The cost of quitting police ups, so should the incentive to join

A decree which when passed will make deserting the Rwanda National Police highly costly has been drafted. According to a story in the Sunday Times of February 1, the decree is only awaiting the ratification by parliament of the amended law governing the force.

A decree which when passed will make deserting the Rwanda National Police highly costly has been drafted. According to a story in the Sunday Times of February 1, the decree is only awaiting the ratification by parliament of the amended law governing the force.

It is a move with good intentions on one hand but with potential to yield many unwanted outcomes on the other. The highlight of the draft decree is the criminalisation of desertion, up a notch from being treated as an act of indiscipline.

Deserters as a result will be blacklisted, their information circulated among other arms of government, the aim being to block any employment opportunities for the rest of their lives.

Besides, these very bad people will be compelled to pay back to government the equivalent of what will have been spent on them up to the time of leaving.

Quick questions here: One, if they are going to pay back the money spent on them, why punish further with blacklisting?

Two, specifically which money will government be claiming from the former employee? I suppose not salaries or allowances since these will have been worked for and earned while serving.

You may argue that there may be money spent on employees, for instance by training them, based on the assumption the employer will recoup the investment through exploitation of the employees’ skilful service overtime.

This is obviously lost when employees breech the contract, if any, by leaving early. Assuming this is what bothers government, does it make sense blocking the transfer of useful skills from one of its branches to another?

A little liberalism would be handy here. If people don’t want to serve you in police, act smart and tap their skills guarding the national bank. Remember the 40% skills gap that needs bridging.

Blacklisting deserters (effectively freezing their labour) does not help this cause. Let every unit of labour out there be freely hired and sold, by everybody, to anybody.

Sheikh Fazil Musa Harelimana, Minister for Internal Security, said that with the decree in place, “the unnecessary movement of officers who join the force without a clear vision” will be minimised.

He elaborated: “We have many in the force who come for education and other benefits, then afterwards, they decide to quit when the government has wasted a lot of money on them.” Uh!

Since when did educating nationals become wasteful spending? Plus, if benefits accruing from joining the police force should not be the attraction, what does the minister say is the nobler reason for enrolling?

Taken as stated, the minister’s position is as logical as it is incomplete as a story. Understandably he sounds disturbed by the instability caused by frequent desertions, attributing the unceremonious exits to lack of a clear vision on the part of recruits at the time of joining.

But he does not say what that vision is exactly. Not even giving a hint. He simply laments, forgetting that the police as an institution may share the blame when some among its members don’t know why they joined it in the first place.

When the rate of failure in a class has been alarmingly high, is it not fair that the professor’s tutorial skills be scrutinized prior to castigating the students for being a bunch of lazy folks?

It seems minister Harelimana was forgetting something pertinent to career formulation. Anyone considering taking up any career will weigh the benefits offered by institutions operating in fields relevant to the career.

In the case of police, a prospective recruit will consider the entry point pay for officers of varying education levels. How many paid holidays or not in a year are employees of RNP entitled to?

Do they have medical insurance? Is further education encouraged, if not funded? What of retirement benefits? Answers to these and other questions are what decisions to take up careers are based.

Police in particular is a challenging career; therefore no one should expect people to join it without asking serious questions about how rewarding it is in terms of benefits and opportunities.

There is another to this topic. Blacklisting police deserters and arm-twisting them into paying back (wonder how this will be calculated) whatever that will have been spent on them is like coercion.

Granted the numbers are important given the enormous ambition and duty at hand. That said, it is equally important that the force be of members committed to the job. The fear here should be that plugging their exit in this manner might gravely compromise the quality of service.

And that is not all. Forcing people to stay against their will may sustain the numbers at required levels. Only in the short term though. In the long run, this approach will most likely backfire.

The simple reason is that making quitting difficult has the simultaneous effect of rendering joining the force less attractive. To the public, you do not want to make the institution look like prison.

Especially if the intention is to lure the better brains, be prepared to practice flexibility to a certain extent. The option of changing a career must not be alien. 

Consideration is made of the nature of certain institutions such as the army and police. It may necessitate that the issue of entry and exit of employees be handled with utmost care. However, even in these, it isn’t wise to pronounce the price of quitting without loudly articulating the incentive of joining.

In other words, whereas there is need to narrow the exit door, the effort to make the internal atmosphere as conducive as it can possibly be within the available means has to be double. Focus should primarily be on making staying rewarding, instead of making quitting hell. 


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