MASERU — A tattered jersey, a discoloured jacket and a pair of worn-out boots.
That sums up the appearance of the police officers.
This is nothing new.
It is what has become the signature appearance of Lesotho’s police officers over the past decade.
Broken furniture, broken windows and doors, dirty floors and walls that are peeling off are a common sight at most police stations.
In some police stations the ceiling has curved in and ablution facilities stopped functioning ages ago.
Officers write notes on scrap paper and at times they have to scrounge for pens.
Transport is scarce and some officers patrol dangerous streets without guns, handcuffs and batons.
Those in stations outside Maseru say their shelters resemble hovels.
When it comes to salaries and allowances our police officers earn pittances.
All these are not being discovered now.
A 2005 report by the Ombudsman painted a picture of a police service neglected and under resourced.
“It is old, faded and in some case tattered. Most police officers, in the other ranks in particular, do not feel confident in their uniform,” the report said.
“Worse still, some police officers, particularly the newly recruited have never been provided with uniform since they joined the police service. Some have uniform lent to them by older members of the service while others wear their private clothes.”
The report criticised the sorry state of police stations and holding cells across the country.
It also noted that police officers did not have enough resources to fight crime.
It would seem that this report was filed and forgotten just like other reports whose recommendations require money to implement.
Yet the police officers have not forgotten about their grievances.
If anything, they have become more agitated because they feel the government is not addressing the problems they have been raising for years.
Police officers who spoke to this paper on condition of anonymity said the situation has now reached crisis levels.
“It has become a shame to be a police officer. I am ashamed to tell people that I am a police officer,” one police officer said.
“We do a risky job. Police officers are killed all the time while they are at work, yet the salaries we get are so undignified.
“Attend funerals of a few police officers and you will be embarrassed. You will find that old family men are still staying with their parents because they cannot afford to build their own houses.”
A newly graduated constable earns a gross salary of M3 447.
On average higher ranking police officers take home less than M120 000 per year or M10 000 per month.
Allowance per mountain patrol mission is M275.
Other allowances are as low as M50.
“It should not be surprising that so many officers engage in criminal acts. That is why many end up accepting bribes,” said another police officer who requested anonymity.
“What else would people do? Some of us have extended family members that we have to provide for.”
A report by the African Police Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF) released last month said police officers complained that their salaries were not sufficient to allow many junior officials to buy houses, vehicles, and medical insurance.
The report said that police officers have become so desperate that they engage in corrupt activities.
“There have been reports of theft of exhibits and disappearance of evidence related to trial proceedings. Some police officers also accept bribery,” the report said.
A junior officer claimed that apart from the meagre salaries, poor working conditions and the lack of resources police officers were being victimised for raising concerns.
“If you have a clash with senior officers they will have you transferred to a remote police station just to fix you.
“They do that without considering how that will affect your family,” one officer said.
In a desperate measure to force the authorities to respond to their “long overdue grievances” the Police Staff Association (PSA) threatened to engage in a protest two weeks ago.
The protest was only averted after the PSA presented a letter of their grievances to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs Lesao Lehohla.
Lehohla said the government was working on a long term solution to address the problems.
“We are not turning a blind eye to the problems of the police. It is the issue of their allowances that needs to be reviewed, funds permitting,” he said.
The PSA secretary general, Motsamai Kholumo, said the minister of home affairs has already mandated principal secretaries in his ministry, the public service and the police commissioner to deal with the issues of salary and rank structure.
“That means progress is promising. We are hopeful that all the issues we have raised will be dealt with,” Kholumo said.