Case for and against the EO

Amidst all the talk on the repealed Emergency Ordinance Act 1969 (EO), Cafe Latte Chat invited former Selangor police chief Datuk Tun Hisan Tun Hamzah (Hisan), Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua (Tony), Universiti Sains Malaysia criminologist Dr P. Sundramoorthy (Dr Sundramoorthy) and NGO Marah founder Dave Avran (Dave) to give their views in a session moderated by StarMetro deputy editor Eddie Chua (Eddie).

The Star

Eddie: What do you think about repealing the law?

Hisan: The EO’s primary aim is securing public safety, Malaysia’s defence and public order. It is necessary to arm the police with this law, especially in parts of the country terrorised by criminal organisations. It has been effective in segregating the criminal elements from society.

Eddie: Why is the Opposition not keen on having a similar law to the EO drafted?

Tony: We question its effectiveness, its relevance today and people getting detained without getting a fair hearing. Undoubtedly the EO has been used on hardcore criminals but there is also the likelihood that there are innocents among them. How do you challenge a law that does not allow for fair trial? I have also seen cases where youths of 19 and 20 years of age being sent to Simpang Renggam for motorcycle theft. There are those in the police force who use it as an easy way to solve crime. We should have sufficient professionalism to bring criminals to court.

Dave: It was a mistake to repeal the EO. There were many things that could have been done instead – such as amending it, putting safety measures in place or forming a review committee. Repealing it comes at a very great cost to the man on the street.

Tony: We are jumping the gun because we have not been given any evidence other than statements by the Home Minister and Inspector-General of Police that the EO is behind the recent rise in crime. In 2009, when the crime index peaked around 245,000, the EO was in place. Crime statistics came down after that, so why is the EO is the reason crime has increased?

Hisan: The police do manage to arrest and charge criminals but it is the period after they are released on bail that causes problems. The moment they are released, they commit crime again. This is where the police are fighting a losing battle.

Eddie: So, is there a problem with the law or the people using it?

Hisan: When dealing with crime, you must look at the whole criminal justice system (CJS), not just the police. You must also look at the prisons, the judiciary, prosecutors, etcetera. Another issue is the time it takes to convict a person, which takes about two to three years. In the meantime, they will be out there and this is where the EO comes in useful to separate them from society while pending their trials. In Selangor, we have been arresting the same group of people again and again for crimes like robbery, hijacking, snatch theft and vehicle theft.

Eddie: Dr Sundramoorthy recently had a letter published stating the country is going to see a surge in violent crime especially those involving gangs previously detained under the EO. What is this study about?

Dr Sundramoorthy: The study was for the Finance Ministry in 2010 and covered the CJS extensively to spot trends and crime control strategies. We analysed data from 1997 to 2009 and saw a trend of increasing violent crime in the country at a growth rate of 13.5% though I cannot recall the exact figure. The trend showed that 2005 onwards, prior to the NKRA period, violent crime was increasing rapidly in the country. Based on the study, we realised the EO was one of the preventive strategies taken by law enforcement to deal with repeat offenders, gang members and organised crime. There are no figures now as it takes time to analyse data but after the study, we believe there will be a surge in crime. The EO is one of the better tools of the police but there are mechanisms of it that could be improved. It was not right for the Government to repeal the EO without studying it and finding out its strengths, weaknesses and identifying abuse.

Eddie: Do you think the EO should have been amended instead?

Tony: The fact remains that violent crime was already increasing while the EO was in place. We should not try to implement laws on an ad-hoc basis just to catch criminals because of weaknesses in the CJS. We should fix the root problem, one of them the CJS, and at the same time study the resources within the police force.

Dave: Another aspect to look at is the psychological warfare against criminals. If there were a deterrent like the possibility of being brought in under the EO or thrown into a detention camp, I would think twice before committing crime.

Tony: If one takes that line of argument where you can arrest a person without basis as a deterrent; then anything can be a deterrent including the threat of being beaten up to death in a police station. The deterrent has to be an effective police force. We have enough police officers. However, the Tun Dzaiddin Police Royal Commission of Inquiry stated that there is misallocation of resources within the force. The crime investigation department stands at only 9% of the police force.

Hisan: Distribution of manpower in the force comes under the IGP. Coming back to the EO, it is a good law but abusers should be sought out. The law helps protect scared witnesses and I have seen them, without ears or hands after torture. I believe we should bring back the law.

Dr Sundramoorthy: If a similar law is drafted, the final say has to lie with an independent body, not the Home Minister. People from all walks of life, including critics like (Tony) should be able to contribute their views on it because experts have their own ideologies and ideals and may want to propose aspects favourably to these.

Hisan: We can also look at other countries where they have acts to handle organised syndicate crime.

Dave: We need to look at the bigger picture. If a few people have to suffer for the greater good, we are all for it. To the layman, you can talk about this until the cows come home but we do not care, we want to be safe now.

Dr Sundramoorthy: At the end of the day, it still comes back to what extent Malaysians are willing to give up in terms of their liberty in order to live in an environment that is safe, peaceful and where we do not need to think of being a crime victim every time we step out of our homes.