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On the Other Side of the World – A Policing Reform Conference in Bangladesh

By Chris Botha, Southern Business School

During July 2011, I had the pleasure of delivering the keynote address at a Policing Reform Conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The conference was organised by the Police Reform Programme (PRP) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Bangladesh. This specific programme, given my interest in policing reform, attracted my attention some time ago. Not only is the Police Reform Programme run by a South African, but some peculiarities around Bangladesh’s colonial history compares in interesting ways with South Africa’s colonial history. I have known Henk van Zyl for many years since he also served in the SAPS before joining the UNDP. It was good to see him operate in the PRP and I marvelled at the competence that Henk displays in his daily management role. Henk is ably supported by a host of international experts, with another South African and long‐time colleague, André Redman, in the leading role for training and development initiatives in the Programme. Both Henk and André became friends of mine over the years. Whereas the professional part of the trip to Bangladesh was duly honoured, it was indeed a pleasure to have me with the two of them on a personal basis as well.

Mr Chris Botha (left) with Mr. Peter Tinsley

Mr Chris Botha (left) with Mr. Peter Tinsley, a Canadian and international expert on civilian oversight in policing and the armed forces.

The conference title (Sustainable Police Reform in Bangladesh: From Global Experiences to Local Strategies) was supported by the themes of the various speakers. My contribution (Contemporary Challenges in Police Organisational Reform – the case of South Africa) covered the policing reform process in South Africa from a historical viewpoint. As such, I embroidered on foreign (unpopular, and even “unlawful”) laws in our history, the concept of “strangers policing strangers”, our extremely violent society and our tendency to offer a military‐styled panacea for our policing problems. I then worked on the nature of the current policing discourse in South Africa. Therefore, the “war on crime” rhetoric, the view that crime prevention as practiced in our country may well be an “impossible mandate”, the results of neglecting crime detection (as well as some transformation issues, such as the establishment of the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation – the DPCI, or “Hawks” against the background of Hugh Glenister v President of the Republic of South Africa & Others) and challenges with our policing leadership (notably the case of the previous National Commissioner), police misconduct (as well as killings and police deaths) and police performance management according to crime statistics were highlighted. In discussion, it was clear that the Bangladesh participants could identify with our colonial past and with our experiences. One was also able to support them in terms of policing legislation based on our various efforts over the years. This was of particular importance to Bangladesh participants since the police in Bangladesh is regulated by legislation dated 1861.

Dr Rowan Barnsley, an Australian academic, worked on the academic imperatives of policing reform in his presentation (titled Organisational Change and Police Reform), which was highly informative and advanced best practice of use to the Bangladesh participants.

Mr Willem Pretorius (another South African, ex‐SAPS colleague and friend!), who is an international expert and leader on the Asia Regional Trafficking in Persons Project in Bangkok, Thailand, spoke to these issues in a Bangladesh parlance with a paper titled Regional Approach and Efforts to Address Trafficking in Human Beings). Given the issue at hand, his paper was experienced as highly relevant to the policing reform process in Bangladesh.

Mr Peter Tinsley, a Canadian and international expert on civilian oversight in policing and armed forces, delivered an insightful paper titled Community Confidence through Oversight. Given the importance of, and current challenges in, civilian oversight over policing in South Africa, I took the opportunity to interview Peter on civilian oversight of policing. This interview has since been published in the September EdiƟon of the SA Crime Quarterly (No 37, available from http://www.issafrica.org).

Mr Huot Veng Chan (Community Policing in Cambodia), Police Major General Krerkphong Pukprayura (The current situation regarding law enforcement co‐operation against Organised Transnational Crimes in Thailand and measures undertaken by local Thai Law Enforcement to prevent serious crimes in rural areas) and Mr Neale Fursdon (Serious Crime Investigations) concluded the conference with papers of high importance to the decision makers in the police of Bangladesh.

I have the greatest of respect for the Bangladeshis that I have met at this conference. They have a very difficult past and the manner in which they are tackling their future must be commended. I believe that they, together with their international advisors, will make a huge success of their policing reform process.


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