The questions raised by Kulai MP Teo Nie Ching in Parliament about the Special Branch, which were somehow sidestepped by the government, have given rise to lots of issues, especially about the constitutional position and set-up of the police force.
Interestingly enough, the Dzaiddin Commission on the police force, way back in 2005, had also raised some pertinent questions about that rather obscure department of the Royal Malaysia Police headed by a senior officer with the rank of commissioner that is equivalent to a three-star general.
(The commission was chaired by former Chief Justice of Malaysia Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah. It was set up to look into enhancing the operation and management of the Royal Malaysia Police. It recommended the formation of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission.)
Deputy Home Minister Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said that the government could not provide the details asked by Teo as the Special Branch, according to him, was the equivalent of MI5 and CIA.
In short, its organisation and officers could not be divulged for security reasons. If such is the reasoning, then perhaps the government should place the matter under the Official Secrets Act 1971. Under this particular legislation, certain matters, including military manoeuvres, are classified as “top secret” or rahsia besar.
It is not really convincing that the Special Branch is the nation’s intelligence-gathering authority comparable to the likes of the MI5, CIA or KGB. This is because it is not the only government agency doing such a job.
We know that within the military, too, there is an organisation of a similar nature headed by a three-star general at the Ministry of Defence. Be that as it may, in some developed countries reports from these intelligence agencies are passed on to the leader of the opposition as well. This is understandable given that the agencies function for the state, and not for the ruling party or any particular leader of the government of the day.
What we often hear in Malaysia is that the Special Branch spies for the ruling party or, to be exact, for certain leaders in the government. I remember an occasion many years ago when a Special Branch officer was talking to me about the fight for the Umno deputy presidency between Tun Musa Hitam and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in 1981 and 1984.
The officer alluded that Musa, being the then Home Affairs Minister, did have an edge over Tengku Razaleigh because the former had access to Special Branch reports.
Memoirs published by former ISA detainees such as Dr Syed Husin Ali and Kassim Ahmad also gave us the impression that the Special Branch essentially worked for the ruling party and its interests.
Hence it is clear that there is a big difference between the CIA and MI5 and our Special Branch. While the CIA and MI5 work for the nation and its people, the Special Branch does not seem to fall exactly under this category. Based on what some former ISA detainees have said, the Special Branch seems to be working against our own people. In a way, it resembles the secret police operated under East European totalitarian regimes that collapsed in the late 1980s.
Whatever it is, Teo should be commended for raising the issue as it is extremely important. In any democratic country all the expenses borne by the taxpayers need to be made accountable. And this cannot be brushed aside by vague arguments such as national security, public order and the likes. Apparently, what Teo sought were just some general details such as the budget, departmental set-up and the likes and not detailed explanations about, say, the modus operandi of the police operations.
Having discussed the management of the police and the need for them to be accountable and transparent, perhaps, it is worth asking this question: why in most developed countries such as the US and the UK and most European countries, there is no equivalent post of Inspector-General of Police that we have here in Malaysia? In these countries, the police force is invariably broken up into regional set-ups but with no centralised command. And they do not deal with intelligence gathering like it is done here.
Dr Abdul Aziz Bari is formerly professor of law who now sits as a Senior Fellow at IDEAS.