On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Matters we need to redress

In Singapore, the media has also given prominent attention to the case, which could possibly be classified as mass murder as the police have collected over 300 bone fragments.

The numbers just keep getting higher. It was first thought that only four persons were killed. The number then shot up to eight and now the press is speculating that up to 20 people could have been killed, their bodies burnt and dumped into a river.

A huge amount of money has also been found in the bank accounts of the suspects. Hired killers, said to be thugs from Kuala Lumpur, are said to be the executioners.

More revelations of missing people have surfaced and in Penang, police have reopened their files on lawyers who died in mysterious circumstances.

The two suspects are lawyers and well-known personalities in a small town. Depend­ing on who you talk to, they are either generous personalities who give donations to the poor and are defenders of exploited foreign labourers or just people of ill repute whom the locals avoid.

One of them was earlier reported to be a Datuk but it has now been found that he is not a titled person. Worse, there was someone more cunning than him – he reportedly paid RM180,000 to a person who promised him the Datuk title. He was also told he could use the honorific while he waited for the big day to receive it.

There is a lesson here. Malaysians are no longer surprised with reports of titled people who commit crimes or are suspected to be involved in questionable activities.

The perception is that the royal houses have been too generous in awarding titles and there are allegations and suspicions that these awards were bought or that not enough or no checks were done on the nominees.

As a result, the reputation of one or two states has been affected, if not tarnished, because of these shortcomings.

The point here, however, is that it would appear that anyone can call themselves a Datuk as the public are not able to verify the authenticity of the title.

There are states with constitutions that limit the number of such titles. There are even websites where the public can check, as in Selangor, which is known to be strict on such matters. So are Johor and Sarawak.

The suspect, being a professional, could have gotten away with the Datuk title if this case had not come out in the open. One can only speculate if there are many Malaysians like him who may just be egoistic figures with fake titles. In the case of phony doctorates, it’s another story.

The Banting police are also in the spotlight: Were they indifferent towards the reports of missing people in Banting?

Was the information provided to them insufficient and did not help in follow-up action? Were the reports of missing persons filed late, as in the case of an Indian national whose wife reported to police only eight months or more after her husband went missing?

Now the Banting police are forced to respond to queries from Bukit Aman, which has taken over the investigations in this high profile case.

It is important that the police take into account public perception. They should not be defensive or dismissive but explain and educate the public on the need for details and speed to help them. It also helps if the police also review the procedures and methods so that they can improve themselves.

There are suggestions that the case has been given attention because it involves a millionaire and a Datuk. The media may have given it more attention because it involves a famous personality. But in all fairness, the police have also reacted quickly in many recent cases.

The murder of a religious school teacher in Seremban was quickly resolved and the person has been charged. So was a case in Penang involving a teenager who killed his school mate.

The police should in fact be commended for their speed and commitment in resolving the murder of Sosilawati. Many had to forego their Hari Raya holidays to focus on the investigations and at many scenes, including the river, the tasks were certainly not pleasant ones.

Let’s give credit when credit is due and not look for little faults. The police have wrapped up their investigations and it is now up to the Attorney-General’s Chambers to build a tight case against the suspects. There must be no loose ends and the police must provide enough evidence for the A-G to proceed.

They will be fighting a case against suspects who know the law well. They had better put up a good prosecution team, especially when there are high expectations from the public.

In the Teoh Beng Hock inquest, the team representing the Malaysian Anti Corruption Agency (MACC) has, to put it politely, been an embarrassment.

The A-G’s Chambers have decided to be transparent and accountable by putting up documents and video clips on their website. But they must also understand that their performance would also be open to public scrutiny and criticism. It is a double-edged decision.

Investigations on the Banting murder case may have ended but the court drama will begin soon. Like the Teoh case, there will be more to come and, certainly, there will be plenty of information that will keep Malay­sians on the edge of their seats.