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IPID: ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ – Who will...

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Opinionista

IPID: ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ – Who will guard the guards themselves?

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Andrew Whitfield is an MP and DA Shadow Minister of Police.

In a crime ravaged society characterised by a lack of trust in the police, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate fulfils a critically important function in holding the South African Police Service accountable in an independent and transparent manner. It is their job to ‘guard the guards themselves’, if you will.

The mandate of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) is enshrined in section 206(6) of the Constitution. It aims to “investigate any alleged misconduct of, or offence committed by, a member of the Police Service”.

Regrettably, IPID has been in the news for all the wrong reasons with allegedly flawed and rushed investigations, severe budget constraints and capacity concerns. More recently, officials have been suspended and replaced while an investigator investigating a case involving former police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane was shot dead. 

While instability reigns at the police watchdog, its credibility is eroded and corrupt police officers can operate without consequence.

Independence is the essence of IPID’s authority; it is what gives the watchdog its teeth. Without independence, investigations cannot be conducted without fear or favour and IPID cannot fulfil its mandate. Political interference contaminates independence and causes instability, as was seen following Minister Cele’s removal of Robert McBride as IPID head, and it should play no role in any aspect of the IPID.

In an effort to mitigate against this kind of political interference in IPID, Parliament was compelled by the courts to pass the IPID Amendment Bill which limits the minister’s powers to remove the Executive Director of IPID. The amendment bill itself was long overdue and is now awaiting the President’s signature. 

While an important step towards guarding against political interference, the amendment bill did not go far enough. It did not deal with the minister’s powers to appoint the head of IPID, only his powers to remove.

Section 6 of the IPID Act refers to the appointment of the executive director and states the following: 

(1) The Minister must nominate a suitably qualified person for appointment to the office of Executive Director to head the Directorate in accordance with a procedure to be determined by the Minister.

(2) The relevant Parliamentary Committee must, within a period of 30 parliamentary working days of the nomination in terms of subsection (1), confirm or reject such nomination.

Section 6(5) also requires the minister to fill the vacancy within a reasonable period of time no later than one year – a legislated deadline which the minister missed. By missing the one-year deadline to appoint the head of IPID the Minister has demonstrated his gross negligence or his political mala fides, or both.

On Wednesday 26 February 2020 the deputy minister briefed the committee on the selection process. He informed the committee that the panel could not find a suitable candidate and that they would now embark on a head-hunting process. The selection panel was constituted by Minister Bheki Cele, Deputy Minister Cassel Mathale, Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Minister Ronald Lamola and Alvin Rapea (Secretary of Police).

Not only had the minister failed to comply with the IPID Act, the selection panel was loaded with ANC politicians and just one civil servant without any experts or representatives from civil society. Since 26 February the committee, in spite of its request, has not received any updates regarding the minister’s negligence and how this will be rectified, nor has the committee been provided with the shortlist of the so-called unsuitable candidates.

The Executive is treating Parliament with disdain, because in terms of the Act it can.

The appointment of an executive director of such an important independent agency should not be made by the minister alone. The delays in this recent appointment process along with the fact that the minister failed to meet the legislated deadline of one year indicates that he is putting politics before independence. Through this farcical behaviour, the minister has, himself, unwittingly made a compelling case to limit his own powers in the appointment process.

In order to guard against political interference and remove any doubt around IPID’s independence the DA will be tabling a private members bill to amend section 6 of Chapter 2 of the IPID Act to allow for a public advertisement process and an independent panel to shortlist candidates for the position of Executive Director. The bill will enable civil society and the public at large to submit comments and the portfolio committee to interview the candidates with the successful candidate ultimately approved by the National Assembly.

If we are to protect the independence of IPID, and in turn, the integrity of SAPS, then both the appointment and removal of the IPID Executive Director must be immunised against political interference. DM

Andrew Whitfield is an MP, DA Shadow Minister of Police.

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