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Friday July 24, 2009

Why we need the IPCMC

WELL, a Royal Commission will look into interrogation procedures while the tragic death of young political activist Teoh Beng Hock itself will be investigated by an inquest to be headed by a magistrate.

But, really, all these would have been totally unnecessary if the key recommendation of another Royal Commission, headed by a former chief judge and assisted by a former inspector-general of police or IGP had been followed – for the setting up of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission or IPCMC.

The IPCMC should have become the institution that independently, fairly and firmly investigates all transgressions by the police and other related agencies, and in some cases even metes out punishment for these. We badly need an institutionalised process to deal with malpractices by enforcement agencies.

The Royal Commission on the police was set up in 2004 and was headed by Tun Mohammed Dzaiddin Abdullah with Tun Mohammed Hanif Omar as deputy chairman. Its findings were made public the following year.

It had recommended the setting up of the IPCMC and even enclosed draft legislation for that purpose, detailing its powers of investigation and inquiry to help fight corruption in the force and to investigate public complaints.

This commission should of course be extended to other enforcement agencies such as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) from whose building Teoh fell to his death after at least 10 hours of continuous interrogation which went late into the night.

The current IGP has told us Malaysians not to speculate on why Teoh fell to his death, assuring us that the police will fully investigate the case.

But the public is bound to speculate on the reasons, and the only way such speculation can be stopped is to get to the truth of the matter.

The public is not going to have confidence in a fellow law-enforcement agency – the police – investigating a case which may implicate the MACC. The basic premise of that – and it is a reasonable one – is that police investigations will be coloured when they investigate fellow officers.

The inquest into Teoh’s death, to be headed by a magistrate, will have limited value because it can in most cases establish only whether or not there was foul play. A magistrate’s inquest will not find the culprit – if there is one. So what’s the point?

The next Royal Commission of Inquiry will be set up to look into interrogation methods by the MACC. This area has already been covered and recommendations made by the IPCMC, but these are yet to be fully implemented. What applies to the police should similarly apply to the MACC as far as interrogation is concerned.

To amplify the point, it helps to look at the previous recorded case of death following interrogation, that of A. Kugan, earlier this year. Then as now, the police gave an assurance that there would be full and fair investigations and no cover-up.

The first post mortem on Kugan was contradicted by a second post mortem which found that Kugan was tortured while under police detention. Subsequently, a 10-man “independent” committee studied the two post mortems but without the benefit of the body, which had been buried.

They “unanimously agreed” there was no evidence of thermal injuries in the skin on the back of the deceased as reported in the second post mortem. Their findings were revealed by Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican. But the composition of the panel was not revealed.

The police have said that their investigations are complete and have been submitted to Attorney-General Tan Sri Gani Patail. But so far, six months after Kugan died, no one has been charged.

There have been many other deaths in custody but no one has been brought to book so far. According to the Royal Commission report on the police, in 2004 alone, there were 15 deaths in police lock-ups through out the country, involving people of all races. Of this only in one case was there an instruction to prosecute.

That indicates clearly and without any ambiguity the extent of mistreatment that does take place at police stations and lock-ups and the need for independent investigation of these circumstances.

Independent and fair investigation can only be done by an independent body headed by credible people who have wide-ranging powers under the law to not only investigate but to prosecute as well.

The police themselves strongly and openly lobbied together with other bodies against the setting up of the IPCMC.

Subsequent events have clearly showed that the IPCMC should have been set up and that the action of the police and related agencies, including the MACC, should be closely monitored by an independent body.

No less than a former chief judge, a former IGP and other distinguished panellists have said so in their recommendations for the police.

It is too early to say who caused Teoh’s death but the truth is going to be very difficult to establish without the IPCMC or a similar body.

If anyone has no doubts as to whether the police and related agencies can fairly investigate cases against their own kind, ask yourself this question: How many of us would send our own sons to prison or to the gallows even if they did wrong?

In every country where an independent body has been set up to oversee the behaviour of police and related agencies, there has been a considerable reduction in police corruption and misconduct. That will benefit everyone irrespective of race, creed or religion.

So let’s do the right thing and set up the IPCMC. In that way we can be sure that the deaths of Teoh, Kugan, etc, will at least be fairly investigated, and every effort made to bring the culprits to book. In that way too, their deaths would not have been completely in vain.

> Managing editor P. Gunasegaram says that justice delayed is better than justice denied.

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