(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): It is a great disappointment that there was no Cabinet decision yesterday to establish a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the "black eye" and other injuries suffered by former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim while under police custody.
This undermines the credibility of the pledge given by the new Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi after the first post-Cabinet meeting of his Ministry that the Home Ministry would improve the public image of the police force and other agencies under its purview.
Abdullah said during the discussions of the post-Cabinet meeting of the Home Ministry, it was agreed that it was necessary to improve the image of the agencies including the Prisons Department, the Immigration, the Police Force and the National Registration Department.
Abdullah said he would continue to implement the policies that had been drawn up by the Ministry, adding that he would change them if there was a need for it.
I hate to say this after the very first post-Cabinet meeting of Abdullah as Home Minister, but this statement does not inspire much confidence, as it is precisely because of the failures of the existing policies of the Home Ministry that has plunged the country into an unprecedented crisis of confidence in the institutions of government - and one such primary institution is the Royal Malaysian Police Force.
The question of restoring public confidence in the Police Force is not a mere public relations exercise, like what the Employees Provident Fund is doing by engaging a firm of P.R. experts to polish up on its public image, but to convince Malaysians about the professionalism and integrity of the Police Force.
The case of Anwar’s "black eye" and other injuries while under police custody is important because it has become one acid test as to whether the government is prepared to restore public confidence in the independence, impartiality, professionalism and integrity of the police and other important institutions of government, by bringing to justice the culprits concerned regardless of his rank or seniority in the police force.
Abdullah should realise that the resignation of Tan Sri Rahim Noor as Inspector-General of Police has failed to restore public confidence in the police high command as the refusal of the government to establish a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Anwar’s police beatings while under police custody has sharpened the question whether the resignation is to "assume" or "evade" full responsibility for Anwar’s "black eye".
What is worse is that a day after the announcement of Rahim Noor’s resignation as Inspector-General of Police, there was another police misconduct which made even more Malaysians question the professionalism and integrity of trigger-happy police.
The police announced last Friday, January 8, 1999, that they had shot dead four robbers and wounded another in a shootout outside the Bank Simpanan Nasional (BSN) branch in Taman Maluri, Kepong, alleging that all the five were robbers who were leaving the bank with RM33,662 in looted cash when intercepted by the police.
The next day, Sajarutuldur, 26, the wife of Mohd Zailani Mohd Salleh, 33, one of the four "robbers" shot dead by the police, claimed that her husband was innocent and had been mistakenly killed by the police during the incident. She said her husband had been working with the bank for the past 10 years as a teller. BSN Federal Territory regional manager, Rahmat Ithnin also confirmed that Mohd. Zailani was a good BSN worker and had applied to do a diploma course after taking a public relations course.
Yesterday, City Chief Police Officer Deputy Commissioner Kamaruddin Ali said police investigations so far have come out with no evidence linking Mohd. Zailani with three other suspected bank robbers who were shot dead last Friday.
Although he said that police have begun a thorough investigation and have classified the case as murder under Section 302 of the Penal Code, can there be public confidence that justice would be done in the case of Mohd Zailani going by the Lee Guat Leong case?
Lee, 42, an aircondition mechanic, was picked up on suspicion of involvement in the multi-million ringgit break-in at the Mayban Finance branch office at Taman Cheras on April 27, 1995. He was found dead in the police remand lock-up in Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur on May 12, 1995 and police initially classified his case as one of "sudden death".
Although the Attorney-General, Tan Sri Mohtar Abdullah ordered a judicial inquiry following his dissatisfaction with police failure to identify the person or persons responsible for Lee’s death, only two comparatively junior of 11 policemen found by the inquiry to be "criminally involved" in Lee’s death were subsequently charged in court. The two were jailed 18 months’ each by the Sessions Court and the sentence doubled to 36 months’ jail by the High Court, while the rest including senior police officers were let off with a warning in police departmental disciplinary actions.
Will the same Lee Guat Leong farce be repeated in the Mohd Zailani case?
Public confidence can only be served if a completely independent organisation is established to investigate serious complaints against the police, such as trigger-happy shooting by the police wounding or killing innocent members of the public.
Mohd Zailani’s case is the first test for Abdullah as Home Minister
as to whether he is prepared to give topmost priority to the restoration
of public confidence in police professionalism and integrity by ordering
an independent investigation into the killing of Mohd Zailani.
I will even go further and call on Abdullah Badawi to introduce legislation in the next Parliament in April to set up a Police Ombudsman, who is completely independent of the Police, to restore public confidence in police professionalism and integrity as is being done in many other countries.
One of the functions of the Police Ombudsman is to ensure that public complaints about serious police misconduct such as abuses of power and corruption are adequately investigated and the Police Ombudsman should have the powers to intervene and reverse decisions by the Police which fail to take appropriate disciplinary action in cases where officers have acted unprofessionally or even criminally.