Government wants to reduce powers of Ipoa through law

Macharia Njeru, the chairman of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, in Nairobi on August 4, 2016. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • A proposed amendment seeks to prevent the Independent Policing Oversight Authority from interrogating at will and accessing records and evidence lodged against rogue officers.

  • The government argues that such information is “privileged,” and the civilian oversight body cannot therefore summon individual officers or demand production of vital information without going through the bureaucratic police command and other government red tape.

The civilian police oversight body could soon lose its power to check police excesses if the government succeeds in changing the law.

A proposed amendment seeks to prevent the Independent Policing Oversight Authority from interrogating at will and accessing records and evidence lodged against rogue officers.

The government argues that such information is “privileged” and the civilian oversight body can not therefore summon individual officers or demand production of vital information without going through the bureaucratic police command and other government red tape.

At present, the law empowers Ipoa to “summon any serving or retired police officer to appear before it and to produce any document, thing or information that may be considered relevant to the function of the Authority”.

The amendment seeks to add: “provided that where the document, thing or information is privileged, the procedure for producing privileged document, thing or information shall be complied with”.

The proposed amendment is part of the Statute law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2016, which was published in November 2016.

Its approval in the current form would mean that Ipoa’s access to information considered privileged would be restricted, hampering its ability to investigate police officers reported to have been engaged in impropriety.

Without an established procedure for producing privileged information, it would mean that the independent agency’s scope is limited.

MINOR ISSUES

The Bill is usually prepared by the Office of the Attorney-General and is used to correct minor issues in laws, which saves time as many changes can be made to existing statutes without having many Bills for amendments taken through Parliament.

But the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill has also been used for mischief in the past, with authorities using it to make significant changes to laws, perhaps with the hope that MPs will gloss over the changes without noticing the suspicious intentions.

It is the second time the government is attempting to erode powers invested in civilians through Ipoa.

In 2015, another similar Bill sought to remove the security of tenure of Ipoa’s chairman and board members and give the President power to appoint and remove them from office at will. It was withdrawn under pressure from Ipoa and civil society.

The current Bill was taken through the First Reading in the National Assembly in December with Parliament then having the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee scrutinise it and inviting the public to submit their views on it in the form of memoranda.

On December 19, Clerk of the National Assembly Justin Bundi said in an advertisement in the Nation that the memoranda would have to be submitted by December 27. The deadline has therefore elapsed.

Parliament is set to reopen later in the week to discuss the Bill, among other business.

'SERVING POLICE'

Parliament said the amendment of the Independent Policing Oversight Act is meant “to provide for confidentiality of information produced by retired or serving police officers summoned to appear before it”.

Some of the submissions to the National Assembly over the issue seen by the Sunday Nation argue that Ipoa will be crippled if the proposed change pass.

It argues there is no definition of what amounts to privileged information, document or a thing and that would thus left for a court to determine in the event of a dispute of non-disclosure.

Moreover, it is prone to abuse by suspects because such information can be concealed, diverted or hidden.

Besides, the Bill does not specifically say the process required to disclose “privileged” information.

It is not the first time Ipoa is at loggerheads with the government and top police brass.

Inspector-General Joseph Boinnet ordered his officers not to abide by requests and demands by Ipoa without his express authority. In one instance, police commander at Kayole locked up Ipoa detectives when they attempted to serve him with summons at his office.

The detectives were only released after the intervention of Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko. In other instances, the IG was reluctant to heed the DPP’s directives.

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