Sustainable democracy offers a practical sketch map for intellectual development and political maturity. Besides, sustainable democracy ensures reliable governance and democratic issue base confrontation of challenges affecting the citizens from insecurity, social justice, and respect of human rights.
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Reflectively, sustainable democracy, as a concept of institutional approach in reforms, offers a solution based management of government institutions. The government of Bangladesh remains a struggling state in sustainable democracy due to failed institutional approach to offering alternative solutions to its dwindling democratic space, despite having begun as a democratic state in 1971.
Among the key institutions responsible for promoting democracy include the police, political party management, and the media (Przeworski 23). This paper will concentrate on the police institution reform in order to make the police institution free of corruption, compromise, and injustices to the citizens.
Thus, this reflective treatise attempts to explicitly identify issues within the policing institution of Bangladesh that directly and indirectly affect sustainable democratization of the administrative and social system of the Bangladesh state.
Besides, the paper explores the current positon of police institution in promoting justice, maintaining law and order and promoting social cohesion through constructive interventionist approach to democratization and freedom of expression, association, and right to justice. In addition, the treatise reveals relevant recommendations on an alternative approach in reform agenda in the policing institution.
The national Bangladesh police have its headquarter in Dhaka and are accountable to the government regime in power. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) oversees and controls appointments, police budget, and transfer of officers.
The police institution is divided into the Special Branch (SB), the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) mandated with the responsibility of promoting order, detecting, and investigating crimes within the borders of Bangladesh. The police institution in Bangladesh is mandated by the constitution to protect basic human rights through maintaining and enforcing law and order.
The police force comprises of about 123,197 trained officers distributed across the state of Bangladesh against the civilian population 153 million. Therefore, every police officer is supposed to serve 1,200 people at any given time. Reflectively, “There is a shortage of police here; it’s an ongoing crisis. How can we be expected to tackle crime when there are more criminals than police?
A criminal can walk freely because he knows that we don’t have the manpower to arrest him” (International Crisis Group 18). This is almost three times higher than the recommended ratio by the United Nations at 1:450. As part of the larger Judicial system, Police institution is at the bottom line in making arrests, organizing prosecution charges, and assisting the judicial panel in justice delivery.
Besides, the Police institution is in the forefront in promoting cohesion through public relations exercise, which promises confidentiality and non-victimization (Przeworski 38). However, this is not the case in Bangladesh’s policing institution.
Historically, the tumultuous occurrences since the independence of Bangladesh indicate that its policing institution has remained a puppet for the political class and wealthy elites in the society. Despite being at the baseline of democratization, due to the fact that the institution directly interacts with the public, series of human rights compromises have been noted, especially in the last one decade.
Instead of promoting freedom of speech and protecting citizens attending rallies across political parties, this institution is often inclined to a particular political activism side. According to the International Crisis Group (2009) report:
After decades of misuse and neglect, Bangladesh’s police are a source of instability and fear rather than a key component of a democratic society. Human rights abuses are endemic and almost all Bangladeshis who interact with the police complain of corruption. With an elected government in place again, there are now opportunities to reform this dysfunctional force. But there are also significant obstacles.
If the government fails to move beyond the current modest reform process, the democratic transition could falter should deteriorating security give the military another chance to intervene, using, as it has in the past, the pretext of upholding law and order to justify derailing democracy. (International Crisis Group 3)
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The policing institution of Bangladesh is known for an excellent reputation on corruption, excessive use of force and brutality in making arrests and displacing peaceful protests, and incompetence. Despite the fact that the previous regimes are aware and have acknowledged the many fundamental flaws, none has put the need for police reforms within their policy and democratic manifesto.
“Whether the necessity has been fighting crime or tackling terrorists, successive administrations have relied on half measures and quick fixes usually involving the military rather than reforming the police as a long-term solution” (“Freedom House: Civil Liabilities in Bangladesh” par. 7). Ironically, it is unfortunate that most international donors who are out to please the political regime of the day.
In some cases, the international donors have been accused of undertaking short-sighted measures that only serve to prolong interests of the regime in power. Despite serious cries for reform in the policing institution, the short-sighted measures often succeed in suppressing the outcry while at the same time promote culture of impunity by increased crime rates.
Due to the inefficiencies in the police unit, military personnel have used the same as excuse to have more influence and control of civilian affairs, as evident in the military coup of January 2007 supposedly inspired by police inefficiency to protect the public.
Though the current Awami League government had incorporated police reforms as one of the immediate agenda in their manifesto, the same government lacks goodwill and interest on the reforming this institution. As a matter of fact, “it has shown no interest in repealing or amending the current police law, the Police Act of 1861, a colonial-era legal hangover designed primarily to keep imperial India’s subjects in line” (Uddin 32).
Actually, the law of Bangladesh gives the government regime of the day full control mandate over the police who are often used by the government of the day to suppress and control the opposition instead of independent service to all citizens.
For instance, Prime Minister Sheik Hasina’s administration adopted the same tactics of her predecessors to pocket the policing institution for her personal disposal on ‘errant’ opposition and protesting civilians.
“Even if the prime minister and her administration were to change tack, any move to insulate the force from politicization and increase accountability would be met with strong opposition from the bureaucracy and the business community, both of which have a history of exploiting weaknesses in the police organization” (Uddin 29).
Reflectively, the most powerful and those in a position to reform the policing institution are often reluctant due to external forces and personal interests which are placed above the national interests. These powerful political and business actors continue to thrive in impunity and selfishness since the current policing institution lacks structures to function independently in service delivery.
Moreover, the current regime is very reluctant to UNDP sponsored development programs aimed at promoting democracy through the Police Reform Program (PRR). Ironically, the retired and serving senior policemen in Bangladesh policing institution are against the program claiming that it lacks the comprehensiveness in implementation despite the fact that they are aware of underlying issues that have stagnated the police force.
In a surprising move, nearly all the retired senior police officers “suggest that the PRP is not aimed at transforming the police into a modern, disciplined force able to serve and protect citizens, but is rather a costly– and questionably effective – set of administrative modifications” (Uddin 34). The democratization process is often expensive and requires support from all players in order to assert a long-lasting solution.
Despite the support from the neighboring country; India, lack of goodwill from the current regime has almost stalled the reforms agenda in the police institution. Unfortunately, the police force remains unaccountable and incompetent. This has created a comfortable breeding ground for extremist groups to propel their interest of threatening stability with an excuse of liberating the citizens of Bangladesh.
Besides, should this happen, this small state would suffer from a state of resilience characterized by high magnitudes of corruption scandals, insecurity, and complete abandonment of the democratic gains into another undemocratic military rule.
Lack of democracy will in turn result in deterioration of other support institutions mandated with economic planning, globalization, and healthcare since funds meant for these sectors may be swindled and channeled to non-prioritized spending.
At present, a comprehensive reform in the Bangladesh police force seems dim and unrealistic. This is due to the fact that the current laws operate on the oppressive 1967 bill on police responsibility and limits, which merely was developed to protect the royal regime of the era. There is no law to provide legal direction on crucial reforms in government institutions.
Besides, the stopgap and remedial measures proposed by the UNDP are inadequate and non-inclusive in the fight for democratization and reform of the police institution to operate independently and fairly to the citizens of Bangladesh. “Without a law enshrining democratic principles of policing, many of the modest improvements made over the past two years to the police organization are subject to reversal” ( International Crisis Group 3).
Reforms in the policing institution of Bangladesh are crucial for short term and long term social, security, economic, and democratic development. Since the current police force has suffered public distrust due to series of accusations on police extortion, brutality, and participant approach in serving the citizens, the reform agenda should reflect the will of the people and promote democratic space.
The police have dismally failed in their duty as defined by the constitution to maintain law and order. Unfortunately, this situation has made some individuals or communities “to take the law into their own hands and will drive disenfranchised individuals and groups to join anti-government elements” (International Crisis Group 6).
In order to promote morale and better working conditions in the police force, it is important to increase their salary and improve their housing. Due to dismal wages paid to them by the public service, most officers have little option apart from engaging in other activities such as corruption to cover financial shortfall.
For instance “the monthly pay and allowances of the IGP, the highest-ranking in the force, amounts to Tk23,000 ($333); at the very bottom of the pay scale, the monthly salary of a police constable is only Tk5,410 ($78.50)” (International Crisis Group 4).
Therefore, most officers have to serve under depressive conditions with minimal financial reward. This paints an abysmal picture and drives down police moral. As a result, they easily become a pray for the rich businessmen and politicians who pay ‘special fees’ for protection of their illegal activities and suppressing opponents.
Bureaucratic and political interference remain the highest efficiency impediment in the police reform agenda. Political interference result into atrocities such as illegal detention, torture, death in custody, and large scale corruption. This results in universal disdain by the public, who may become unresponsive and politicize every unfortunate incident as a reflection of the desire of a social clique who can afford to ‘pocket’ police officers.
According to Transparency International, “96.6 percent of Bangladesh’s households that interacted with law enforcement agencies experienced some form of corruption. Roughly 65 percent of households paid an average of Tk3, 940 ($57) in bribes over a one year period to police officers for various services” (“Freedom House: Civil Liabilities in Bangladesh” par. 5).
Therefore, the parliament should amend the 1967 policing bill to institutionalize payments that are to be made in police stations. Besides, an independent watchdog should be incorporated besides the police institution to monitor and investigate claims of corruption by the public.
Administration capacity and bureaucratic tendencies define success of reform in the police force. It is not only necessary, by very agent to overhaul the current administrative authority in the police institution, which mainly consist of sympathizers of the current regime and those strategically placed in higher offices to defend individual interest.
In a large scale scrutiny of the current police head, the independent police reforms commission will be in a position to eliminate potential status quo supporters and replace them with more qualified, experienced, and better-paid officers. Besides, the police reform agenda should recommend the transformation and rebranding the police force to win confidence of the citizens of Bangladesh.
Besides, the new post reforms police force should organize series of public meeting and interactive forums to help foster unity of purpose and affirm the spirit of secrecy to whistleblowers and those who offer information on corruption cases, abuse of office, and unethical political plans.
Conclusively, sustainable democratization is achievable when issues such as corruption, unaccountability, insecurity, unfairness, and abuse of human rights are controlled. Police force is a very important democratization institution in Bangladesh. This is due to the fact that policemen have daily and direct contact with the citizens.
Incidences of politicization of government institutions such as the police have seriously reverse gains made on democracy in Bangladesh. Since the police force is answerable the government regime of the day, the current policing institution of Bangladesh has become a political tool for suppressing democracy through torture of the opposition adherents, massive corruption, unaccountability, and protection of certain class form prosecution.
The reform agenda to reverse these challenges lie in transforming the current policing institution into an independent entity with better housing, salaries, training, and support from the public.
Freedom House: Civil Liabilities in Bangladesh 2012. Web.
International Crisis Group 2009. Bangladesh: Getting Police Reform on Track. Web.
Przeworski, Adam. Sustainable Democracy. London: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Print.
Uddin, Gias. The Politics of Police Reform in Bangladesh. Saarbrücken: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2011. Print.