Saturday, July 18, 2009

A royal commission is now imperative

A young life has been lost. How Teoh Beng Hock plunged to his grizzly death from the same building that houses the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is still not known.

The MACC insisted that Teoh had been released at 3.15am on that fateful day. Why Teoh chose to remain in the lobby of the MACC and was seen sleeping on one of the sofas at 6am is also a mystery.

If Teoh was not going to be charged, why did he not go home when he had his car parked in the building? Why stayed in the MACC for many hours more?

Perhaps I am ignorant of police procedure but why was Teoh's body, which was discovered at 1.30pm, left in the same spot till 9pm?

Twice I have seen the quick action of the police and ambulance service where bodies of an accidental fall and suicide were removed efficiently within less than two hours.

The death of Teoh has cast a sinister shadow over the MACC. These questions need answers. The Royal Malaysian Police are now investigating Teoh's death. But there is much disquiet in the air.

BN's Khairy Jamalludin is correct when he joined the growing chorus urging the Malaysian government to set up a royal commission to investigate Teoh's death.

The Umno Youth leader said that this was the only way the MACC can clear its name. The Bar Council, opposition leaders and civil society leaders are also saying the same thing.

The MACC, to the layperson, is increasingly seen as a tool used to intimidate opposition politicians. In Teoh's case, it was to investigate the way the Sri Kembangan state assemblyman, his boss, managed his state allocation.

Why is the MACC not swooping into the office of the Port Klang Authority or the super-mansion of former Selangor MB that even Dr Mahathir Mahathir found extravagant and beyond the means of a civil servant, even if he was menteri besar?

Selective persecution

To the man on the street, the impression is that the MACC will zealously go after a sitting Pakatan menteri besar over the alleged donation of cows that were later slaughtered and given out as alms during Awal Muharam but not the former transport ministers who cannot remember or understand what conflict of interests mean!

Forget about the slippery slope, if the BN government does not act quickly to restore confidence in the country's institutions like the MACC, the police and the judiciary, we are definitely going on a downward spiral to a place Malaysians have never been before: becoming a failed state!

Yet, Malaysians must remain calm. For whatever one may say about the BN-led government, the murder of opposition politicians is not something they indulge in. It is not and should not be cast as a culture here.

There may be deaths in police custody. We already have the recommendations of the royal commission set up to investigate the Royal Malaysian Police. The home minister might wish to re-examine some of those recommendations and act on them, and restore public confidence in an institution that has seen us through the communist insurgency and protected Malaysian lives.

The good police officers, many of whom are overworked and risking their lives everyday, deserve better. Someone of the stature of former police chief Hanif Omar should be consulted regarding the restoration of public confidence in the Royal Malaysian Police.

MACC now in the docks

These are emotional times but in a country that believes in the rule of law, the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise is sacrosanct.

The MACC, although not a suspect in the normal legal sense, is now in the docks of the court of public opinion. Malaysian politicians from both sides must demonstrate maturity and give the same benefit of doubt to the MACC.

This is why a royal commission needs to be set up. Deputy Prime Minister Muhiyuddin Yassin should explain why the government does not wish to set it up.

A hardline attitude refusing to acknowledge the reality that public confidence in the MACC and the police are rock bottom will only hurt the government in the long run. Moreover, it will not stop the continuing speculation over Teoh, why he died after a long interrogation at the MACC.

A neutral body with wide-ranging investigative powers and made up of men acceptable to both sides of the political divide should be set up. This royal commission should report directly to the Agong without going through any politician. The report must then be released to the public without going through filters.

This may all sound unfair to the MACC, the police and the BN government but in the long run, it will improve their credibility. Treating this as just another case may satisfy a small group but it
will not quash the suspicions that ordinary Malaysians harbour in the heart.

NEIL KHOR (PhD) (Cantab) is the co-author of 'Non-Sectarian Politics in Malaysia: The Case of Parti Gerakan Rakyat'.

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