History Repeats Itself: Military-Police Joint Recruitment

History Repeats Itself: Military-Police Joint Recruitment post thumbnail image

On 18 October 2021, the Minister of Defence held a meeting with the Prime Minister to ask for orientation from the Government regarding recruitment of new candidates for FALINTIL-Defence Forces of Timor-Leste (F-FDTL) and the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL) in 2022. The intention behind this joint recruitment drive is to ensure that F-FDTL and PNTL members have shared values and principles, and to promote mutual trust, respect and friendship. The two security institutions will also hold joint exercises, as well as carrying out their own specific duties separately.

Fundasaun Mahein (FM) notes that when the current Minister of Defence assumed his position as interim Minister of Defence and Minister of Interior, the Government intended to recruit only for F-FDTL and then to transfer some of these to PNTL. However, FM sees that this plan does not align with PNTL’s mission and is not foreseen in Timor-Leste’s Constitution. Moreover, while we recognise the need to consolidate good relations between members of the armed forces and PNTL, in order to avoid competition and prevent the problems which contributed to the 2006 crisis, we also worry about the militarisation of PNTL.

As FM has written many times, F-FDTL and PNTL have different missions and responsibilities. F-FDTL’s mission relates clearly to national defence and external threats. On the other hand, PNTL responds to internal security issues with a community policing approach. The culture of community policing has been developed since the establishment of PNTL, through its Organic Law which was passed in 2004 and revised for the first time in 2009. PNTL has invested significantly in the community policing model to create a police force which is close to the community and can respond to incidents with a community dialogue approach.

FM’s major concern about the planned PNTL-F-FDTL joint recruitment is that Timor-Leste could repeat the experience of the justice sector several years ago. The joint recruitment in the justice sector resulted in high quality selections for judges, adequate quality for the Prosecution, and lower quality for the Defence. Based on this experience, FM anticipates that joint recruitment for F-FDTL and PNTL could produce similar results as occurred with the justice sector, whereby F-FDTL is given high priority, while PNTL receives lower priority. This could provoke divisions between these two institutions.

Based on the lesson provided by this prior experience, the Government should create a PNTL White Paper to serve as a guide for recruitment, especially as there is currently no such document which can limit the actions of politicians who wish to shape the police and military according to their goals. FM also asks the Government to conduct a study which can explore the issue of joint recruitment to see whether it is feasible or not.

Numerous countries have recruited military veterans into the police force. This often works well as veterans have developed discipline and professionalism through their military training and active service. However, there have also been many complaints from communities that military veterans serving as police have committed more infractions than civil police, as the ego and military character which they developed during military service continued to dominate their attitude and actions. Not only has recruiting ex-military into the police has been problematic, but the Government wants to hold joint recruitment and training for two institutions with different missions. FM worries that if this joint recruitment goes ahead, several issues will arise, including:

  1. Candidates with a higher score will fill vacancies in the military, while those with average score will fill vacancies in the police.
  2. Those who achieve a higher score during recruitment could develop ‘big egos’, and then look down on those who achieved a lower score.
  3. Candidates who access PNTL vacancies can become less confident due to achieving a lower score.
  4. Psychologically the military could see itself as superior and PNTL as weak.

On the other hand, joint recruitment could bring the following advantages:

  1. Police-military relations could improve through the recruitment process.
  2. The military’s understanding of policing could improve, so that during peacetime the military could assist the police on issues related to internal security.

Based on these observations, FM continues to support the recruitment mechanism which has been applied previously, until the creation of the PNTL recruitment manual is complete. This is because F-FDTL’s recruitment system has gone well until now, as shown by the fact that 600 people were recently recruited in Metinaro. Therefore, we suggest that the Government continues to use PNTL’s current recruitment system.

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