The MACC and the Police: You do not operate in a vacumm

The police, in spite of claims by the IGP and others to the contrary, have not changed one bit. The Royal Commission that inquired into the police service, for all practical purposes, might as well not have been appointed judging by the outcome.

By Tunku Abdul Aziz/MySinchew

THE Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission is angry, so I gather, because the Prime Minister has agreed to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry into their interrogation procedures and methods they employ. The MACC officers feel that they are not getting the support they believe they have a right to from the Prime Minister. There are two aspects about all of this that really trouble me:

One, on the question of the RCI, the MACC is being unacceptably presumptuous even to think that it has a right to determine whether there is any necessity or need for a group of independent eminent citizens to be appointed to look into the way our anti-corruption boys and girls conduct themselves. Their attitude is symptomatic of a deep problem inherent in the mental makeup of these MACC functionaries who seem to have great difficulty in understanding and accepting their place in the larger scheme of things.

There is also the fear that their much proclaimed professionalism cannot in truth bear close public scrutiny. I can understand their feeling of being abandoned like an unwanted diseased pet or a rag doll after the Teoh Beng Hock affair. After all, haven’t we, by default, allowed them to develop a culture of their own, one of impunity? However, circumstances have caught up with them, as they have a habit of doing, and now they are being held accountable for their actions, probably for the first time, and don’ they resent it?

They must now cooperate and support the work of the RCI. My advice for what it is worth is for them to focus on simply doing a better job and not straying into areas that do not concern them. As with all public servants, they have to remember that they must operate within the law because they are, after all, creatures of the law. They must expect the law to apply equally to them.

Another aspect that troubles me is that they expect, as a birthright, government support irrespective of the merit of their case or their actions. I can understand their feeling of being unfairly treated after all these years of doing little chores for the likes of Tun Mahathir Mohamad, Tun Abdullah Badawi and even the current Prime Minister. This, mind you, is what is perceived by the public, rightly or wrongly, as the principal work of the MACC when they are not out scooping up ikan bilis. I know, of course, that this is not true, but try convincing the public. Perceptions may not have any basis in fact, but they are real.

The MACC must be prepared to put all of its actions under public gaze. We are not interested to know who they are investigating and why, but we have every right to expect them to act in strict adherence to the law, and in faithful observance of the principles of human rights and dignity. If they have to use force and inflict torture in as part of their investigation procedure, then they are not in the wrong organisation.

I am of an age when I remember quite clearly the Japanese occupation and the methods the Japanese devised to interrogate their suspects. I will not go into any detail, but suffice to say they were not human. Now, do not get me wrong. I am not suggesting that the MACC interrogators use similar methods, but there again the public perception is that questionable methods have been applied by the MACC. All this suggests that members of the community at large do not trust the MACC to do the right thing by the people they deal with.

Like their counterparts in the police, the MACC is part of the larger community within which they operate. How well they succeed in their assigned roles, duties and functions depends on public support, cooperation and confidence. As we know, confidence is a fragile commodity. It is not something you can buy off a supermarket shelf. It is difficult enough to earn it, and even more difficult to retain it. People will want to be convinced that their trust will not be misplaced. On current showing, I fear both the MACC and the Royal Malaysia Police have a lot of confidence building ahead of them.

The police, in spite of claims by the IGP and others to the contrary, have not changed one bit. The Royal Commission that inquired into the police service, for all practical purposes, might as well not have been appointed judging by the outcome. The police will continue to be regarded, again rightly or wrongly, as an oppressive occupation force. I know this is not entirely true but it is up to the police to prove the public wrong by reversing these negative perceptions by being seen to act properly. It will not be easy, but under the right leadership, it can be done. Part of the problem with the police leadership culture is that the top echelons of the service are not good listeners; they take criticisms personally.

There is also a highly developed tendency to assume that they know everything there is to know about policing. Being thirty years in the police or any service, merely means doing the same rotten things over and over again for thirty years. It surely is not a good enough qualification to lead a modern service with emphasis on integrity, efficiency and a heightened sense of the rights of the people they have to deal with in the course of their work.

We who pay the piper should be calling the tune, and not the other way round. The Minister of Home Affairs might want to get on the podium and wave the baton, or in this case a really big stick, to keep both the police and the MACC playing to a strict ethical tempo. It would be a nice change for once.