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Police Reform in Kyrgyzstan: How To Make It Happen?

«Police reform in Kyrgyzstan is a slow, but almost a continuous process. The society is very disappointed, but still hopes for the emergence of a qualitatively new police in Kyrgyzstan» –  Anna Zubenko, an expert on law enforcement agencies’ reforms, a participant of the CABAR.asia School of Analytics from Bishkek.

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A brief overview of the article:

  • Reforms in the Kyrgyz police have been going on for more than 20 years, but the society does not see any results;
  • From 1998 to 2016, a total of 6 police reform programs were adopted;
  • When the country’s leadership changes, the reform makes a new round, although the previously adopted programs have not been fully implemented. Problems are moving from one reform program to another, but are not solved.
  • Formally, there are those designated in each reform program who are responsible for its implementation. In practice, however, no one is in charge of the result, no one bears responsibility for failures.
  • The state is not able to provide large-scale reform due to the lack of financial resources; most of the reforms are financed by international organizations;
  • Most of the reform measures are aimed at structural changes, but do not solve systemic problems and do not change the work approaches;
  • The main decision-making center in the framework of the reform is the Ministry of the Internal Affairs. In such conditions, the implementation of cardinal reforms becomes impossible as the ministry tries to maintain the status quo;
  • The framework law “On the Bodies of Internal Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic” has not been changed significantly since 1994 and requires renewal.

After the success of police reform in Georgia, the government of Kyrgyzstan planned to adopt this experience. However, the key factor of the Georgian reforms – a total renewal of personnel – our country did not take the risk to implement this. Photo: ca-portal.ru

Whenever there is another incident with the police officers involved, public discusses the need for reforms in this system. But in fact, police reforms have been going on for more than 20 years.

News headlines associated with the announcement of any changes in the police structures, are not avoiding the phrase “yet another reform”. On the one hand, society requires reforms, and on the other, it does not believe in the possibility of their success. This paradoxical situation has a completely logical justification – none of the reforms were completed, the society did not see the expected result.

It can be assumed that the state itself is dissatisfied with results of the transformation, since the problems that need to be resolved “wander” from one program document to another. Does this mean that they cannot be resolved? What goes wrong? What is necessary for a full-fledged reform, the result of which will be satisfying for both society and the state?

Historical background

Reform processes in the law enforcement system of Kyrgyzstan began almost immediately after gaining independence. Like many other state structures, law enforcement agencies inherited all the features of the Soviet system, but in the changed conditions it was obvious that their work had to be restructured.

The country has embarked on the development of democracy. International organizations began their work in Kyrgyzstan and provided non-repayable aid to strengthen democratic transformations. In addition, human rights non-governmental organizations appeared in the country. Under these conditions, more attention has been paid to the observance of human rights, including the fight against torture and corruption in law enforcement agencies. Another factor is the growing level of crime, which demanded urgent action from the side of the state.

In this context, the state has taken both individual measures to improve the situation, as well as comprehensive reform programs. All of them pursued, in fact, one goal – the creation of a more effective system of law and order aimed at protecting human rights and ensuring public security.

Including current processes, the state had adopted a total of 6 programs since 1998. The decision-making bodies were the President, the Parliament, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs itself (hereinafter: MOIA). At the last stage, the initiative passed into the hands of the President and the Security Council.

An analysis of all previous reformation attempts reveals a number of problems that require an attention. These factors should be taken into account when developing future strategies aimed at transforming the law enforcement unit.

Political instability, absence of succession and analysis

Regime in Kyrgyzstan has been replaced both in a revolutionary and democratic ways. Since independence, the country has been ruled by 5 presidents (including the President of the transitional period, Roza Otunbayeva), more than 20 prime ministers and 21 ministers of internal affairs have changed.

On the example of the implementation of some programs, it became apparent that there was no succession and analysis of previous police reforms. When the country’s leadership changes, the reform makes a new turn, although the previously adopted programs have not been fully implemented. This leads to managerial mistakes – in the framework of one reform, the units are removed from the MOIA, new ones are created, and at the next stage they are returned to the structure or liquidated. Such inconsistent changes often cause discontent not only of the society, but also of the personnel of the bodies of internal affairs (hereinafter: BIA).

One of the most striking examples of this inconsistency is the situation around the liquidation of the State Service on Drug Control (SSDC), which in 2016 was transferred to the jurisdiction of the MOIA together with the material-technical base and personnel. However, in recent history there have already been attempts to abandon this specialized body, which ended in failure.

Thus, in 2009, as part of the police reform, an independent Drug Control Agency (DCA) was liquidated. One year later, the situation with illicit drug trafficking greatly deteriorated. The state realized the mistake and after the revolutionary events of 2010 the service again became independent, but already as the SSDC. International organizations have invested a lot of money, assisting in the modernization of the structure; they provided the necessary equipment, munitions, cars, and trained employees. After 6 years, the service was again deprived of independence, having transferred it to the structure of the MOIA, which caused a wave of valid criticism.[1] Obviously, previous experience was not taken into account when making this decision.

Another example is the experiment with the creation of the Patrol Police. In 2015, the Central board of the patrol police was established, due to the merger of the traffic police and patrol service. The idea was to create mobile patrols, which had to monitor not only the order on the roads, but also be responsible for public safety in the areas assigned to them. Soon there was a shortage of funds for the purchase of gasoline, and the patrol turned into the usual police stations. This experiment was deemed a failure, and in 2017, the service was transformed into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In February 2019, the decision was again made to create the Office of the Patrol Police Service.[2] The public reaction to the project implementation was mostly negative.

The issue of responsibility for reform is an open question. Formally, there are those designated in each reform program who are responsible for its implementation. In practice, however, no one is in charge of the result, no one bears responsibility for failures.

Chronic underfunding and secrecy of information about the MOIA

In addition to responsibility, reform programs indicate the importance of providing the police with the necessary logistical and financial resources. This problem remains unresolved from year to year, along with an increase in social guarantees for BIA employees. Is it possible to carry out a qualitative reform without increasing the salaries of police officers – remains a rhetorical question.

The funds allocated by the state are clearly insufficient to fully carry out and maintain the results of the reform. International organizations come to the rescue, which have long been providing financial and technical support to the state. However, a one-time inflow is not capable of rebuilding the system fundamentally and measures that donors support with the expectation of a further transition to full state funding, cease to work as soon as outside support stops.

As an example, the Provision “On the Basics of Comprehensive Assessment of BIA Activities”, adopted in 2015.[3] This document divides the assessment to the internal, based on inner indicators and external, based on the study of public opinion on the work of the police. Adoption of this Provision was a matter of pride for the Ministry of Internal Affairs – it was stated that in the CIS countries, such assessment system was adopted for the first time.[4]

Intra-departmental assessment started to work with varying success, and the external one created more difficult situation. The measurement of the trust level was supposed to be carried out in several ways, including with the help of specialized sociological companies. For the first two years, polls were supported by the OSCE Centre in Bishkek. However, in recent years, surveys are no longer conducted due to the lack of funding.

Problems with the reform financing and the department as a whole could be solved by conducting a qualitative functional analysis of the system. But independent experts cannot perform the analysis because information on the Ministry of Internal Affairs is classified as “top secret”. This complicates the possibility of civilian control over the activities of BIA and creates risks of misuse of both state and grant funds.

Certainly, due to the specific nature of the ministry’s work, some of the information about secret units, personal data of employees and other reasonably classified information must remain confidential. But data on the staffing and financing of the MOIA should be open, as it is in most developed countries.

Closeness of the reform process from society

One of the reasons why society knows little about the results of the reform is the closeness of this process from “outsiders”. The main decision-making centre for the reform was and remains the MOIA.

Adopted reformation programs, as a rule, contain declarative norms and intentions. Their further elaboration falls on the responsible authorities. Most of the decisions are developed within the walls of the MOIA. In such circumstances,  the implementation of cardinal reforms becomes impossible as the ministry tries to maintain the status quo. Departmental interests dominate, and the needs of society are practically ignored, which ultimately leads to disappointment of the population and mistrust towards law enforcement agencies.

Shifts towards openness occurred in 2011, when, as a result of revolutionary events, civil society became more active. This period was the most interesting and promising in the entire history of the reform.

On September 27, 2011, the Interdepartmental Commission for the Development of the Draft Concept of Reforming the System of the Internal Affairs Bodies of the Kyrgyz Republic was formed.[5] Its structure included representatives of the government, deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh, as well as experts. At the same time, the MOIA and a group of civil society activists from the Civil Union “For Reforms and Result” network were preparing their draft concepts.

Three different documents appeared: (1) the concept of the Interdepartmental Commission, (2) the concept of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and (3) the “Alternative Concept” from civil society. None of these documents completely satisfied the authorities. As a result, it was decided to develop a unified draft concept[6] and in April 2013, “Measures on reforming the BIA”[7] were adopted – a reform program agreed with various parties. It includes individual proposals from civil society and international organizations.

Under the pressure from civil society and international organizations, the government took another important step. In September 2013, the Council on the Reform and the Rule and Law Systems Development under the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic was created – a collegial body that was called upon to ensure coordination and monitoring of the implementation of reformation measures. For the first time, the police reform process went beyond the walls of the MOIA and the government.

The meetings of the Council were held openly on a quarterly basis, with the participation of deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh, experts, representatives of civil society and international organizations. However, attempts to involve various parties in the reform discussion process were already limited in 2015, as the Council ceased to function.[8] In 2016, this platform was officially abolished, which, according to experts, had a negative impact on the effectiveness of the implementation of reformation measures and seriously limited public participation in the reform process.[9]

Renewal of personnel and legislation

One of the most important directions of reform that “wanders” from program to program is the renewal of personnel and the improvement of the legislation. Neither can be fully realized.

On the one hand, in 20 years the legislative base has significantly expanded due to the adoption of a number of progressive decisions. On the other hand, the framework law “On the BIA of the Kyrgyz Republic” has not changed significantly since its adoption in 1994. The amendments to it were mainly related to bringing the law in line with other decisions. Meanwhile, without renewal of the framework law, it is difficult to rebuild the system and make it work in a new way.

It is impossible to build a new police without renewal of the personnel. After the success of police reform in Georgia, the government of Kyrgyzstan planned to adopt this experience. However, the key factor of the Georgian reforms – a total renewal of personnel – our country did not take the risk to implement this. In different periods, there were intentions to switch to a competitive selection of employees, which in part could solve the problems of nepotism and corruption in personnel hiring. However, to date, the possibilities of such selection are limited.

For the first time, the idea of competitive selection of employees appeared in 2005, and the concrete actions were taken only in 2014. The government adopted a Decree[10] obliging the MOIA to hold a competition for filling vacant posts. At the first stage, this concerned the MOIA Academy, departments and services in the field of road safety. The decree set the deadline for the expansion of the list of posts to be replaced by competition – before June 1, 2015, the list had to be submitted to the Parliament for consideration. So far this has not been done.

What is necessary for the success of reforms?

Police reform in Kyrgyzstan is a slow, but almost a continuous process. The society is very disappointed, but still hopes for the emergence of a qualitatively new police in Kyrgyzstan. Given the previous experience of reforming, several factors can be identified that are important for the effective implementation of reforms.

The openness of the process and the involvement of different parties. Under the conditions of the dominance of the MOIA, carrying out fundamental reforms becomes impossible as the institution tries to maintain the status quo. In this regard, it is necessary to:

  • resume the practice of the Reform Council, with the inclusion of a wide range of stakeholders;
  • ensure open discussions of interim outcomes and upcoming reform activities.

Control over the execution, analysis and establishment of personal responsibility for efficiency. Despite the fact that each state decision formally identifies responsible parties, in practice no one is responsible for the failure to fulfill or improper fulfillment of obligations under the reform. In addition, there is little control over the current implementation, including compliance with the deadlines and compliance with the actions taken by the adopted government programs. Analysis of the effectiveness of the decision made are not performed at all. In this regard, it is necessary to:

  • while developing strategies, to establish personal responsibility of decision-makers for the effectiveness of the reform implementation. Unsatisfactory assessment should lead to resignation or other penalties;
  • systematically monitor reform – both by the implementing body and independent monitoring by civil society;
  • provide periodic reports on the progress of the reform in the media and on the official websites of the Government and the Ministry of Internal Affairs;
  • before adopting policy documents on reform, conduct an in-depth analysis of previous reform attempts, pay special attention to failed measures in order to avoid managerial mistakes.

Openness of information on staffing, structure and financing of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The process of reforming the police has been going on for more than 20 years, and at every stage the importance of financial and logistical support is indicated in the program documents. It is obvious that the funds allocated by the state are not enough, which is why many progressive measures are not carried through to the end. In this regard, the donor community has long been providing financial and technical support to the state. However, due to the excessive secrecy of the information about the MOIA, it is impossible to track the effectiveness of the distribution of these funds. It is necessary:

  • revise the List of the most important information constituting state secrets and other information about the MOIA, in terms of staffing, structure and financing of the department, with the exception of personal data of employees and agents, information on the activities of closed units, investigative secrets, etc.
  • conduct a functional analysis to optimize staffing and costs, as well as to raise funds for reform initiatives.

Upgrading personnel and legislation. Most of the reform measures were limited to structural changes, and there were no total system renewal. The main law regulating the activities of the police has not changed significantly since 1994. The amendments adapted to it were related exclusively to bringing it in line with the new Legal and Regulatory Instruments. Given the urgent need for a radical transformation of the police, it is recommended to:

  • consider the possibility of adopting a fundamentally new law regulating the activities of BIA (ОВД);
  • ensure public participation in the development of this law;
  • renew the personnel by expanding the list of positions selected through competition.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.


[1]The elimination of the NHTSA  was called an erroneous and dangerous decision // Kaktus.media URL: https://kaktus.media/doc/341014_likvidaciu_gskn_nazvali_oshibochnym_i_opasnym_resheniem.html (publication date: 4.07.2016)

[2] Order of the Prime Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic issued on 5 February, 2019 No. 11-p

[3] Government Provision issued on 24 February, 2015 No. 81

[4] https://mvd.gov.kg/index.php/kg/content-news/item/742-informatsiya-o-khode-realizatsii-polozhenij-natsionalnoj-strategii-ustojchivogo-razvitiya-kyrgyzskoj-respublikiki -period-2013-2017-gody

[5] Order of the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic No. 468-p of September 27, 2011

[6] Out of the three concepts of the reform, the Ministry of Internal Affairs will develop a single document // Knews news agency URL: https://knews.kg/2012/05/04/iz-treh-kontseptsiy-reformyi-mvd-vyirabotayut-edinyiy-dokument/ (publication date : 04.05.2012)

[7] Proposition of the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic issued on 30 April, 2013 No. 220

[8] Civil Union. Review of the monitoring of BIA reform in the Kyrgyz Republic. A new stage of police reform in Kyrgyzstan: time to change the law. – Bishkek: 2016

[9] The public can be deprived of the right to participate in the police reform // IA 24.kg URL: https://24.kg/obschestvo/30226_obschestvennost_mogut_lishit_prava_prinimat_uchastie_v_reforme_militsii/ (publication date: 04/04/2016)

[10] Decree of the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic issued on 24 November, 2014 No. 673

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