Dear Corruption Watch,
What exactly is IPID? It has been much in the news, and now it's 'studying' the McBride court record. What is it meant to do for South Africa and does it have any specific role in combating corruption in the criminal justice system?
IPID is the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. That is a bit of a mouthful, and so we hope that you’ll forgive us for continuing to use the acronym IPID!
IPID is tasked with ensuring independent oversight over the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Municipal Police Services (MPS) and investigating allegations of misconduct against them.
As you say, IPID has been in the news lately. This is largely a result of the urgent court application brought by Robert McBride, the head of IPID, to prevent his suspension at the hands of Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko.
Although McBride’s application was dismissed on the grounds that it was not urgent, it raised some familiar questions about the independence of institutions like IPID. You may recall that last year the Constitutional Court ruled that certain legislative provisions which allowed the minister of police an “untrammelled” power to remove the head of the Hawks, without proper parliamentary process, were unconstitutional.
IPID is not a Chapter 9 institution, like the Office of the Public Protector. Chapter 9 institutions are given special recognition and a fairly robust guarantee of independence by the Constitution. But IPID does receive some constitutional recognition of its independence, albeit in less emphatic terms: section 206(6) of the Constitution provides for “an independent police complaints body to be established by national legislation”.
That legislation is the Independent Police Investigative Directorate Act of 2011, which regulates IPID. According to the Act, IPID investigates the following kinds of matters: any deaths in police custody or as a result of police actions, any complaint relating to the discharge of a firearm by a police officer, rape by a police officer or rape of any person while in police custody, any complaint of torture or assault against a police officer, or corruption matters within the police. IPID therefore has a clear role to play in combating corruption in the criminal justice system, and members of the public should report corruption in the police or other abuses for investigation.
Section 6(6) of the IPID Act allows the minister to remove the executive director from office on account of misconduct, ill health, or an inability to perform the duties of the office effectively. This is presumably the section being relied on by Nhleko in suspending McBride. Given IPID’s role as a police watchdog, it may seem a conflict of interest and a constraint on IPID’s independence for the minister of police to be able to wield such powers of suspension over the head of IPID. In the Hawks case the Constitutional Court emphasised the need for job security in corruption-busting entities so that these entities could carry out their duties vigorously and fearlessly, and it will be interesting to see if the courts afford to IPID the same degree of independence as it did to the Hawks.
It is too soon to say what effect these legal skirmishes will have on the functioning of IPID, but the institution remains a useful tool in the fight against corruption. IPID’s website contains clear instructions on how to lay a complaint. Any person, either as victim, witness or representative, or any non-governmental or community-based organisation, can lay a complaint with IPID.
You are also encouraged to contact Corruption Watch on 0800 023 456, or via email on firstname.lastname@example.org, with any complaints of corruption.
• This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times