On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Need to regain public trust

It has even tackled minor details, like suggesting that the police should
change its motto of Mesra, Cepat dan Betul (Friendly, Fast and Correct) to
Mesra, Cekap dan Beramanah (Friendly, Efficient and Trustworthy).

It's simple – Malaysians cannot be expected to trust the
police unless it is efficient and corruption-free. That is the general concern
of Malaysians, cutting across all races and religions.

The setting up of the panel was part of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah
Ahmad Badawi's pledge to improve delivery of services, reduce corruption and
enhance accountability in government.

Transparency and accountability, the cornerstones of the administration, have
certainly been reflected in the report and, as Inspector-General of Police Tan
Sri Mohd Bakri Omar admitted, it is a balanced report.

The report is comprehensive, covering almost every aspect of the force – from
the management of the organisation to raising awareness of women and children's
rights – but it would be the chapter on corruption that is likely to interest
the readers.

A corruption-free police service is crucial – the police force would be harmful
to the country, jeopardising the carriage of justice, if it is not

There are plenty of juicy allegations in the report, from guest relations
officers from China who were taken out from police cells to a senior officer
with declared assets of RM34mil.

Then there is an allegation by a complainant that a promotion for his brother,
a superintendent, was possible for RM40,000. Yet another complainant told the
commission that "the traffic division is a lucrative branch".

Corruption can be an emotional issue, but finding the evidence has always been
the frustrating part, as the Anti-Corruption Agency is aware, because the
complainants are often the accomplices, too. Poison-pen letters can hardly be
regarded as evidence.

In the force, it is even more painful for whistle blowers because the reporting
procedure requires reports to be made through a chain of command, which may
include the superior officers complained of.

But it should be noted that the commission also reported that "there are many
police personnel in all ranks of PDRM who serve with dedication and integrity.
They do not engage in corrupt practices of whatever kind".

These dedicated officers, it said, "deserve our admiration," adding that
"corruption in PDRM is part of a larger problem of corruption in government
enforcement agencies".

The commission has correctly pointed out that "the drive against corruption
cannot be targeted at the police alone. It must be targeted at the entire
public service". Besides the police, public complaints against the local
councils and the Road Transport Department are among the highest.

The question of human rights, especially the Internal Security Act, has also
been deliberated at great length by the commission. It has cited the existence
of a range of "preventive" legislation that places restrictions upon
fundamental liberties.

The position taken by the commission is that preventive laws are undesirable
because they deny the individual his personal liberty without a right to an
open trial, but "special measures may be necessary to preserve the security and
well being of the people and the nation".

But its stand is that certain provisions need to be reviewed, such as the
period of remand. It also raised its concern over the use of the Police Act to
regulate assemblies and meetings, saying this was biased against opposition

While civil liberties in Hong Kong and Australia are often used as references,
we must be cautious that in Malaysia, with its multi-religious and multi-racial
make-up, a different approach needs to be used.

Religious, cultural and racial bigots continue to exist and even terrorists
with links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network have been traced. In fact,
even before the Sept 11 attacks, the Malaysian police had tracked down these
extremists – long before the United States saw the dangers of the terrorism

The police, which has a proven record in fighting terrorism, must be given a
certain flexibility as it would be naive to expect extremists to operate
openly. The police must not fight with one hand tied in the name of civil

Sensitive files relating to the information of agents and sources of
intelligence should not be revealed to any agency, as suggested by the proposed
Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission. No police in the world
allows that.

The police, on its own, has already taken several measures and implemented several
recommendations of the commission even as the members were doing their

They included measures to strengthen discipline, reduce corruption, increase
police presence in crime-prone areas, expand community policing and shore up
its commercial crimes investigation unit.

The Government must support the police by beefing up the force, which needs
40,000 more policemen, and improving their wages, allowances and housing needs
so our policemen can operate with pride and dignity.

It must be made worthwhile – financially and professionally – for our men and
women in the force, especially when the report has recorded cases of "serious
deficiencies" in its fleet of patrol cars; and even as we talk about the force
fighting crime in the 21st century, the police still have to use "dysfunctional
typewriters" and "bulky walkie-talkies that have long since been

Worse, it said the bomb disposal unit still used equipment that was "obsolete
and insufficient for coverage throughout the country" and that "it has no
protective devices against chemical or biological weapons."

Shocking as it may seem, the commission said that the force only has "400
bullet-proof vests" nationwide and that the present loudspeaker devices used by
the Federal Reserve Unit were found to be "not loud enough to be heard above
the din" at demonstrations and "expose the police to allegations of not issuing
warnings before dispersal action is taken".

Besides the poor conditions of many police stations, of which 107 were built
between 1906 and 1992, the housing needs of the lower-ranking officers have
continued to be a major problem. Many constables, especially those in major
towns, have to live in squatter areas, which is not good for their morale and

The question is where do we go from here. The commission has carried out a
credible task and Abdullah has promised to implement the recommendations under
a task force that he personally heads.

Equally important, Malaysians must remember that the strengths and
contributions of the police must not be overlooked as we read about its
weaknesses and shortcomings, as contained in the report.