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A Malaysian police officer stands guard in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: EPA

Malaysian police misconduct body delayed again after parliamentary wrangling

  • Lawmakers take the unprecedented step of referring a bill allowing for its creation to a select committee for further deliberation
  • Complaints commission was originally proposed back in 2004 but has been met with political resistance and pushback from top cops
First mooted in 2004, Malaysia’s long-awaited legislation setting up an independent body on police misconduct now faces further delay, following a referral of the bill by parliament this week to a special select committee after six hours of heated debate – the first time this has been done in the country’s legislative history.

Special Select Committee for Consideration of Bills chairman Ramkarpal Singh said the committee would meet on Thursday to discuss the matter.

“From there we will sort out a timeline and also the list of stakeholders,” he said.

The Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) Bill was first tabled in July as part of the Pakatan Harapan government’s slew of anti-corruption reforms put in place after the coalition came to power last year.

If passed, it will act as an independent body that will field complaints and carry out investigations into claims of police misconduct, including tackling the weighty issue of deaths in custody, a perennial problem among Malaysian police forces. More than 1,650 custodial deaths were reported between 2010 and 2017.

Malaysian police officers guard the entrance to a temple in Kuala Lumpur last year. Photo: AP

However, dozens of amendments made to the bill have earned the ire of civil society organisations and rights groups involved in the consultation process, who say the bill does not effectively reflect human rights concerns.

In its latest iteration, the bill accords the prime minister broad discretionary powers to appoint or dismiss IPCMC commissioners. It also diminishes investigatory powers, does not allow for public hearings and does not clarify procedural ambiguity.

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“Upon seeing the amendments yesterday [Monday], we found it disappointing that the government did not take into account some of what we recommended,” said top human rights lawyer New Sin Yew, who was involved in the consultative process.

“It is better to have an IPCMC than no IPCMC – but why start off weak?”

These last-minute changes – which were also criticised by the opposition, who accused the government of attempting to “bulldoze” the bill – did not reflect key concerns raised by civil society, said Firdaus Husni, chief human rights strategist at the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights.

A demonstrator is confronted by police at a protest in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: AFP

“It is hoped that the move to have the select committee look into the bill will allow for more time, engagement and thorough considerations especially on all proposals by civil society, which had already been raised during the rounds of briefing organised by law minister Liew Vui Keong and the Bar Council, as well as during a stakeholder consultation.”

The creation of an IPCMC was first suggested after a 2004 Royal Commission of Inquiry into police operations received more than 900 complaints of misconduct, including custodial deaths, allegations of torture and abuse of power.

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Modelled on the Independent Police Complaints Council of Hong Kong and Independent Police Complaints Commission in Britain, Malaysia’s IPCMC was to be established by 2006, but the idea was met with political resistance as well as pushback from top cops. Instead, an enforcement integrity commission was set up but received widespread criticism from civil society because of its lack of investigative powers.

Now, as Hong Kong’s complaints council faces demands to investigate allegations of police brutality as the city struggles through its 17th straight week of anti-government protests, Malaysia’s IPCMC may face further delays while also testing the new government’s attempts at institutional reform.
Malaysian police guard the airport in Subang Jaya last year. Photo: AP

Observers say setting up the select committee is a laudable step forward for Malaysia’s parliamentary democracy and will allow for increased transparency.

“It provides a mechanism for parliament to scrutinise any legislative proposals before they are tabled and called to a vote,” said Firdaus, while lawyer New described the move as “both commendable and refreshing”.

Although some recommendations were accepted, others that were not could now be more fully considered by the select committee, said Malaysian Bar Council IPCMC task force chairman M. Ramachelvam.

“We hope for the select committee to deliberate this matter and consider the various amendments that have been put forth by the government, as well as other views. Further changes should be based on consultation with the various stakeholders, and we hope the committee carries out its job in a timely fashion.”

This was echoed by New, who pointed out that although the bill was delayed, Malaysia under the new government was undergoing “a lot of firsts”.

“It shows this system can work,” New said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Police misconduct body delayed once again after parliamentary wrangling