March 16, 2016
Royal Malaysian Police: The Guardians who stole our Freedom and Rights
by S. Thayaparan
The Failed Custodian
“To paraphrase several sages: Nobody can think and hit someone at the same time.”– Susan Sontag, ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’
COMMENT: I sometimes forget what allegedly goes on beneath the corridors of powers. I sometimes forget that I too was part of the system. As a rejoinder, “I can say without hesitation that there are still those within the ranks of the PDRM, and those who have retired, who are honourable and understand the value of a functional police force but whose ranks are slowly dwindling over the long UMNO-BN watch.”
The recent allegations of Police brutality and the expected denials and promises of investigations by the authorities do nothing to dispel the level of distrust or cynicism of the average Malaysian against the state security apparatus.
Like an open festering wound that is left unattended, life goes on with corruption scandals and strange political alliances that currently defines our political landscape. Indeed when Selangor police chief Abdul Samah Mat urges an allegedly abused detainee to lodge a police report, and that he “assure a thorough and fair investigation will be conducted”, one can only smile grimly at the platitude. We have heard this before.
All one has to do is refer to the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police published in 2005 to address “widespread concerns regarding the high incidence of crime, perception of corruption in the Royal Malaysia Police (Polis Diraja Malaysia, PDRM), and what did this commission discover?
Under the appropriate euphemism of “challenges” as reported in the press, three areas were highlighted that needed serious reforms. Those were:
1) widespread corruption in PDRM (Royal Malaysian Police);
2) widespread non-compliance with prescribed laws and human rights obligations among Police personnel; and
3) inadequate awareness and respect for the rights of women and children.
“In addition, the Royal Commission also identified that too many deaths in custody, the failure of the police to investigate and the authorities to hold inquests into these deaths were key concerns raised by members of the public, NGOs and international organisations.”
One of Malaysia’s most famous political detainees – no, not Anwar Ibrahim, I am talking about P Uthayakumar – related his experience under detention in an interview from prison. He also in his words penned an article of his 100 days in prison. The following extract was also discussed in the interview I did with him:
“They shout and are always rude. They mistreat their fellow inmates for the smallest things, by making prisoners sit under the hot sun for hours, etc. punishing and ‘disciplining’ prisoners for even talking among themselves. At times, prisoners are forced to sit on the ground head down and hands clutched to the knees for hours under the hot sun, like the Nazi era war criminals and watched silently by the prison wardens.
“The prison warden’s job is made easy by this ‘outsourcing’. In return, these gangsters, masquerading as trainers (jurulatih), reign supreme in prison by extorting from prisoners some of the monthly groceries their loved ones buy for them, right under the eyes of prison wardens and officers. These gangsters also get to stay out beyond the lock-up rules of 6pm and enjoy ‘perks’ like watching television and getting free massage in the cells from other prisoners.”
There are always options
All this is nothing new. It is old ground for me. Of the consequence of the A Kugan case and the death of Teoh Beng Hock, I wrote, “The truth will never be known in this case or in the hundreds or perhaps even thousands of others who have suddenly died in police custody, immigrant detention camps, police shootouts and jails over the years. We will never know the anguish of families of those killed or who have died in custody due to negligence. We may share their sense of outrage but our outrage is diluted with our disdain for the systemic corruption that permeates every level of government.”
Of course, there are always options. Good intentions. The appearance of a proper response to the disorder that plagues the security apparatus. The calls for the formation of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) went unheeded, indeed the most vocal opposition came from the police.
As reported by Malaysiakini, “the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) attacked the IPCMC among others as ‘unconstitutional, prejudicial to national security and public order, can cause a state of anarchy and undermines the ruling coalition’s power’.”
What was set instead was Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC), the efficacy of which was dissected by Human Rights Watch in a paper appropriately titled ‘No Answers, No Apology – Police Abuses and Accountability in Malaysia’.
The relevant section – “The EAIC has been operating since April 2011, and received a total of 469 complaints through May 31, 2013, of which 353 were against the police. The commission is thinly staffed – the number of staff investigators dipped to only one in mid-2013 – and it has insufficient resources to investigate and respond to complaints. In the words of an EAIC investigator, the commission is ‘being set up to fail’.
“Speaking to a national conference in May 2013 organised by the EAIC, former Chief Justice Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad took the EAIC to task, saying, ‘The bottom line is, its establishment until the end of 2012, only one disciplinary action and two warnings have been handed down. For a budget of RM14 million [US$4.2 million] for the two years, they were very costly indeed.’”
Anyone with a passing familiarity of how the system works, understands that under the UMNO system, more often than not, responses to problems are “set up to fail”. The Police Royal Commission mandate was clear, “The agenda for reform that my Commission is proposing is an enormous and comprehensive one. The process of change will be long and arduous. To successfully carry it through will require strong and inspired leadership. There will also have to be strong and sustained political will on the part of the government, and the willingness to allocate the necessary resources, no doubt prudently and spread over time.”
Think about it. The state security apparatus has become a law unto themselves. In conversion cases, they decide if they would act. They are not held accountable to the public and indeed resist any attempts to impose any kind of independent oversight.
The culture of the security apparatus of this country is loyalty to “the ruling coalition’s power” and not to the citizens of Malaysia they are entrusted to protect. The failing of state security apparatus is just as important as the numerous scandals that plague this regime. What happens in the shadows to people who rarely have a voice is in fact more dangerous to the stability of our country than the pecuniary scandals that are far easier to correct if political will was applied to it.
Indeed, I would argue that the global threats we are facing now, means that we as citizens have to trust the state security apparatus and the people they answer to. Unfortunately, the state security apparatus does not answer to the people of Malaysia.
This is the problem.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.