Do we really need the IPCMC?

― Nicholas Chan
The Malaysian Insider
Jun 05, 2013

JUNE 5 ― The Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) recently rose to infamy due to the occurrence of a slew of death in custody cases in Malaysia, once again rallying public outcry for the setting up of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC). Minister in charge of Integrity and Corruption Paul Low was quick to tout the EAIC as if it were the IPCMC we never had, reportedly saying we don’t need another independent police oversight body because the EAIC is actually the IPCMC.

This is a gross mistruth as the powers of the EAIC and the IPCMC as mooted by the Royal Commission chaired by former Chief Justice Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah are different. The truth is, the EAIC is more of a watered down version of the IPCMC, a “reform” legacy that is kindly attributed to the retired Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, although by the time the legislation that enables the Commission to be form is gazetted, he had already stepped down.

No doubt both Commissions are mooted for the same vision of curbing police misconduct and upholding their accountability towards the public, Dzaiddin’s version of it speaks more drastically of the need to keep our police force in check as the Royal Commission report had described the force as “brutal, inept and the most corrupt among the government departments”.

As such, the Royal Commission deemed it necessary for the IPCMC to have wider investigation powers, whereby it could initiate or instruct the police to initiate investigations over reports of misconduct by the police regardless of whether a public complaint was made. The EAIC does not enjoy this privilege as it is could only investigate cases of misconduct by law enforcement bodies only after a public complaint was filed. Hence giving rise to the ironic situation that until the recent case of Dhamendran whom was allegedly beaten to death in custody, the EAIC had actually never investigated any case of death in custody nor police shootings, both known to be hallmarks of police brutality in Malaysia.

But before we jump on this and dance wildly to the all familiar old tune that “the IPCMC must be established to redeem our once highly acclaimed police force!”, we must realised that Commissions by itself are rarely the panacea towards the misfits of a law enforcement body.

The Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) was monitored by five oversight committees, and yet any palpable changes to the force remained as elusive as ever. Like the MACC, the IPCMC was routinely cited to be modelled upon a Hong Kong counterpart, the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), largely due to the city state’s success in combating corruption and setting up a modern and professional police force.

Here comes the fun fact: The EAIC is actually more similar to the IPCC rather than the IPCMC. The IPCC’s major function is to investigate the reportable complaints and monitor the action taken against the officers and/or force with respect to such complaints. However, the reportable complaints towards the Hong Kong police force is first investigated by a branch within the police force, named the Complaints against Police Force (CAPO). The IPCC will then review all the investigation reports of the CAPO and is empowered to seek clarification from CAPO or order a re-investigation of the case if necessary.

Therefore, unlike the IPCMC, the IPCC actually does not contain arbitrary powers to initiate investigations against police conduct nor the legal prerogative to pursue action. It serves more as an oversight and advisory council to the police rather than a disciplinary body. Even the EAIC has wider powers of investigation as it could summon witnesses and seize evidences relevant to its investigation.

So why are we envious of the Hong Kong’s IPCC when in fact we have a more pervasive and powerful one? Or rather the question should be, how can we have an oversight body with more executive powers but still failed to achieve the police reforms everybody endears?

Like police brutality, it all boils down to the working culture. A quick research of the Hong Kong’s IPCC would have revealed their fantastic housekeeping and a culture of accountability. Annual reports, breakdown of number of cases investigated, nature of cases and the follow up actions taken on the cases are all available for the public’s scrutiny.

It would appear that the Commission is not just at work but is also proud of the work they do. This is what integrity, transparency and most importantly, competency is about.

As for our home-grown contender, the EAIC, the name does not even ring a bell until we have three deaths in custody cases in a short sprint of 11 days. There are no annual reports available at the commission’s website despite it is already the second year of the Commission’s inception and until a recent report by The Malaysian Insider, we would have no idea what the EAIC has been doing all along. How can a body that is established with the purpose of holding the police accountable to the public be effective if it itself is not accountable to the public?

So, in the end, the primary ineptness of the EAIC is not about its lacking of investigation officers (it used to have six, until recently there is only one left) or a bigger operating budget, as claimed by EAIC CEO Nor Afizah Hanum Mokhtar. A RM7 million annual budget should be enough for a body of 22 employees (as counted through the directories of its official website) and six Commissioners. Using a rather generous estimate, putting RM1.5 million per annum each for wages and emoluments for the staff and Commissioners, another RM1 million for the amenities/rental would still leave another RM3 million operating budget per annum for the Commission.

And by using this estimate, the officers of the Commission are already pretty well paid; it is only fair that we ask for results. Out of the 124 complaint cases investigated by the EAIC, only one resulted in the recommendation of disciplinary action towards a police officer, albeit with no follow-up information available on that recommendation. Based on these results, one would have assumed a stellar performance for our police force but the Malaysian public would have known better. Detachment from reality is a dish constantly served in Malaysia.

There is no point of inflating the body in terms of manpower and budget if after two years of operation; tangible results of any signs are still in the air. More does not mean more in efficiency, sometimes less is more. Our working and management culture in the civil service does not seem to get that.

If the same complacency and incompetence is transposed to the IPCMC , if we ever have one, there is no guarantee that the police watchdog we clamoured for will be a viscous and biting Rottweiler. It will be a Chihuahua instead.

And by that time, somebody could proudly claim this, that the IPCMC is actually the EAIC.

This addendum was requested by the writer after the article was published.

Although not stated in the description of its primary roles, the EAIC as according to Section 28 of the EAIC Act 2009 does have powers to initiate investigations without having any complaints as long as the matter is of public interest or that it is in the police interest to do so. This section makes the EAIC more similar to the IPCMC in terms of power to investigate, but it also makes an even more aghast finding because despite having the power to do so, the EAIC have not initiate any investigations over any of the eight cases of death in custody that has been happened for the previous five months. Apparently what they recognised as matters of public interest is of a different league to the rakyat.

The Hong Kong’s IPCC is only one of the police oversight agencies that the mooting of the IPCMC is modelled upon. The other major one is the UK’s Independent Police Complaints Commission, also known as the IPCC. As compared to the Hong Kong’s IPCC, the UK’s IPCC has a larger role in investigation as it investigates the most serious allegations against police misconduct and abuse, like cases whereby death and serious injuries are involved, accusations of racism, organised corruptions and allegations against senior police officers. The majority of complaints against police still go back to a task force within the police, like in Hong Kong, but the UK IPCC is also empowered to serve as a guardian to that complaint system, to promote public confidence and ensure accessibility of the system. The UK’s IPCC also dealt with appeals from the public if they are not satisfied with the way the police force has acted upon their complaints.

All in all, the proposed IPCMC and EAIC in Malaysia actually has more power for policing check and balance than the countries we are supposed to emulate. It still remains a mystery why such power to oversee and discipline does not translate into a more professional and dignified police force. Perhaps it’s the Commissions that are at fault, or our obsession of setting up Commissions or Committees just for the sake of it.

  1. #1 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Wednesday, 5 June 2013 - 6:09 pm

    Do we really need uv rays from the sun?

    ….all those cleansing, bleaching power…..
    ….all the radiance that dispels darkness….
    …. all the warmth that promotes good life…

    Do we need IPCMC?

    Now, if you ask: Do we need UMNO?

    That’s a different matter: gutter for the gutter.

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Wednesday, 5 June 2013 - 10:07 pm

    Not only do we need an IPCMC, we need one appointed by a govt that is NOT UMNO/BN..

    In fact, almost all major problems in this country, we need SOMEONE ELSE other than UMNO/BN to deal with..

  3. #3 by worldpress on Wednesday, 5 June 2013 - 10:44 pm

    We must not get distract

    EC was the main factor leaded us a monkey system allowing cheats, fault, bribe, protected tempted the monkey with banana (bribe) to vote brainless in the jungle dominate the election with much less vote

    Chair and deputy can consider criminal of protecting corruption, cheats and unfair election

    If we have clean, fair election we have already solve many problems included this

    EC was the main source problem delivered another 4-5 years of suffering unfair and corruption administration


  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 6 June 2013 - 12:12 am

    In the Addendum Nicholas says EAIC Act does have powers to initiate investigations of a matter of public interest (even without having received direct complaints) thereby making “EAIC more similar to the IPCMC in terms of power to investigate”. The Question is what happens after investigation that establishes misconduct. In EAIC’s case it has to refer (in police case) to Police Commission to investigate the matter further and take disciplinary action. In IPCMC case the IPCMC has direct disciplinary power and can initiate legal action via its chief legal counsel to discipline the errant officer! In that sense EAIC does not solve problem of esprit de corps cos it relies on police commission to discipline its own, whereas IPCMC is a notch more independent to initiate both investigation & disciplinary action!

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 6 June 2013 - 12:13 am

    True, ultimately its whether there’s political will (as commissioners of both EAIC or IPCMC are appointed by PM) and a culture of accountability supported by public vigilant of their rights but if one compares one to the other IPCMC seems to have more tooth to bite! Besides IPCMC (as name suggests) directly focuses on police misconduct and therefore has more deterrent effect whereas EAIC on 21 other enforcement agencies including the National Anti-Drugs Agency, voluntary corps Rela, the Immigration Department of Malaysia, the Royal Malaysian Police and Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board but excluding MACC, and in each case has to refer the case to these agencies respective oversight/disciplinary bodies – which won’t take action- rather than have powers as IPCMC to go alone in prosecution and disciplining.

  6. #6 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 6 June 2013 - 12:24 am

    These are the reasons then why IPCMC would remain as the benchmark supported by Bar Council, Civil Society and Opposition! At least being untried IPCMC represents hope. In EAIC’s case it has been criticized by both Tun Dzaiddin &Former Chief Justice Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad, and EAIC CEO Nor Afizah Hanum Mokhtar has herself admitted that her organisation is understaffed and under-funded. She admitted that the EAIC has received 469 complaints as of May 31 this year with 353 complaints against the police out of which only 60 were referred to the relevant disciplinary agencies for full investigation and of these only 3 were fully investigated, with only 1 case referred to Police Commission with the other 2 closed for double jeopardy (simply cos one can’t have 2 agencies EAIC and then Police Commission investigating same person twice with potential of 2 different results). EAIC function is a joke in this sense of violating double jeopardy principle. With such record how can it inspire confidence?

  7. #7 by Noble House on Thursday, 6 June 2013 - 3:33 am

    We have the Home Minister who went on record to suggest that if those were to be suspended from duty it would demoralise the police force. What kind of a statement is this? It reflects his total ignorance and lack of the sensitivity to the feelings of the family members of the person who died in police custody. It is tantamount to telling the police force it is morally alright to condone such heinous crimes.

  8. #8 by yhsiew on Thursday, 6 June 2013 - 5:45 am

    How I wish that I am one of the EAIC staff sitting in the office to receive big salary every month without having to do any work!

  9. #9 by BMBoy on Thursday, 6 June 2013 - 10:51 am

    We have a whole menu of alphabet soups but do they help us at all? NO! They just spend more of our hard earned money doing nothing except spouting big words that will never ever see the light of day.

    Why do we have so many of them? Just merge those that are necessary and dump those who are unnecessary.

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