- Abrupt departure of overseas experts from the panel currently examining complaints underlines the need to set up a commission with real powers
The watchdog tasked to examine police actions in the city's protests has been dealt a blow. In what amounts to a vote of no confidence in its work, the experts brought in from overseas to enhance the Independent Police Complaints Council's probe decided to "stand aside" after their calls for more powers had not been met. The decision has damaged confidence in the study.
Those who are critical of the police never had faith in the investigation anyway. The council's remit is restricted to reviewing only complaints handled by the police themselves and cannot initiate its own investigation or summon witnesses or subpoena documents.
The perception was further undermined last month, when the five-member panel openly questioned what they saw as a crucial shortfall in powers for the probe to meet public expectations. It is regrettable that their calls for more powers have not been accepted.
The watchdog has sought to dispel the impression that the experts resigned en masse in protest. While the panel has expressed interest to be further engaged if and when the council develops the necessary capabilities and provides the interim report, the damage has been done. It is difficult to see how the council could win the trust of the people if it does not even enjoy the confidence of its own advisers.
At stake is not just the council's image and credibility. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has used the study to ward off the political pressure for a judicial inquiry into alleged police brutality.
So far, there is no other way for the aggrieved to seek redress. More than 1,300 complaints have been received but no officers are known to have been disciplined for any wrongdoing.
Lam has said that irregularities in law enforcement would not be tolerated. Whether the watchdog's probe will facilitate any sanctions will be closely watched. The interim report is expected to be available next month. If the findings cannot sufficiently address public concerns over police actions, a truly independent inquiry is the way forward.
Overseas experts quit Hong Kong police watchdog in row over protests investigation
Lam may still think that her plan to launch a review of the "deep-seated" problems that led to the social unrest can address the clamour for an independent inquiry.
But it will not help if the review has no investigative powers or shies away from police wrongdoings. As consistently reflected in different surveys, a commission of inquiry remains the best solution to the current deadlock.
With the right terms of reference and choice of appointment, the inquiry can examine different aspects of the unrest in an open, comprehensive and impartial manner. This is particularly important for Lam and the police to regain trust in governance and law enforcement.
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