Malaysia’s Independent Police Conduct Commission faces scrutiny in the midst of high-profile police scandals

Advocacy groups and cabinet members have expressed concerns over the limited accountability measures in place, raising questions about the independence and efficacy of the IPCC.

The newly formed Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC) of Malaysia under intense scrutiny. The revelations come as accusations against police officers, including the alleged rape of a foreign student, have raised concerns about the effectiveness of the independent body tasked with investigating complaints against law enforcement.

Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail recently disclosed the names of five members appointed to the IPCC, with two positions still awaiting suitable candidates. However, critics are already labelling the commission as ‘toothless’ due to its limited powers. Unlike its predecessor, the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), the IPCC lacks disciplinary authority over police officers found guilty of misconduct.

According to Dr Nik Ahmad Kamal Nik Mahmood, an expert in law at the International Islamic University Malaysia, the IPCC can only recommend punishments to the police force commission, leaving the ultimate decision and action to the police disciplinary committee. Malaysian lawyer Edmund Bon echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that the IPCC operates more as a referral commission, lacking the enforcement mandate present in the earlier proposed IPCMC.

The controversy surrounding the IPCC Bill, introduced in August 2020 to replace the IPCMC Bill, has drawn criticism for its perceived failure to address police abuse of power adequately. Advocacy groups and cabinet members have expressed concerns over the limited accountability measures in place, raising questions about the independence and efficacy of the IPCC.

The recent appointment of five IPCC members, including former officials from various government departments, has allowed the commission to begin addressing complaints immediately. However, the absence of the final two members has prompted suggestions that former judges should fill these positions to enhance the commission’s credibility.

To bolster public trust in the police, Edmund Bon proposed that the remaining IPCC members should be individuals from civil society and those actively engaged with communities. He emphasized the need for a diverse membership that can better understand the realities on the ground and contribute to the commission’s effectiveness.

Recent cases of police misconduct, including allegations against Turkish-American academic Ahmet T Kuru and the arrest of two policemen for extortion and sexual assault, have further intensified calls for robust oversight. Rights group Citizen Against Enforced Disappearances (Caged) expressed scepticism about the IPCC’s ability to prevent police cover-ups, describing it as a “toothless, limbless creature.”

As the IPCC officially came into force on July 1, questions linger about the delayed selection process for its seven-member commission. Critics argue that the commission’s success hinges on its ability to hold errant officers accountable and urged a swift and transparent process in filling the remaining positions to address the current challenges effectively.