and other related, and unrelated, institutions ought to raise many troubling questions.

Motlatsi Thabane

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