THE pain spawned by the country’s economic downturn over the past decade has been significantly felt among junior members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) who have not been spared the hardships that ordinarily, lowly-paid Zimbabweans have had to endure.
Junior-ranking police officers told NewsDay in various interviews that their working conditions and low salaries — which mirror those obtaining across the entire civil service – have significantly dampened morale and compromised their professional integrity.
Many of the benefits that police officers used to enjoy in the past have gone down the drain with the force struggling to keep its operations afloat against the backdrop of a crumbling economy.
The junior officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of a backlash, confirmed that their lifestyles have been negatively affected by the economic malaise.
“We are struggling like every one else,” admitted one officer. “When we were young, we wanted to be police officers because there was something attractive, something professional about being in the police force.”
He admitted that many of his colleagues were scrounging around to eke out a living and ensure that their families were cushioned from the socio-economic hardships that now characterised ordinary citizens’ lives.
“When I started off about six years ago, it was much better than it is now,” he said. “At least my situation is much better because I live in a police camp where I don’t have to pay for accommodation and other utilities such as water and electricity.”
Police officers who were housed in various police camps dotted around the country have taken consolation in the fact that they had a bit of disposable income compared to their counterparts renting accommodation outside camps where they had to stretch every dollar to survive.
Although most of the junior officers were reluctant to disclose their salaries, it is understood that they earn between $300 and $400. This often forced many of the officers — particularly those in the “lucrative” traffic section — to engage in corrupt activities to make ends meet.
Low salaries feed sleaze
In November 2013, Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri urged the government to address working conditions for the police, which he said were fuelling corruption.
Addressing a senior officers’ conference in Harare, Chihuri said an improvement in the conditions of service was required urgently as the situation was quite dire.
“Conditions of services, particularly salaries and accommodation, are at the centre of hardships faced by police officers,” he said.
“I am not at all trying to justify corruption and those who are corrupt will surely face stiff punishment, but some of the situations are just dire and provoke corrupt tendencies.
“Honourable ministers, the following areas need urgent attention from government to help smoothen police operations: Underfunding which has become perennial, erratic and unpredictable not only continues to choke police operations, but in some cases has eaten away the gains achieved over the years.”
Police vehicles too old, dilapidated
The lack of vehicles for day–to–day operations was also a huge problem, forcing many junior officers to use public transport to carry out their duties. In some instances, a police station could have one vehicle, a situation that militated against efforts to fight rising crime.
Comptroller and Auditor-General Mildred Chiri’s report for the financial year ending December 31 2011 showed the ZRP had 1 693 vehicles out of a requirement of 7 000.
“I noted with concern that the ZRP did not have adequate vehicles to effectively discharge its duties,” Chiri wrote in her report, adding that of the 1 693 vehicles, 400 cars were off the road awaiting repairs. “As a result, most critical stations around the country were operating without vehicles including the Harare Traffic and Licence Inspectorate.”
As if the shortage of vehicles was not enough, police officers in areas such as Kariba, Kadoma and Mutoko have to contend with overcrowding at the workplace as they were cramped into small offices, with instances where 10 officers shared the same office.
Transport problems were also common in urban areas where the police often relied on complainants and informers to attend crime and accident scenes, and in some cases to track down criminals.
“Some of the vehicles are so old and faulty,” another police officer said. “And using public transport has its problems as well because it’s not easy to go and effect an arrest on a suspect using public transport.”
This problem was confirmed by Deputy Police Commissioner-General (administration) Godwin Matanga recently when he told guests during a belated end-of-year party for police officers held at Masvingo Polytechnic College.
Matanga said transport problems were crippling the force’s operations and the limited resources were making it difficult to combat crime.
“Issues such as lack of a vibrant and adequate transport system, fuel and other resources have been hampering police activities to arraign criminals or prevent crime,” he said.
Most junior officers, however, were aggrieved by government’s readiness to splash money for luxury vehicles for top government officials and service chiefs while they had to contend with old vehicles that had outlived their lifespan and use public transport.
This followed reports that the cash–strapped government last year upgraded the fleet of luxury vehicles for security sector bosses and top civil servants, splashing close to
$20 million on cars including Mercedes-Benz and SUVs for 26 Cabinet ministers, 13 Ministers of State and 24 deputies.
Government in a tight spot
Finance and Economic Development minister Patrick Chinamasa last Thursday admitted that the police force had been hard done by Treasury, which had failed to meet its needs due to declining revenue inflows.
Chinamasa, who was officiating at a pass out parade in Harare, assured that the challenges would be shortlived and appealed to the police to bear with the government.
“I for one as Minister of Finance and Economic Development remain conscious that the operational efficacy and effectiveness of the police is severely weighed down by inadequate fiscal funding, thus negatively impacting the ability of the police to meet the expectations of the public,” he said.
He admitted that police operations required timely injection of adequate resources and a continuous flow of finances from government.
“Indeed, government is duty-bound to ensure the deployment of continuous financial resources to the Zimbabwe Republic Police in order for the organisation to fully discharge its constitutional mandate,” he said.
Chinamasa, however, stressed that corruption had no place in the police force.
Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba in January this year also echoed the same sentiments following a suspected corruption case where traffic police officers manning a roadblock in Beatrice nearly lost about $2 000 stolen money to a 10-year-old girl just before the Christmas holidays.
Charamba added that the ZRP had of late introduced a raft of radical “razor-edge” internal disciplinary measures, supervisory and monitoring mechanisms to counter acts of misconduct in the police force.
“The approach in terms of the new measures will be that any proven acts of misconduct involving dishonesty of whatever nature will result in instant dismissal of the errant members. This is unlike in the past where the organisation was constrained by a graduated legal and bureaucratic process,” Charamba said.
Uniforms, bicycles tell the story eloquently
One is bound to come across a police officer whose uniform has seen better days due to continuous use without change. Getting new uniform is often a challenge forcing police officers to go for long periods of time with no replacement for worn-out or torn uniform.
Officers are often forced to wear the same tattered clothes as the force often has no money to purchase new uniforms.
Harare Ordinance Stores provides police officers with the uniforms, but sources said they often went for long periods of time without uniform, and the little that would be available would be reserved for senior officers.
A regular supply of uniforms is when the officers get at least a new grey shirt every three months, new shoes every six months and a grey jersey every year.
There are no more trench coats for the junior officers on night shifts.
The junior officers also no longer receive bicycles, which were, however, provided to every graduating recruit soon after their pass out parade in the past.
A police officer told NewsDay that although the force was no longer providing them with bicycles, they were expected to have purchased one from their own salary within three months after completing training.
“It is mandatory that you should have a bicycle, but they no longer give us the bicycles. We are told that within three months after graduating, you should have bought yourself one,” a Bulawayo-based police officer said.
In October 2011, however, the ZRP received 150 bicycles from Delta Corporation as part of the company’s social responsibility programme.
Housing nightmare as camps run out of accommodation
One junior police officer said the shortage of accommodation within police camps was a major headache. He said he had to dig deeper into his pockets to pay for accommodation while his colleagues who had been fortunate enough to secure accommodation within camps lived for free yet they received the same amount in housing allowances.
“For some of us the situation is worse because everything — water, electricity — comes at a cost, unlike our colleagues who are housed in police camps,” one junior officer said. “The accommodation problem is so huge that I think nearly half of the police force may be renting houses outside police camps, even as they don’t own their own houses.”
Accommodation shortages were replicated in almost all police stations across the country where officers, particularly those who were still single, were forced to share the few available houses.
NewsDay established for many years now, unmarried officers were instructed to share accommodation in camp houses while those that had registered marriages and certificates were given priority in the allocation of full houses.
The police camps appeared to have suffered from a knock–off effect of the widespread housing problem that has become almost like a plague in Zimbabwe.
According to the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, there were approximately 1,2 million people on the government’s national housing waiting list, although the exact figure was not known because most local authorities do not collect the necessary data.
It is understood that nearly half of the total number of police officers in the country could be living outside police camps.