On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Provide better for our men in blue

Last week, the Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Mohd
Bakri Omar stunned the nation by using this description to stress the point
that his men and women have to change their mindset to lift the game to meet
the changes of the times.

He said the problems faced by the police would not have
arisen if the officers had carried out their duties. He revealed that there
were allegations that some policemen were operating petrol stations and shops
selling batik.

The next day, his deputy Datuk Seri Musa Hassan said
investigations had been launched into allegations that some policemen even
owned factories and leisure businesses.

Federal CID director Comm Datuk Fauzi Shaari went further by
saying those found to be involved in businesses and neglecting their police
work could be demoted and even sacked from the force.

But while police-bashing may be fashionable these days, given
our general unhappiness with the manner in which they deal with the public, let
us think again.

It is of course clear that policemen of whatever rank, more
so the senior officers, are not directly involved in owning or running any
business. The question is whether it is wrong for family members to be involved
in businesses, particularly their wives, siblings or children.

Why should their family members be denied the right to run
their own businesses if they have the experience and capabilities? After all,
they earn a decent living and help supplement the family income.

Many family members of Cabinet members are also involved in
businesses and even when their positions and connections appear to give the
impression that they had certain advantages, no one made an issue of it.

But more importantly, the fact is that our cops are among
the worst-paid in the region. The constable recruit is likely to be an SPM
school-leaver who gets a monthly pay of RM690 with a maximum salary of RM1,512.

These are the men, and they include many traffic cops, whom
many Malaysians have bad experiences with, simply because they are in the
frontline of interaction with the public.

When you consider how much they are paid, you will agree
that it is almost impossible to live decently in Kuala
Lumpur, Penang or Johor Baru
with that kind of salary. Worse, if he or she has a family.

Crime reporters, with their strong knowledge of the workings
of the police, have long talked about constables who turned part-time taxi
drivers and pasar malam traders.

One colleague spoke of a mata-mata, in singlet but still
wearing his police belt and rolled-up blue pants, washing his vehicle at a car
wash, located near a police station. Either he owned the car wash or he was
helping a friend to run the place.

In comparison, his London
counterpart earns at least £1,897 (RM12,132) monthly while in Hong
Kong, he would get HK$14,670 (RM6,943). In Singapore,
a corporal gets S$1,612 (RM3,682) while in Malaysia,
the same rank gets a minimum RM824.

A police commissioner, which is a very senior post, starts
at RM6,571 and ends with RM8,229. But he would probably only get about RM3,000
in pension money by the time he retires.

The IGP earns a minimum of RM8,822 and ends at RM12,706
while his deputy gets RM7,224 and before his career ends, he gets RM9,039. The
senior officers are of course much luckier than the rank-and-file, as there
would be other better benefits and allowances.

We are aware that the Government has taken steps to improve
the welfare of the police and has approved a RM2.5bil allocation for better
housing and working environment for policemen.

Without doubt, recommendations are easy to make while
implementation requires detailed study and planning. But our men and women, who
put their lives at risk while at work daily, deserve priority.

Last September, Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu said
that to create a more comfortable living environment, police quarters might
soon have a swimming pool.

But the concerns of our policemen are homes for them and
their family. Just build them quickly is all they ask.

The Government may not agree to a separate salary structure
for our policemen as it would lead to complications. Other essential services
like the soldiers, the firemen, the teachers and the medical staff would demand
the same.

While the Government could give better allowances, let's not
forget that when these people retire, their benefits would be based upon their
salary, not their allowances.

Some would argue that a better salary would not necessarily
curb corruption. True, because it is human nature to want more.

But a well-paid policeman would be more reluctant to risk
his job for some extra cash. It would also be against his dignity, integrity
and credibility.

It is easy for politicians and the public to demand high
standards from our policemen but when these men in blue have to drive taxis or
wash cars to feed their family, reality sets in.

It may be a warped argument but officers with businesses on
the side, even if their wives are nominees, can at least take their minds off
the temptation of dirty money.

If we wish to create a thinking police officer, then we need
to set a higher entry standard for our policemen. That means getting the good
graduates to join the force but with a salary structure that must be

Policemen are voters and members of the public, too. Why
shouldn't they be cynical when they are told to be patriotic for their country,
race and religion by politicians? We all know some politicians live beyond
their means, too.