“There is something about the state putting the power to bully into the hands of subnormal, sadistic apes that makes my blood boil.”
- Gore Vidal, ‘Death in the Fifth Position’
I have always enjoyed reading what writer Nathaniel Tan has on his mind, even though sometimes I disagree with him. While nearly every other political pundit - myself most definitely included - begun the year with the predictable rejoinders, warnings, and outrage pieces aimed at the usual suspects, Tan did something different.
He started of the year by reminding people that disenfranchised Malaysians were the primary victims of a corrupt system that nobody seems very interested in changing. Perhaps not many people are interested in what Tan wrote. There are too many other things going on in this country, than having to worry about someone killed by officers of the state. Well, that sounded strange.
I wrote about this apathy before - “We may share their sense of outrage but our outrage is diluted with our disdain for the systemic corruption that permeates every level of government.
“Our outrage in some cases is also dependent on the guilt of the parties involved. We are indifferent to the fates of convicted inmates and the unsanitary (and most often criminally negligent) conditions they are housed in when it is the responsibility of the state to administer their welfare.
“Our parasitic relationship with ‘foreigners', legal or otherwise, does not leave much room for empathy when it comes to their welfare while in custody for whatever reasons.”
Last year, Mariam Mohktar was right to ask for the resignation of the police chief in her article about the N Dharmendran case. Not only was it a factual non-polemical piece, it also described the banal corruption that plagues the system that enables this callous disregard for human life.
Here’s Mariam questioning the excuse of the malfunctioning CCTV cameras that always crops up in cases like these - “Why are our government departments plagued with broken CCTVs? This ‘broken CCTV’ phenomenon was also found in Teoh Beng Hock’s and Ahmad Sarbani’s deaths.
“Why has the auditor-general not addressed the never-ending problem of malfunctioning CCTVs in government departments? CCTVs, which cost millions of ringgits to buy, are often found to have malfunctioned, when there is a death in custody.”
Meanwhile Aliran’s Prema Devaraj did a good piece on the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) report on Dharmendran’s death, and besides urging everyone to read the report - please read the report - it also summarised pertinent findings:
- The use of brutal violence on a detainee during interrogation;
- False entries into the station diary of lock-up D9, including tampering of times in the entries;
- False information in a police report about the death of the deceased;
- Serious misconduct in ordering the re-arrest of the deceased without justification (the deceased should have been released at the end of the first remand);
- An eight-day delay in allowing the right of the deceased to contact and have access to his family;
- The CCTV in lock-up D9 not being in working order since 2009;
- A lack of knowledge or awareness of standard operating procedures among officers and police personnel; and
- Avercrowding in the lock-up (more than four people). At times, there were between six and 16 people in the lock-up.”
One of the best expressions of what is wrong with the PDRM in this country comes from a speech by Bar Council president Steven Thiru on promoting greater police accountability in this country. He said:
“The Royal Commission (to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police) stressed that, owing to the nature of the job and existing PDRM culture, the code of conduct within the force had failed to ensure supervision and command accountability in protecting the rights and the interests of the public. The preoccupation of being a “force” as opposed to a “service” was at the heart of these concerns.
“In addition, the royal commission also identified the mounting incidences of deaths in custody, as well as the failure of the PDRM to investigate these deaths, and the refusal of the authorities to hold inquests into them. Deaths in police custody under questionable circumstances are reprehensible, and are an indictment of the PDRM as an enforcement agency.”
Serving the Umno hegemon
And that is really the issue here. The preoccupation with being a “force”. Now the question is, who does this “force” serve? The simplistic answer is the Umno hegemon but the reality is more complex. While the PDRM does its best to serve the Umno hegemon, it is so mired in corruption that the only people served besides corrupt politicians are the numerous criminal elements that sustain a black economy.
Please keep in mind that the EAIC, in the words of one EAIC investigator, was set up to fail. All this I fumed about in an article that I wrote about our guardians of order and in which I begged Malaysians to read another report by Human Rights Watch:
“The EAIC has been operating since April 2011, and received a total of 469 complaints through May 31, 2013, of which 353 were against the police. The commission is thinly staffed - the number of staff investigators dipped to only one in mid-2013 - and it has insufficient resources to investigate and respond to complaints. In the words of an EAIC investigator, the commission is ‘being set up to fail’.
“Speaking to a national conference in May 2013 organised by the EAIC, former Chief Justice Abdul Hamid Mohamad took the EAIC to task, saying, ‘The bottom line is, its establishment until the end of 2012, only one disciplinary action and two warnings have been handed down. For a budget of RM14 million [US$4.2 million] for the two years, they were very costly indeed.”
There is a reason why I have devoted so much space to these deaths in custody cases. A big part of it was because I was a part of the security apparatus of the state. I have relatives and friends who were and still are part of the system. I have friends and relatives who helped those who were victimised by the system even when I was still serving the system.
Over the years, police officer friends have told me that the system has failed. Not failing but failed. Standards are non-existent, personal fiefdoms has replaced the chain of command and in some places, away from the urban enclaves, there is a sense of the wild west in the way how the PDRM operates.
This is also a class issue. Do you think that the secretary-general and his two sons who were detained on corruption allegations would be tortured like the lorry driver? No. This has always been about how the marginalised in our society are the real victims of not only the Umno state but an apathetic public.
The way how I see it, the PDRM is a “service” to certain interests but a “force” to everyone else, especially those marginalised Malaysians, who have practically no voice in the national discourse.
Thanks for reminding us of that, Nathaniel Tan.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.- Mkini