On Tuesday, 26 July, Parliament passed the Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC) Bill 2020.
Originally conceived as an independent body to provide oversight and ensure accountability over the police, a cursory reading of the IPCC Bill is more than enough to deduce that it is ultimately set up to fail at fulfilling even its most basic function.
The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) expresses not just dismay at the passing of the bill but also grave concern for the state of law enforcement in the coming years.
How did we end up here?
The IPCC Bill is a watered-down version of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) Bill that was presented for tabling in 2019, which was also itself a watered-down version of the recommendations made in the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police in 2005.
The only body that remotely bore a resemblance to a police oversight mechanism was the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC), which was tasked with providing oversight to multiple government agencies, not just the police. It has no enforcement powers and is only able to conduct investigations and publicise its findings.
For example, the EAIC concluded in 2016 that police personnel were responsible for causing and covering up N Dharmendran’s death in custody – but was unable to pursue further action, having to rely on the Attorney General’s Chambers to bring action against those responsible.
Even bearing the EAIC’s limited powers in mind, it could still function as a police oversight body better than the proposed IPCC.
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C4 Center has previously outlined the numerous deficiencies of the IPCC compared to the previous IPCMC Bill when the former was first announced in August 2020. Chief among them includes its stark lack of independence. Similar to the police, the IPCC would also report to the Ministry of Home Affairs; former members of the police are allowed to join the IPCC, and the bill places the power to impose a penalty (if at all) at the discretion of the Police Force Commission, which is not independent of the police force.
The investigatory powers of the IPCC have also been greatly hobbled, when compared to the proposed IPCMC, as its scope of investigations has been narrowed, with fewer forms of alleged police misconduct falling under its jurisdiction.
The IPCC Act also allows any of the witnesses or persons of interest in an investigation of misconduct to refuse to answer questions asked during the investigation and additionally empowers the witness’ head of department to intervene with investigations by allowing these superiors to classify information as ‘sensitive’. This provision alone is enough to impede the entire investigation process!
As with the earlier IPCMC, the IPCC is also exempt from investigating any act provided for in the inspector general standing Orders (Sections 96 and 97 of the Police Act 1967). The standing orders generally govern issues such as the conduct of arrests, the treatment of detainees, and matters related to the permissible use of weapons.
While these criticisms have been repeated by politicians and civil society alike, they have been consistently ignored by the government.
Unsurprisingly, the passing of the IPCC Bill has been welcomed by the current inspector general, Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani, who also supported the decision to extend a controversial provision under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) that would allow the detention of suspects for up to 28 days without trial. That these two laws both constitute a further widening of police powers, allowing them to further action with impunity is chilling.
The police force is no stranger to allegations of corruption, even from within itself. Former Inspector General Abdul Hamid Bador announced shortly before his retirement in early 2021 that he knew of former police chiefs using serving police officers to do their bidding, and that there were “cartels” operating in the police that sought his dismissal as inspector general; this claim has since been denied by the current inspector general and the EAIC.
In October 2021 five policemen from Sabah were charged with bribery. More recently, in March 2022, a senior police officer was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and fined RM42m on eight charges of money laundering involving a total sum of RM3.4m.
In addition to the numerous accounts of deaths in custody and bribery scandals, other areas of concern regarding the police have remained under the radar still largely unaddressed.
Abdul Hamid also revealed in 2019 that 67 associations were registered under the name of the police despite having nothing to do with the police.
Additionally, the police cooperative society, Koperasi Polis Diraja Malaysia Berhad (KPD), was in fact a conglomerate that ventured into numerous profit-making operations wherein former inspectors general were listed as its board members while still serving as active members of the police force. This gives rise to questions about conflict of interest.
With the array of issues gnawing at the police, critics of the IPCC and IPCMC may still maintain that these occurrences are the result of a few bad apples and that an oversight and accountability commission may unfairly prejudice a vast majority of innocent police officers.
Nevertheless, there is no denying that the misconduct of these police officers in the realms of abuse and corruption cannot be separated from their positions as members of the police. Even when existing law act to penalise corruption and misconduct on an individual basis, the lack of a body specialised to handle misconduct by the police acting in the capacity of police will ultimately breed a culture of corruption within the police.
The passing of the IPCC Bill by the House of Representatives – a bill so inadequately equipped to provide oversight beyond surface level – represents a backsliding for police accountability in Malaysia. Despite being elected representatives, they have demonstrated an obvious deficiency in considering the IPCC’s flaws as raised by the public. Those who voted in favour of the bill have clearly disposed of their duty to put the public’s interests first and have failed to exercise the standards of governance and leadership as expected of an elected representative.
Suppose the IPCC comes into power in its present iteration. In that case, the foreseeable consequence is that it will be used to deflect the conversation away from the need for further reform, with parties asserting that the law works because investigations were opened up by the commission, even if in reality, those investigations did not lead anywhere.
C4 Center calls for the Senate to exercise its prudence against allowing a flawed, ineffective bill from coming into power, and instead refer it back to the Attorney General’s Chambers for further amendments. In its current state, the IPCC Bill serves no added value in “promoting integrity” or improving accountability within the police force. – C4 Center