Time to implement nine-year-old proposal IPCMC

Monday, January 28, 2013 - 16:09

COLUMN
JUST look at the amount of resistance I received when I wanted to set up the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

“It is not easy (to reform).”

The resurrection of the IPCMC debate jogged my memory and took me back to the “exit” interview I did in 2008 with Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the then out-going prime minister.

We were discussing reforming the police and the (then) Anti-Corruption Agency which had suffered severely low public perception ratings.

That year alone, we had witnessed 85 fatal shootings by the police and the conduct of the men in blue against supporters and leaders of selected political parties had also come under the spotlight.

Bukit Aman’s own figures indicated that between 2000 and 2011, 147 detainees had died in custody. In all cases, there was “no evidence” to suspect foul play.

Only the assault on a former deputy prime minister-turned opposition leader laid bare the extra-judicial conduct of the police when its own chief — the Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Rahim Nor admitted to assaulting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in what became the infamous black-eye incident which was the inspiration of the Keadilan symbol we see on the party’s flag today.

So, there was a need to speak of the IPCMC during that interview, as the Royal Commission for Police Reform 2004 was yet to see any of its 125 recommendations be implemented — including setting up the IPCMC.

Fast forward today, and the nation is grappling with three new lock-up deaths. The case of its most famous one — A. Kugan is still being played out in the civil courts as those in charge of Kugan were exonerated of his death.

Over the last two months there had been three cases of escape from police custody involving a total of 10 detainees — including three foreigners.

And on Thursday, a suspected mentally-disturbed man was killed in handcuffs on the streets in Kajang — set upon by a mob, and what eyewitnesses claim, the very policemen who had cuffed him.

The coroner immediately released its report that C. Sugumaran had died of a heart attack. Of course, Kajang police chief ACP Ab Rashid Wahab denied any wrong-doing on his men’s part, saying police are still probing the various versions of his death.

We have seen this script before. “We will investigate” seems to be the standard answer from the powers-that-be, in the hope it will quell raging emotions and buy enough time for some of the attention deficit media to be distracted by another issue.

To be fair, our police force is one to be reckoned with. Its success rate if, one were to believe the National Key Result Areas (NKRA) is outstanding.

And it thrives to evolve and to get on with the times — despite a chicken-feed annual budget, that often fails to account for the high cost of living for lower ranking men and women in blue.

But when an incident such as these deaths in custody, or the Home Ministry and Royal Malaysian Police’s public relations disaster in the form of Bersih 3.0, crop up — all the good that is done by the police and its successes come to naught.

Which is why the perception index is opposite of what the NKRA tells you.

Fact remains, the police cannot investigate itself! It flies on the face of logic and the principles of natural justice.

Although one is allowed under the Commissions of Enquiry Act 1950 to set up such bodies on a case by case basis, it would be a strain to set up a Commission of Enquiry for every incident involving the police. This is due to the high number of questionable conduct that have lead to deaths under police watch.

The 2004 Commission of Inquiry had remarked that among others, the “infringements of human rights are extensive and PDRM is not seen as being transparent or accountable to the public.”

It had also noted the “consistent abuse of human rights” by the force and non-compliance with procedures. It looks like, nine years on, the perception and the problems are almost the same.

Hence, one needs to seriously go back to the drawing board and re-look the 2004 recommendations.

The 2004 Commission had among others recommended the repeal of the Restricted Residents Act; reducing the detention period of ISA detainees and amending the Police Act to remove the need for a permit for a peaceful gathering.

One wonders why if the government could adopt all these recommendations — even going one up and abolishing the ISA whole sale — is there such hesitation to introducing the IPCMC, as well as transparent procedures for managing detainees — the main recommendations of the 2004 commission.

Over the weekend this question was posed to the deputy premier and the home minister — who declined to answer the question.

The refusal of our leaders to deal with this subject begs the analysis of how much beholden are our politicians to the police — especially now, come election time.

Are they, as testified by the former prime minister, reluctant due to the strong opposition by the Force? One argument against the formation of the IPCMC is that it is discriminatory. Why only the police and not other members of the civil service?

Simple. That argument is flawed because the police with all the authority vested in it — including the ability to take a life — is not your regular government officer with a name tag.

The only way, some semblance of confidence can be restored in the Force is that there is an independent body, its members beholden to no one, who act as the Nanny over the force, with the ability to reign in rogue officers.

It is the only way to go.

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