Imagine if police were given powers to deny the body that oversees them access to information. Would that oversight body be effective at its job? You must have answered no. This is exactly what will happen to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) if MPs endorse proposed change to the Ipoa Act 2011, the law that governs the authority’s operations.
The Statute (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, 2016, which sneaks in proposed amendments to the Ipoa Act 2011, introduces an exception to Section 7(1)(vii) of the current Act, which gives the authority the power 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”, by adding the words “provided that where the document, thing or information is privileged, the procedure for producing the privileged document, thing or information shall be complied with”.
The proposed amendment does not specify what constitutes privilege, nor does it provide the procedure for Ipoa to access privileged information. It leaves room for mischief as it will give the police powers to decide what is privileged and, possibly obstruct Ipoa’s investigations into their excesses. This will negate the very essence of Ipoa’s functions, namely to conduct effective investigations into police misconduct and refer cases for the prosecution of police officers to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Ipoa was set up as part of efforts to reform the police and put an end to its long history of human rights violations. It has investigated multiple human rights violations by police and referred cases to the DPP. However, deaths during law enforcement operations have continued. Statistics available to human rights organisations show that 177 people were killed by police in the first 10 months of 2016 alone. On August 22, 2014, in Kinango, Kwale County, 14-year-old schoolgirl Kwekwe Mwandaza was killed by police. On August 25, 2014, Ipoa began investigations to establish whether the officers who shot and killed her were justified in the use of their firearms.
It found that Kwekwe was killed by Kinango District Criminal Investigation personnel and recommended to the DPP that they be prosecuted. They were subsequently convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in jail each. Ipoa also investigated the deaths of two students of Egerton University, Dennis Magomere and Felix Nyagena. It found evidence it considered sufficient to refer the case to the DPP for prosecution on murder charges. The DPP has taken up the case.
In 2015, the government tried to push through an amendment to the Ipoa Act that would have undermined its independence by withdrawing the chair’s and board members’ security of tenure. This would have made it possible for the Executive to sack them without having to refer the case to a tribunal.
Ipoa has accused Inspector- General of Police Joseph Boinnet of instructing police officers not to cooperate with it in investigations of officers. Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho has also accused Ipoa of embarrassing and intimidating police officers.
Ipoa performs the critical function of holding the police to account. The National Assembly must reject this proposed amendment. This will send a strong signal that it stands for police accountability.
Abdullahi Boru Halakhe is East Africa researcher, Amnesty International.