How BN has Debased Commissions of Inquiry

By Dr Kua Kia Soong, Director of SUARAM

The presumptuous conclusion by the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) that Teoh Beng Hock (TBH) committed suicide even though the experts had not concluded so should be an occasion for Malaysians to ponder the debasement of Commissions of Inquiries set up by the BN / Alliance government all these years.


1. No Public Consultation over Composition of the RCI

During the recent phone hacking scandal by the News of the World in Britain, the Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to immediately set up a commission of inquiry. He did this first of all by consulting the leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband and they then discussed the composition of the commission. The moment the scandal had been exposed by The Guardian, the expectations of the people regarding the composition of the commission were widely discussed in the British media. David Cameron could not ignore this or the commission of inquiry would have been denounced at the outset.

Thus, the first condition for the composition of any RCI must be BROAD PUBLIC CONSULTATION. The BN has time and again ignored this requirement whenever it appoints commissions in this country and this includes SUHAKAM commissioners as well as other commissions.

To ensure the composition of RCIs is credible, certain procedures must be in place to ensure the commissioners’ INDEPENDENCE, IMPARTIALITY and COMPETENCE. These conditions can only hold if the government consults the Parliamentary Opposition and respected members of civil society. Membership of the RCI must include representation by appropriate groups to ensure plurality and fairness. The RCI could be headed by a judge but the members do not necessarily have to be entirely made up of judges. The Teoh Beng Hock RCI was a rushed job by the BN government due to public pressure and only after dragging its feet for so long after Beng Hock’s death.

Competence would include expertise in human rights and humanitarian law. On this point, former High Court and Court of Appeal judge Datuk N. H. Chan has commented that the Teoh Beng Hock commission had no business forming such an opinion as none of the experts it called upon gave the opinion that Teoh committed suicide. He pointed out that this went against Section 45 of the Evidence Act 1950, which states that when a court has formed an opinion on a point of science, the opinions of experts are relevant facts.

“Without any relevant fact, that is to say, without an opinion from an expert, a court is unable to form an opinion upon… the scientific point that Teoh Beng Hock took his own life. In this case, none of the experts gave the opinion that Teoh took his own life,” (The Malaysian Insider, 1 Aug 2011)


2. Ignoring Recommendations by RCIs

The BN (including its predecessor Alliance) government has also debased RCIs by ignoring their salient recommendations. This is an affront to the people and a total waste of public funds. The Athi Nayappan RCI on Local Government had recommended the reintroduction of elected local government during the sixties but the BN government has chosen to ignore this important recommendation to restore Malaysian democracy to what it was at Independence. What sort of transformation is the Najib talking about when we have regressed compared to our democratic institutions at Independence?

The RCI on the Police in 2005 had a most important recommendation which has direct bearing on Teoh Beng Hock’s death, namely, the setting up of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Committee (IPCMC). Up until today, the BN government has been dragging its feet on this.

Independent Police Complaints Committee

Now, if the IPCMC had existed prior to TBH’s death, it could have stepped in and investigated his death from the moment his body was found. The MACC and the police would have been obliged to step aside for the IPCMC to complete its full investigation and bring the culprits to justice.

The longer the BN government puts off the establishment of the IPCMC, the more it must be responsible for other deaths and torture under the police or enforcement agencies’ custody. The British IPCMC covers not only the police but also enforcement agencies including the customs and Inland Revenue. And as we know too well, torture under detention without trial continues under BN rule and that is all the more reason for an IPCMC. The government must also ratify the Convention against Torture. This will ensure international scrutiny to stop torture in Malaysia.


3. Justice for Teoh Beng Hock

While we dispute the conclusion by the RCI that TBH committed suicide, it is very clear from the report that the MACC officers had harassed him to a point that was unacceptable. Therefore, the government must bear responsibility for allowing such a culture to pertain in its enforcement agency, the MACC.

Consequently, the government must compensate adequately the family of Teoh Beng Hock for the loss of someone so dear to them. This does not detract from the fact that the culprits responsible for TBH’s death have still to be brought to justice.