Reforming Security Sector An Antidote To Corruption : Pranav Bhattarai

Political parties, successive parliaments, judiciary, bureaucracy, education and business sector are neck-deep in corruption. In the last two decades, corruption scandals and scams involving the police have been hitting the headlines. The image of the Nepal Police has been punctuated by various corruption scams and malpractices. It received a severe jolt a couple of years ago when the Special Court convicted three Inspector Generals of Police (IGPs) in the multi-million-dollar Sudan scam. Four IGPs who have been at the helm of the Nepal Police since 1990 have been convicted on corruption charges. One more case (of former IGP Pradip Shumsher Rana) is under the apex court´s review. This is strong evidence of how corruption has become endemic at the higher echelons of our public security agencies.

The Global Corruption Barometer survey of Transparency International (TI) conducted in 2011 shows the police to be the third-most corrupt institution after the political parties and Parliament in Nepal. Similarly, a survey of corruption in five South Asian countries conducted by the TI in 2002 had also found the police to be the third-most corrupt agency in Nepal. These surveys held at a decade-long interval show corruption as systemically endemic in our police force.

Police corruption results in high costs for the state. First, it undermines the integrity of the police and weakens law enforcement. Second, corrupt officials provide cover for criminal activities like smuggling and organised crimes.

Corrupt cops

Nepal Police’s rule-bending in the Sudan scam hints that our bidding and tender selection processes are routinely manipulated to favour palm-greasers and suppliers who offer enormous kickbacks. Our procurement modality within the defense and security sectors is set up in a way that always favours cartels and syndicates, which influence the overall process, right from preparation of the tender document to evaluation and final selection stage. 

Many countries have adopted multiple approaches to reduce procurement-related corruption in security and defense sectors. The ´rotten apple´ theory has been widely used to explain and understand the nature of police corruption in the US. According to this theory, police corruption is fuelled by a few deviant personnel. But the problem doesn’t stop here because corruption often extends far beyond the handful of corrupt cops. Thus, modern anti-corruption approaches delve beyond the ´punitive aspect´ of the problem that the ´rotten apple´ theory emphasises.

Singapore offers the best example in this regard. It has succeeded in preventing police corruption by improving working conditions, recruitment modalities and training programmes. In Singapore, fresh recruits have to go through rigorous integrity-based lessons during their basic training. Such training continues throughout their career to ensure that core ethical values of anti-corruption, honesty, loyalty and integrity are inculcated in each of them throughout their police career. The Singapore Police Force annually organises ethics seminar to build its officers´ moral strength to resist corrupt temptations.

In recent years, there has been a shift in handing police corruption, which has moved beyond asking whether or not corruption exists in any given police agency, to asking questions about the intensity, size and impact of the problem in order to devise appropriate anti-corruption strategies. Countries like the UK, Australia, Canada, South Africa and the US, among many others, have formed high level commissions to study police corruption and frame strategies to combat it. 

he Police Integrity Commission in Australia prepared a comprehensive Fraud and Corruption Control Plan in 2011. Similarly, the Mollen Commission spent 22 months investigating corruption in the New York Police Department (NYPD), on the basis of which a new anti-corruption strategy was developed for the NYPD with focus on ethical and integrity-based trainings for officers in supervisory positions.

Likewise, a Commission on Police Integrity in Chicago recommended higher standards in recruitment and screening of police personnel to mitigate the graft-seeking culture. The Association of Chief Police Officers Taskforce on Corruption in the UK took the lead at the national level in putting in place robust preventive strategies.

s the police is the most visible agent of government, people often tend to assess the character of a government through its police force. Thus cleansing the image of the police through holistic anti-corruption approaches must be high on the priority list for any state, especially a state like Nepal where the roots of corruption run wide and deep. We must empower the Nepal Police to carry out regular integrity tests among its personnel, conduct its own intelligence-gathering and sting operations, as well as to start self-initiated investigations.

Only a combination of preventive and punitive control mechanisms can offer a proper antidote to police corruption. Preventive control refers to mechanisms that seek to change the organisation in ways that prevent the commission of corrupt practices while the punitive approach attempts to deter corruption through increased emphasis on detection and punishment of wrong deeds.

Forging inter-agency collaboration and partnership between the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority and the Nepal Police can also be effective in fighting the malaise. These agencies must establish different channels of communication at multiple levels, with the goal of strengthening cooperation on preventive measures against corruption. Regular orientation and training on anti-corruption ethics is another important step to lay the foundations for ethical policing. Core issues of integrity and anti-corruption should be integrated into training packages (as in Singapore) towards establishing a zero tolerance policy against corruption in the police force.

Holistic reform approach

Police corruption is not simply a problem of the lower ranks or of a few ´rotten apples´. As it has systemically crept into all levels of our police organisation, corruption has to be dealt with through a holistic reform approach that goes beyond the ´rotten apple´ theory or a strict ´punitive control´ modality. A long list of police corruption cases in Nepal has long warranted a broader strategic rethink on graft control and promotion of ethical policing. Failure to do so will only invite more institutional malfunctions and notoriety.


(These are writer's personal opinions. They do not reflect official views of the organization the writer is associated with)

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