This paper examines the structural design and institutional features that empower Malaysia’s top cop, the Inspector General of Police (IGP). The IGP wields considerable power: he sits atop a hierarchical structure that spans multiple policing competencies across the country. The IGP’s powers are further strengthened by a slew of controversial legislative instruments that afford him a great deal of latitude in choosing when and how to apply the laws.
This paper provides a historical account of Malaysia’s highly centralised police force and outlines existing deficiencies in both direct and indirect accountability mechanisms for the IGP. It attempts to compare and contrast the experiences of other countries in establishing police oversight agencies to handle police complaints and launch independent investigations. The relevant jurisdictions covered by this study include the United Kingdom (UK), Australia and Hong Kong.
The paper recommends one immediate and one long-term measure to uphold the independence and integrity of the IGP’s office. After taking into account the direct and indirect accountability measures in place, this paper argues for the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to receive, investigate and recommend a course of action for complaints about the Royal Malaysian Police (RMP). Given the span of power enjoyed by the police as well as the size of the force, a specialised oversight body would be much more efficient than the current Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) which is still largely seen as a toothless tiger.
To add, the IPCMC as recommended by the Dzaiddin Royal Commission report is conferred pre-emptory powers to initiate investigations against the police, not to mention having the authority to recommend disciplinary action, and where appropriate, refer the case to its Chief Legal Council to initiate legal proceedings. This paper also recommends an emulation of the UK’s Independent Police Complaints Commission’s (IPCC) mandatory reference criteria where cases which involve serious assault or corruption (including abuse of power) must be referred to the oversight agency. This would reduce the chances of cases being swept ‘under the rug’.
Lastly, as a long-term commitment, the government should reform the RMP’s structure to avoid excessive concentration of power within the hands of the IGP and the Executive. This would involve decentralising the police force’s command structure and dispersing power to local policing competencies and divisions. This will help improve the overall accountability of the police force because each policing entity will serve as a potential check-and-balance mechanism against one other.
Nicholas Chan is the co-founder and research associate of Iman Research, a research consultancy that focuses on the study of religion, society, and perceptions in contemporary Malaysia and Southeast Asia. He is an MSc (Asian Studies) graduate from the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Formerly a senior analyst with Penang Institute, Mr Chan’s vast research experience and writing spans many aspects of the Malaysian landscape, from federalism to police systems, and from education to contemporary politics. He also writes for the New Mandala.