On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Ensuring a force to be reckoned with

TWO brickbats in two days – first, the police have been criticised for beating up several protestors at a demonstration against the increase in electricity rates at the KLCC. While the newspapers have given only scant mention to the protest, the Internet websites had run pictures of bloodied demonstrators.

Yesterday, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohd Bakri Omar found himself in an embarrassing situation. A critical report, meant for internal circulation, was posted on the police website.

The 12-page report contained strong, even intimidating, proposals by the police against the setting up of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

The document stated that the setting up of the IPCMC was "unconstitutional, prejudicial to national security and public order, victimised the people, and could cause a state of anarchy which would undermine the ruling coalition's power".

The report, which has been circulated among members of the police force, said the IPCMC would "undermine the IGP's administrative and enforcement power" but what has become a controversy now is the proposals by Senior Police Officers Gazetted Association if the body was formed.

They included voting for the Opposition in the next general election, asking the Opposition to speak up for their causes in Parliament, working to rule, demanding that the top police brass quit, allowing crime rates to go up and mass resignations of investigating officers.

The association also expressed its disappointment that the Home Ministry had remained silent on the issue, and questioned why the police force had to be singled out for reforms.

These emotional demands, while not out in the open, are a reflection of the simmering unhappiness in the rank and file of the police force since the proposed setting up of the IPCMC.

In a private meeting with the Prime Minister, they had expressed their frustrations. On March 25, in his Police Day message that was read out at all police contingents, except at the event at the Police Training Centre where Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Bakri were present, the IGP had rejected the setting up of the IPCMC.

He said the police force and police associations rejected 24 of the proposals of the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police, including the setting up of the IPCMC.

But the posting of the internal report on the website, which the police have found to be a mistake, has been untimely. It will not help the image of the police. It is even more unfortunate for Bakri, who is expected to retire in three months.

The Opposition has seized the opportunity to attack the police, with DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng pressing for the PM to act quickly against what he termed as a police "revolt" and that "only the IPCMC can stop the crisis of authority and discipline".

There is now an urgent need for the PM to look at the increasingly vocal call from the public for real reforms in the police force and at the same time, pay heed to the concerns of the force.

The security of the country must not be compromised and the police have cited weaknesses in the recommendations of the commission. For one, we should not expect the police to hand their confidential documents to anyone.

Politicians, for one, can hardly be entrusted to be the commissioners of the IPCMC with imposing powers on the police. That would spell the end of neutrality, professionalism and a people-centred police force. The police also refused to accept that the IGP's authority would be subservient to a layperson.

Royal Commission chairman Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah had proposed the IPCMC should be made up "of seven members, appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, and chaired by a person with a legal background" and that its commissioners "should not be serving or former members of the police force".

These genuine fears are stated in their report. Why should the police want to be judged by those with zero knowledge of the running of the force, especially in dealing with criminals and terrorists – people with evil minds who may portray themselves as angels?

But at the same time, times have changed. The public expects better accountability, transparency, integrity and good governance principles. Our policemen have questioned, quite correctly, why they should be singled out when there are worse government bodies.

Neither can the police accept the powers of the commission to take disciplinary action including discharge, suspension and demotion of a policeman.

Unfortunately, the practice of corruption, which some would say is rampant within the police force, has not helped its cause.

There is unlikely to be much support from the public despite the many convincing arguments put up.

An independent body, along the lines of an Ombudsman, may be the answer. Different countries, even within the Commonwealth, have different systems of such a body. In India, there are states with two Ombudsmen with the powers of a judge, while in some Canadian provinces they enjoy little power.

But there is a hunger, among the public, for a body to channel its grievances over what is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as the excessive power of the police force.

The public finds it frustrating, even powerless, having to report against the wrongdoings of the force to another policeman, and assumes it will not get a fair hearing from the start. Even though that may not be the case, perception, trust and confidence are important when one seeks justice.

These wrongdoings would include allegations of corruption, abuse of powers, intimidation, allegations of sexual misdemeanours and plain incompetence in the force.

The Government has not helped, with its seemingly dragging image of the proposed IPCMC. It has been more than one year since the proposal.

Having raised the anticipation of the people, it then said the IPCMC's implementations were unlikely because of police objections and worse, some Barisan Nasional backbenchers then objected to the proposal. Many of us will still recall the similar chorus of support when it was then politically correct to support the setting up of the IPCMC.

The Government has found itself in a tight spot – meeting the demands of the people for real reforms and tackling the unhappiness of the police officers, whose roles are so essential in maintaining the country's security.

A re-look at the proposals and the views of the parties involved may be necessary, so that everyone can see eye-to-eye on the issue, for the larger interest of Malaysia.