Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Time for Bukit Aman to look at re-inventing the police force

Last updated on 24 Jan 08:51 AM

Clockwise: Zahid, Phua and Khalid
OUTSPOKEN: It is now quite clear that Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has put Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar and perhaps the entire police force too in a tight spot.

Zahid wrote to the Federal Bureau of Investigations in the United States that Paul Phua Wei Seng, a Malaysian who used to run a casino in Macau and now facing charges of running illegal sports betting in Las Vegas, is not a member of the Hong Kong 14K triad. The minister also said that the gambling kingpin had in fact helped the government in certain security projects!

This is not the first time the minister in charge of the police force got himself entangled in a public conflict with the police chief. Some years ago one of Khalid’s predecessors Tan Sri Musa Hasan found himself embroiled in a similar conflict with the then home minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein. 

Curiously not too long before that, Musa was also entangled in a row with the deputy minister of home affairs. Musa’s predecessor, Tan Sri Mohd Bakri Omar, even went to the extreme of warning the administration of the then prime minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that members of police force would not vote for the ruling Barisan Nasional in the forthcoming general election if the government proceeded with the setting up of the IPCMC, the proposed monitoring agency for the police force.

It was no surprise that the government backed off as the police force is composed of some 100,000 members nationwide. Together with the military – which has close to 150,000 members - they constitute 25 percent of the entire federation’s public service.

Back to the issue of Paul Phua, it was not the first time IGP Khalid contradicted a cabinet minister: he was also caught in a public spat with Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz not too long ago over the security situation in Sabah. 

The latter was obviously concerned about the security – or the lack of it – in the Land Below the Wind; something that was flatly denied by Khalid.

Whatever the truth behind these issues, from the point of view of the Constitution, it is the minister who has the final say. This is because the ministers are elected and they are responsible to Parliament. This is indeed the essence of our system; namely the parliamentary system of government. 

The public servants, no matter how senior and high ranking they may be, could not override the government of the day whose pillars are the Cabinet that is composed of the prime minister and his ministers.

To let the police dictate the matters tantamount to abdicating their role and responsibilities on the part of the ministers. For one thing the police force are just public servants who are not elected and there is no way to make them responsible. While they may be taken to court or be put before disciplinary tribunals they could not be made responsible in the way ministers have to face the MPs in parliament.

It is worth noting that some developed countries do not have a police chief for the entire nation. Many European countries, such as Germany, arranged their police force in such a way that the force is broken up into regional set-ups. It is true that major cities like London and Manchester have their own police chiefs.  So does Scotland Yard. But obviously these are not centralised like ours.

Meantime, in both the UK and US, the armed forces are headed by a senior officer who is rotated among the army, navy and the air force. For the past decade this has become the practice in Malaysia too.

But somehow, the police force is still stuck in the old mode. 
For some reasons only known to them, the force has been resisting reforms, the most obvious being its opposition to the setting up of IPCMC which has served well in monitoring the police in many developed democracies.  

There are many reasons why developed democracies go for the above model. But the most obvious one is fear that a centralised police force could be a threat to human rights and civil liberties. It has to be said that dealing with criminals and their activities is not the same as handling foreign enemies or other external threats such as terrorism.

As such there is no good reason why the police force should be organised like a military or paramilitary organisation. It appears that our police force is very much a remnant of the past with roots still linked to British rule.

Dr Abdul Aziz Bari is formerly IIUM law professor who now teaches at Unisel. He is also Senior Fellow at IDEAS.
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