The first lesson of Canny Ong case – Urgent community mechanisms  in every district  to “police the police” to ensure professionalism, responsiveness and effectiveness and close citizen  monitoring of  the crime rate and police success in combating crime

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling JayaMonday): Malaysians have infamously short memory. Public outrage and reactions to the Canny Ong abduction-rape-murder crime are on a downward spiral and petering out  after  her funeral without being sufficiently focused to ensure that she  had not died in vain and that her brutal death would be a wake-up call to shake up Malaysians, the police and the government from long-standing  complacency in the face of alarming rise in crime rate to inspire an all-round  resolve to render the streets, public places and even private homes safe again as in the early decades of nationhood up till the sixties and seventies. 

After the brutal Canny Ong murder, there were  a lot of “public noises”  from various responses and reactions  which appear to  be no different from the usual “five-minute froth-and-frenzy” which followed every outrageous event but which are quickly forgotten when the kleig-lights of the media move off  to the latest outrage and scandal – leaving Canny Ong to be mourned and remembered only by her loved ones and friends. 

This was what happened last November when the country reacted in outrage and horror to the triple deaths in Seremban, businessman M. Manimaran, 35, his wife Leela Vellou 27, and their four-year son, who committed suicide by  consuming paraquat when they could not stand the harassment of loan sharks. 

For a few days, the country was convulsed by condemnations of loan-shark atrocities, with Cabinet Ministers promising firm government action to end such lawlessness, but there had been no let-up in such loan-shark atrocities, though lesser profiled, in the past seven months  after the Seremban triple deaths ceased to be a “media event”. 

When the Sunday papers reported on their front-pages yesterday  the announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,  that the government has agreed to recruit 23,000 more police personnel over the next two years at various levels to beef up the force to cope with the increasing workload, it was welcomed as the first direct outcome of the Canny Ong abduction-rape-murder atrocity demonstrating  a new government  commitment  to fight crime. 

Such reactions were proved mistaken, however, when Abdullah clarified that the 23,000 police recruits would be taken into the police force in the next five years, and that only 4,000 new policemen would be recruited in the next two years because of limited training capacity. (Star)

This is most disappointing for six reasons: 

Firstly, the shocking fact that the latest atrocity of the Canny Ong abduction-rape-murder crime has not led to any  commitment by the police to ensure greater professionalism, responsiveness and effectiveness, which were highlighted by both the unprofessional  handling of the Canny Ong case and the general deterioration of public security and citizen safety. 

Secondly, the clarification that only 4,000 new policemen would be recruited in the next two years contradicts the oft-repeated claim by the Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Chor  Chee Heung that there would be an intake of 5,000 police recruits this year. (Star 28.5.03) 

Thirdly, the recruitment of 23,000 additional police personnel in the next five years is an old story, as it was announced by the Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Norian Mai during the 195th Police Day in March this year. Norian Mai had said that the additional manpower would mostly be involved in investigative work, as the ratio for the number of investigations carried out by an investigation officer  was 15 cases (1:15) compared to internatonal standard of 1:8.  As a result, investigation officers were overloaded with work which led to delays in completing investigations into all types of cases, especially those involving Criminal Investigations and Commercial Crime divisions.  This means that the 23,000 new recruits in the next five years would not make any meaningful contribution to making the streets, public places and private homes safe from criminals as they would dealing with the crimes after they had taken place.

Fourthly, the increase in the number of  police personnel  without increase in their salaries  to ensure a professional, dedicated and honest  police force may not achieve the desired result of a more crime-free society. 

Fifthly, the recruitment of 4,000 additional personnel in the next two years would not be able to increase considerably the total police strength to cope with increased crime rate  because of retirement,  police personnel opting for early retirement, dismissals for indiscipline, etc. 

Sixthly, the unchecked trend in the  drastic fall in the public safety index in the past decade, with the crime rate measured by crimes per thousand population almost doubling  from 3.8 in 1990 to 7.1 in 2,000, accompanied by a worsening of  the police: population ratio despite an increasing budgetary allocation for  the Police in the past decade. 

Ten years ago, when I publicly supported the proposal by the then Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Hanif Omar  for a new  police salary scheme which was 20 per cent higher than other civil servants as in the case of some countries like Japan, Singapore and Britain because the job involved stress and risks, there were 80,000 policemen.  Today, there are still some 80,000 policemen while the crime rate has more than doubled, fall in police:population ratio  and the police budget in the past decade had  taken a quantum leap. 

On Sunday, Abdullah said Malaysia has presently a  ratio of one police officer to 3,000 people as compared to the ratio of one to 300 people in developed countries, and that Malaysia will work towards the ratio of developed countries. 

If Abdullah is serious, then we are talking about increasing the police force by ten times or from 80,000 to 800,000 personnel.  Is this the government’s target, when the police force is struggling to maintain  its total strength more than a decade ago? 

The gravity of the  problem faced by the police  to keep crime off the streets and homes was highlighted by the Federal Police Management director Datuk Kamarudin Md Ali who said early this month that in Chicago (United States), which is about the same size as Kuala Lumpur, there are about 2,000 police patrol cars as compared to only 90 for the Federal capital.  What is the use of Malaysia spending hundreds of millions or billions of ringgit  in mega-projects, like the latest expenditure of RM650 million for the Putrajaya Convention Centre or RM42 million to renovate Parliament when the police cannot afford patrol cars to fight crime in  Kuala Lumpur? 

It is clear that the first lesson of Canny Ong case is the need for urgent community mechanisms  in every district  to “police the police” to ensure professionalism, responsiveness and effectiveness and close citizen  monitoring of  the crime rate and police success in combating crime. 

A few days ago, Petaling Jaya was described as the “crime capital” of the country in one newspaper write-up.  But there is total black-out of crime statistics in every police district which makes it impossible for the community and the citizenry to periodically  monitor the success in the fight against crime and to restore the sense of public security and citizen safety without the overpowering fear of crime, which  have serious repercussions for the economy  in undermining the country’s attractiveness as an international investment and tourist destination. 

The Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Norian Mai, should convene a round-table meeting of all political parties, NGOs, community organizations and representatives of the civil society to devise effective mechanisms for the community and citizen to “police the police” in every district  to ensure professionalism, responsiveness and effectiveness and  to declare war on crime and bring down   the crime rate.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman