FROM WATCHDOG TO LAPDOG: HOW THE IPID AMENDMENT BILL
SHAKES SOUTH AFRICA’S POLICING

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation, on 18/09/2023

 

On 30 July 2023, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) Amendment Bill was introduced in the National Assembly, and is currently being considered by Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police. Despite being labelled as unconstitutional by legal experts, including the Office of the Chief State Law Advisor, the Bill seeks to grant unprecedented power to Police Minister Bheki Cele over the IPID. The Bill has sparked intense debate and legal scrutiny in South Africa, with concern expressed over the potential implications it carries for the nation’s policing sector.

The genesis of the Bill can be traced back to the 2016 Constitutional Court ruling involving the suspension of then-IPID executive director, Robert McBride, by then-Minister of Police, Nathi Nhleko. The Constitutional Court found that the IPID Act contained provisions that gave the Minister of Police excessive political powers, allowing undue influence over the executive director of IPID.

The court’s decision was clear: the existing IPID Act was in contravention of South Africa’s constitutional principles, which call for the establishment of an ‘independent police complaints body’ to investigate alleged misconduct or offences committed by members of the police service. In essence, the Act allowed the Minister to suspend, discipline, or remove the executive director without parliamentary oversight, eroding the desired independence of IPID.

As a result of the Constitutional Court ruling, legislative changes were deemed necessary to enhance the IPID’s institutional independence and reduce political interference. A Bill was consequently enacted in 2020 to address the removal of the IPID executive director, which marked a step toward rectifying the issues raised by the court.

However, the current IPID Amendment Bill before us takes a different and deeply concerning approach. It strips Parliament of its role in confirming the appointment of the executive director, placing this power solely in the hands of the Minister of Police. Furthermore, the Bill provides no opportunity for public comment or review, raising questions about its legality and constitutionality.

The IPID Amendment Bill, if enacted in its current form, would have far-reaching consequences for South Africa’s policing sector. It would consolidate control over IPID within the Ministry of Police, effectively transforming it from a watchdog into a lapdog. This power shift could result in a lack of impartiality and an inability to address police misconduct and abuses of power effectively.

Moreover, the Bill also grants the Minister of Police the authority to determine the remuneration of IPID investigators, further eroding the organisation’s independence and potentially compromising the impartiality of investigations into police misconduct.

The Bill represents a significant threat to the principles of accountability, transparency, and independence within South Africa’s policing sector. Any amendment made to the IPID Act must first and foremost align with the constitutional mandate of an independent and accountable police complaints body. 

South Africa deserves a robust and impartial policing watchdog, not a compromised entity that serves political interests. The integrity of our policing system and the trust of the public sector are at stake, and it is imperative that these issues are addressed promptly and responsibly.

 

Image © Gallo Images/Phill Magakoe