On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Sowing truth in a time of lies

THERE was a time when honour meant everything. A firm handshake between two persons was enough to seal a deal that would be upheld.

It’s known as the gentlemen’s agreement, and while it was informal and legally non-binding, the details were expected to be implemented.

There’s even a proverb that tells of honour among thieves, about how they won’t steal from each other because there is supposed to be some code of honour.

Well, that’s all gone now, and even contemporary movie makers will tell you that honour no longer exists. Even friendship and loyalty can lead to treachery of the unkindest. Where politicians, their henchmen and operatives are concerned, don’t expect honour of any kind.

It’s common knowledge that taking oath to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, with the hand on holy books in places of worship, means little these days when people don’t fear retribution in the afterlife.

The culprits are more concerned about saving their own skin, and other vital parts of their bodies, in the present life. Anything to escape punishment!

Perhaps, one day, they will feel remorseful and ask for their sins to be forgiven when they finally find God.

Last week, Malaysians found out that statutory declarations were back in business. It was a hot debate about a decade ago, but it has come back to taunt us.

Like old political tricks and plots, the SD script has been recycled in Malaysia.

In 2008, a private investigator, P Balasundram, appeared in public having signed an SD alleging, amongst other things, that Abdul Razak Baginda told him Datuk Seri Najib Razak had introduced Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu to him in Singapore.

That was SD number One, signed on July 1, 2008, and of course, we were expected to believe that it had to be the truth, or bear some semblance of it.

But three days later, on July 4, 2008, Balasundram retracted those parts from the first SD, and submitted a second one, saying the first was signed under duress.

He then disappeared, purportedly leaving the country, but he reappeared in November 2009, and claimed it was the second SD that was false and that the contents in the first were true.

Balasundram, a former Special Branch officer, suffered a fatal heart attack in 2013. He had sworn he would make sure the Pakatan Rakyat would come to power.

Although a third SD was supposed to surface upon his return home, there was none.

It’s debatable which of his SDs were true, or if at least one was true, or both even, but ultimately, they were conflicting.

It’s hard to tell if those who have made SDs are aware that according to the Statutory Declarations Act 1960, making a false statement contravenes the Penal Code’s section 199, but we know how the allegations were later dismissed as a pack of lies.

Now, the Altantuya case has come back to haunt us, so SD is now back in fashion.

Five years after the Federal Court upheld his conviction and death sentence in 2015, former police special action force personnel Azilah Hadri has made an appearance via SD.

In his SD, Azilah claimed that Najib and Abdul Razak ordered the killing, claiming that Altantuya was a foreign spy and threat to national security. The former Prime Minister brands the story a lie.

Before that, there was another controversial SD. Former researcher Muhammad Yusoff made a statutory declaration, accusing PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim of sexual misconduct on Oct 2 last year, claiming the abuse took place while he was still working for the party about a year ago.

It isn’t clear why he only decided to make these allegations a year later, and more so, so near the PKR party congress.

But he has taken a polygraph test to determine the veracity of his claims against Anwar. His lawyer said the polygraph test was one of the things he wanted to do to prove his claims. Anwar has denied the allegation and has given his statement to the police.

While SDs can be made and retracted, putting its value on the line, a polygraph test is another story all together.

According to a report, studies have shown that a well-trained examiner of a polygraph test can detect lying with relative accuracy, but a polygraph is not perfect, and an examiner’s interpretation is subjective, and the results are idiosyncratic to the person being tested.

Writing in the New Straits Times, Datuk Seri Akhbar Sattar said it was impossible to cheat in polygraph tests conducted by certified examiners, but said that “even so, the instrument is not truly a lie detector. It produces only graphs. The polygraph examiners are the lie detectors and they determine whether the person is deceptive or truthful.”

The American Polygraph Association has conducted over 250 studies which showed the accuracy of the polygraph at 98% when examined by certified examiners, and added that the polygraph is widely used in more than 80 countries, as it is regarded the best choice, rated highest in terms of widespread use by government as well as the private sector to detect lies, especially in security situations.

“In Singapore, the police, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, Ministry of Manpower, Prisons Department, Customs, Central Narcotics Bureau, Security and Intelligence agencies and the military use it for personnel screening and investigations.

“The prosecutor’s office also uses it to decide whether or not to file charges. Agencies like the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, US Secret Service and the US Department of Defence and most US police departments use polygraph tests in investigations or to determine links with terrorist activities.”

But the director general of the National Centre for Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption, Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed, stressed that while the polygraph test can be used as evidence in a court case when administered by qualified examiners, it’s up to the judiciary to accept it.

President of the Shariah Lawyers Association, Musa Awang, said based on existing law, the polygraph test may be used as evidence in court, but ultimately, it’s the judge’s decision to allow it.

“Currently, there is no precedent on the admissibility of polygraph evidence in Malaysia and Singapore,” wrote Akhar, who holds the professorial chair at Institute of Crime and Criminology, HELP University.

But the law has a clear warning for those who’ve made false SDs – a jail sentence awaits.

It stipulates that “whoever intentionally gives false evidence in any stage of a judicial proceeding, or fabricates false evidence for the purpose of being used in any stage of a judicial proceeding, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine; and whoever intentionally gives or fabricates evidence in any other case, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.”

It’s clearly stated, so it won’t even take a lawyer to decipher the warning. It’s time those who flout the law and abuse the legal system for a political fix, including making false SDs or committing perjury, be made to face the consequences of their actions.