Uphold independence of police

Editorial, Normal

WHEN police minister Warren Dutton tried to direct police commissioner Philip Bouraga once, the latter took legal action, claiming the minister had no powers of direction upon him.
The court ruled in favour of the commissioner and established the standing rule that the political head of the police and any other department cannot force or of his own volition sack or discipline a departmental head.
We may be seeing that case repeated with last week’s directive by Internal Security Minister Sani Rambi to Police Commissioner Gari Baki to reinstate acting Deputy Commissioner Tony Wagambie to his substantive role as per a court directive.
We are not yet privy to Mr Baki’s decision on the ministerial directive.
As to the court order, Mr Baki has said that he will reinstate Mr Wagambie only after the latter has answered disciplinary charges against him. Up to now, we are unaware of the nature of the seven charges which Mr Baki has served on Mr Wagambie.
Mr Wagambie has since approached the court again, this time for charges of contempt against Mr Baki for failing to comply with the court order to reinstate him (Mr Wagambie).
Both Mr Wagambie and Mr Baki are Cabinet appointees. This matter arose when Mr Baki refused Mr Wagambie’s appointment and installed his own deputy in Raphael Huafolo.
If Mr Rambi had anything to say, that was the moment to intervene. When a political directive from the National Executive Council was blatantly refused by Mr Baki, the minister had every right to demand the reason why.
He chose to let it pass and now chooses to direct a court order be implemented. To our mind, this is none of Mr Rambi’s business and the less said the better.
The police commissioner’s office is established under the Constitution. Powers given it include independence from political interference as was firmly confirmed in the Bouraga vs Dutton case referred to in the opening sentence.
To those powers have been added more. Departmental heads, including the police commissioner, are now self-accounting. This means they control their own budget and only refer to Finance and Treasury for periodic draw downs or payment of receipts into consolidated revenue.
Departmental heads have been given sweeping powers to hire and fire their officers and to set their terms and conditions of employment, complying with Department of Personnel Management only in so far as they do not exceed set ceilings for established positions.
So disciplinary action, operational commands and procedures, accounting matters and hire and fire powers rests solely with the police commissioner.
Mr Wagambie’s reinstatement and matters arising is a matter for Mr Baki alone. The court comes in only where its orders are concerned. The court, after deliberating the reasons for the suspension, found in favour of Mr Wagambie. Having done so, the court ordered that he be restored to his position as the acting deputy commissioner.
The operative words in the orders are that Mr Wagambie be reinstated with immediate effect.
Mr Baki decided not to reinstate him immediately. He decided he would do only after Mr Wagambie had satisfied him (Baki) by answering the pending seven disciplinary charges.
This is a tricky one. Mr Baki appears for all intent and purpose to be disobeying a direct order by the National Court. Yet, we sense he is not disobeying the order but merely delaying its implementation because of a far more important consideration – the welfare of the organisation he leads.
The force he heads must uphold the principles of discipline, failure of which would have a damaging effect upon rank and file. He has already charged Mr Wagambie, a man who has distinguished himself after nearly four decades in the force and whom Cabinet has appointed as deputy commissioner. The disciplinary charges must be serious enough to warrant refusal of a Cabinet directive as well as a court order.
In the final analysis, the smooth functioning of the
RPNGC is paramount.
It is only proper that disciplinary charges are discharged first before Mr Wagambie is reinstated. If he were reinstated regardless, other members of the force would lose confidence and trust when they see that a very senior officer is reinstated regardless of pending disciplinary charges.
This is not justice refused, it is justice delayed and done so for the cohesiveness and smooth operation of the force – a goal that should be pursued by both Mr Baki and Mr Wagambie.