KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 7 — The unspoken goal of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) is to reconnect the police and Malaysian society that takes a dim view of the former, said Mohamad Onn Abd Aziz.
Speaking to Malay Mail, the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) chief executive noted the Bill for the commission expressly incorporated the Royal Malaysia Police’s (PDRM) motto of “Polis dan Masyarakat, Berpisah Tiada (The Police and the Community are inseparable)”.
Mohamad Onn said as some in the police continue to view the IPCMC as purely a punitive measure forced upon them, they overlooked the opportunity the commission would represent in reforming their agency’s image.
“We are trying our very best to create an environment to eliminate the negative public perception and I can tell you it is not easy, uphill task.
“There are indeed bad cops among the force and we try to educate them, hopefully the IPCMC is one of the steps to remedy that,” he said in an interview here.
Stressing that the police must change their attitude and avoid making excuses for issues affecting them, Mohamad Onn said the effectiveness of an independent panel given oversight of disciplinary issues was already tested and proven in other countries with similar mechanisms.
“We want these officers to realise at the end of the day, when they look back on the day they signed up for the force, they did so to serve the public,” he added.
The IPCMC was first mooted by the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management — to deal specifically with misconduct such as police brutality, custodial deaths, shootings and cover-ups — of the police in its report published in May 2005.
On May 10 this year, the police finally gave their consent for the formation of the IPCMC some 14 years after it was first proposed.
In announcing the agreement, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador said a special meeting with Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption Centre (GIACC) director-general Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed cleared the police’s concerns on the commission.
Describing discussions with the police prior to the May 10 meeting as tense and filled with suspicion, Mohamad Onn said the force had generally misunderstood the goal of the commission, a misunderstanding that was exploited by those with personal agendas within it.
He added that what helped was to convince them to look at the police as a key public institution of the country rather than as a collection of individuals.
“While it is true that they think about their rights, they fail to address more important things such as the rights of the rakyat.
“The government wants the IPCMC to be independent. What does it mean to be independent? Independent does not mean we take sides of the complainant. That is not true.
“Independent means you go and investigate and seek the truth,” he said, adding that this was something new to the police.
He then cited custodial death as an example, explaining how the police could use the IPCMC as a shield against negative public perception.
“You don’t perceive us as your enemy. We are not trying to find fault. Being independent does not mean you sit on the fence and try to please everybody,” he added.
Grouses of the men in blue
Mohamad Onn said former IGP Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun, backed by the police veterans group previously raised two pertinent questions about the formation of the IPCMC: whether it would take over investigations of PDRM’s Integrity and Standards Compliance Department (JIPS) and whether it would replace the Police Force Commission (PFC).
“Based on the true spirit of the IPCMC, to make an effective oversight body, you have to be a disciplinary authority. Only having the power to make recommendation won’t go anywhere as we cannot bind them.
“We do not want to mislead the public by claiming this was IPCMC and them knowing we are not going to oversee disciplinary cases, then that would be EAIC 2.0 and surely backfire against the government,” he said.
Real-life references used for the IPCMC to emulate — the United Kingdom’s Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and Hong Kong’s The Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), to name a few — were also adjusted to suit the local norms and needs.
Having used real-world examples to convince the police of the commission’s mechanisms, Mohamad Onn said the team together along with Abu Kassim was then able to assure the force that the IPCMC would only handle high-profile cases of serious misconduct.
The JIPS would retain its investigative powers and be made to report its findings and recommendations to the IPCMC, he said before adding that the arrangement did not mean the commission could not involve itself if needed.
“We also explained that as a disciplinary authority, it is not unconstitutional as it is provided under Article 140 of the Federal Constitution,” he said, adding that several recommendations were also taken into account such as including representation of the IGP and the PFC in the disciplinary authority.
He pointed out uncertainties surrounding the IPCMC were made known and subsequently clarified to the police but were not disseminated to the grassroot accurately.
“Either it’s intentional or not I am not sure. This is the problem that we faced,” he said.
A significant milestone in police accountability and integrity
Mohamad Onn said the IPCMC should serve an educational role to both the public and the police within its maiden year, adding that the oversight body cannot be expected to supervise everything simultaneously since it is a joint effort by all.
“Do not look at IPCMC as demonising the police. IPCMC only acts based on your standard operating procedure whenever there is a breach of misconduct. If you do not revise them, how could you blame us?” he asked.
Calling the tabling of the Bill a historic moment in Malaysia, Mohamad Onn said the Bill was not something filled with flowery words but rather with the intent and purpose to create a lasting legacy for the police force.
While he expressed his gratitude to the police, NGOs and numerous stakeholders roped in to assist the establishment of the long-awaited Bill, Mohamad Onn said not all requests could be accommodated lest it becomes EAIC 2.0.
“While this is the first step to further improving and refining the Bill, It is with hope that the IPCMC will be able to deliver its purpose effectively so that we can restore what has been sullied for the last two decades,” he said with optimism.
In case you missed our quick guide on the IPCMC Bill after it was tabled for first reading by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong in the Dewan Rakyat in July, click here.