Maintaining the independence of the security services from political influence

By:Emmanuel F. Mantey (Executive Director)-Bureau of African Conflict & Security Management

An important phenomenon for the provision of security as a public good is to ensure that the political neutrality of security and justice providers are guaranteed. As a State, there must be equal opportunity for employment, retention and promotion within the justice and security system.

Unfortunately, there are instances of abuse of executive and political power targeted at influencing the security and justice providers in decision making. There has always been a challenge in finding a balance between the need for ministerial responsibility or the responsibility of the politician and the need for professional autonomy of security and justice providers.

Areas of critical concern requiring action include: recruitment into the security services, accountability in the security sector, appointment and promotion, and operational responsibilities of the security service providers. The political elite has had censored power to sometimes call the shorts for the security services depriving them of their independence to act, so that security is provided in a manner desired by the people. The consequences of this are corruption, abuse of power, excessive secrecy, patronage and a break down in security in the country.

Again, the security forces often become a source of insecurity and violations of human rights, and are used for purposes of repression and the protection of sectional interests. Because control over the security agencies is central to the exercise of political power, particular challenges arise with regard to democratic governance and oversight. It is however incumbent on the security and justice providers to maintain their political neutrality in order to build trust among the society they serve.

In many situations, security institutions invoke national security considerations to inhibit oversight of sensitive issues. Some of these are clearly legitimate, but sometimes the justification can turn into a blanket ban on providing the public with information. A possible means to overcome this challenge is to ensure that secrecy is dealt with in statutory law that clearly specifies the procedures for classification and declassification of information.

Also, in many cases, a tacit principle of deference exists within the security agencies whereby they defer their decision to the wishes of the executive or the political elites. This is a particular challenge to the requirement of an independent security agency to guarantee democratic accountability. Moreover, agency deference may at times be linked to corruption, with officers bribed to overlook certain human rights violations of, for instance the civilian population or exhibit their biases in favour of a particular political group.

The state can address this challenge by ensuring that oversight bodies such civil society and independent bodies have the legal means to exercise their duties. This is because, even if they are respected and capable in terms of expertise, if they do not have a legal framework that sets out their responsibilities and legitimises their decisions, they will never be able to perform their functions to help security and justice providers maintain their political independence.

Delivering security is not only about an effective police and military. It involves sustaining an ongoing dialogue and negotiation among different factions about the causes of insecurity and the mechanisms for restoring public order. Efforts should be made at ensuring the removal of factionalism in the political space to prevent it from crippling into the agencies responsible for providing security and justice. Without which security will be jeopardised should one party succeed in recruiting its sympathizers into the sector. Parliament has an important role to play as an arena for factions to meet and settle their differences. Should it fail to play this role, factions will operate outside the political system, which will harm state-building efforts and the provision of adequate security and justice.

Because national security is a very sensitive issue, political neutrality should be an essential feature within the security service providers as well as any programme aimed at strengthening democratic oversight and accountability. In this case, political neutrality can be achieved by selecting recruits purely on the basis of merit. Political party considerations should not play a role as it has been the case in Ghana where there are reports of protocol list for recruitment into the security agencies.

It is a worrying trend how politicised the security agencies sometimes may be, in its leadership as well as in rank and file. Some personnel in uniform or particular groups within the security agencies are linked to powerful political groups. These originate from how recruitment and promotion of personnel are organized. There is usually problem with equal opportunity, and lack of mechanisms to improve the representation of women, minorities and other groups in the forces. There is therefore the need to define what level personnel decisions are made by political bodies. This process should be free of nepotism and arbitrariness.

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