Independent body probing enforcement agencies must be free of political interference, say observers

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Coverage by: New Straits Times (NST)

KUALA LUMPUR: Several organisations have welcomed news of an independent body to investigate complaints against law enforcement agencies.

However, they said it could only work if it was free of political interference and if all complaints are truly acted upon.

Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism acting chief executive officer Pushpan Murugiah, in welcoming the move, said the centre had long called for better oversight over institutions.

This was especially for certain enforcement institutions who have been allowed to act with impunity in the past and have faced corruption allegations, he added.

As the country moves towards embracing a harder stance against corruption, the institutions entrusted to carry out this fight must themselves maintain transparency and integrity, he said.

“The current monitoring mechanisms such as the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC), the Public Complaints Bureau (PCB) and the yet-to-be-implemented Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC) are far too weak and prone to political abuse to provide any meaningful oversight and remedy to aggrieved parties.

“The most important feature of this independent body is that it has to truly be independent, as divorced from political interference as possible, for this to be adequately maintained.

“It has to be answerable only to Parliament first and foremost. Only then do the questions regarding its powers and functions become relevant as they will be far less likely to be manipulated by individuals and parties for their own benefit,” he said.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had earlier told the Dewan Rakyat that the government was mulling the setting up of an independent body to probe enforcement agencies when an allegation or report was lodged against them.

He said it would ensure greater transparency and accountability among enforcement agencies and there was a need for improvement in the practice of investigating themselves.

The police, he added, has the IPCC and similar initiatives should be expanded to other enforcement authorities like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Immigration Department and the Customs Department.

Meanwhile, Pushpan added that the independent body will need enforcement powers of its own as they need to be adequately empowered to conduct independent investigations into these enforcement agencies without having these investigations shut down abruptly.

“In addition to this, this body will also need to be able to enforce sanctions against individuals found to have committed impropriety instead of being left back to enforcement agency to conduct an internal disciplinary action,” he said.

He added that the body must be headed by individuals who have the relevant expertise in the structure, internal workings and even culture of the enforcement agencies being monitored.

These individuals, he said, can range from academics, lawyers and former high-ranking civil servants.

“What is most important is that they possess extensive knowledge of how the enforcement agencies themselves function.

“It is imperative that this oversight body is not one in just name alone where they only present an additional administrative barrier for enforcement agencies to jump over.”

On the IPCC which is to be enforced from July 1, Pushpan said it should not be hastily implemented.

“Instead, we should take this opportunity to expand the scope of this proposed independent body to encompass the spirit of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconducts (IPCMC) as well as to all the other enforcement agencies.”

Separately, Alliance for Safe Community chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said the independent body instils confidence and assurance in the rakyat that their complaints against the civil service are not binned but probed and acted upon.

Lee said public complaints against enforcement agencies were never fairly investigated and they can be “defensive”, leaving the people with only their version of accounts and difficulty in pursuing the matter.

“This idea by the unity government is good. It ensures all public complaints against the authorities is fairly and effectively investigated, acted upon and justice is served. If the complaints are genuine, action must be taken. We do not expect the enforcement agencies to be fair (without the body).

“For so many years, the public have been complaining by writing to the media as well as the authorities but it was all in vain.

“Now, we are assured but I hope it does not take long for the body to be set up and the AGC to review. I feel it may take sometime but it must be done immediately with the sense of urgency,” he said.

At the same time, Lee questioned what had happened to plan to set up the Ombudsman Malaysia agency which had been mulled by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2018.

“An ombudsman (agency) is a fully independent authority and well equipped to address public complaints related to the civil service. This has been done in many countries.

“The government had talked about the ombudsman as far back as the 1970s. But instead of an ombudsman, the government decided to form the PCB, which is not effective at all.”

Meanwhile, crime analyst Kamal Affandi Hashim said Anwar could have also meant improving transparency as internal investigations by the enforcement agencies, though in many cases proven to be otherwise, was still perceived as bias by the public.

He said the idea for the independent body was done in the pursuit of good governance as one of the vital task for any administration was to handle complaints.

“Although we have the EAIC and government departments with respective internal disciplinary body, the mechanism perhaps need to be streamlined and strengthen.

“I am in the opinion that any improvement that is not prejudicial to the enforcement officers and at the same time beneficial to the public such as this move by the Prime Minister should be supported wholeheartedly.”




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