Keeping the region safe

For regional safety: According to DAC Wee, Aseanapol’s creation arose out of an agreement that cooperation among Asean police forces to prevent cross-border crimes is vital in maintaining regional security. — ART CHEN/The Star

FOSTERING regional cooperation in battling transnational crime has been at the forefront of the Asean National Police (Aseanapol) ever since its formation 40 years ago.

Jim Wee, Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) of the Singapore Police Force, took over as the sixth executive director of the Aseanapol’s Secretariat in January 2020. He spoke to Sunday Star about the organisation’s goals and efforts at combating transnational crime, including wildlife trafficking, effectively.

According to DAC Wee, 50, participants at the first Aseanapol meeting, held in 1981, agreed that closer cooperation among Asean police forces to prevent cross-border crimes was vital in maintaining regional security and stability.

“In the spirit of unity and cooperation, we came up with the motto ‘Together we keep this region safe’,” he explains at an interview in his Kuala Lumpur office.

What are the Aseanapol’s main tasks and how does it carry them out?

The Aseanapol deals with the preventive, enforcement and operational aspects of cooperation against transnational crime. It has been actively involved in sharing knowledge and expertise on policing, enforcement, law, criminal justice, and transnational and international crimes.

It has established three ad-hoc commissions dealing with drug trafficking, terrorism, arms smuggling, trafficking in persons, wildlife crime, maritime fraud, commercial crime (banking offences and credit card fraud), cybercrime, fraudulent travel documents, and transnational fraud.

All these are further reiterated during the annual Aseanapol conference at which there are deliberations on these topics. This culminates in several resolutions being adopted and announced in the Aseanapol Joint Statement, now known as the Joint Communique. [No conferences were held in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.]

What role does the Aseanapol Secretariat’s executive director play?

The role of the Secretariat’s executive director is important, I would think, as the office represents the Aseanapol community, that is, the 10 Asean national police forces, in communication with our dialogue partners, observers and other entities.

Beside the routine management of coordination the Aseanapol, as the executive director, I need to be aware of global and regional situations, trends in crime and how to find a good platform of opportunities that can help to elevate the Aseanapol community on policing matters, bilateral relations, etc.

In addition, I need to look forward at how the Secretariat can value-add services to Aseanapol member countries, dialogue partners and observers bearing in mind that our motto and vision is “Together we keep this region safe”.

What are Aseanapol’s strategies to combat wildlife trafficking?

We cooperated with the United States Agency for International Development’s [Usaid] Wildlife Asia initiative through an online seminar – because of the pandemic – held in June.

Curbing wildlife smuggling is the responsibility of every country in Aseanapol. While collaborating with NGOs on wildlife crimes, I discovered that they are very active in matters concerning wildlife and they have valuable information that can assist authorities in effectively combating wildlife trafficking.

I hope such cooperation can also lead to bringing down the masterminds behind this illegal trade.

Tell us about the online seminar with Usaid.

The Secretariat co-hosted, with Usaid’s Wildlife Asia, the virtual Counter Wildlife Trafficking Executive Leadership Consultation meeting with high-level police leaders across the region on June 8.

Participants highlighted the importance of tackling wildlife crime as a serious transnational crime that necessitates a multi- agency and multinational approach. This makes wildlife trafficking a key focus and elevates the issue of wildlife crime among the region’s police forces, along with other transnational crimes such as drug trafficking, trafficking in persons and cybercrime.

In fact, the police chiefs also worked on a Wildlife Crime Resolution for Aseanapol to adopt at the next conference to enhance cooperation, capacity building, promotion of wildlife demand reduction campaigns, and information sharing to collaboratively address transnational wildlife crimes.

Aseanapol takes wildlife crime seriously, along with illicit drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, and cybercrimes, which are the key crimes we have been focusing on in the 2020-2021 period.

How does Aseanapol tackle terrorism?

Terrorism is part of the commission topic of monitoring [ie, member countries cooperate on this issue]. In fact, member countries are always committed to each other in terms of continuing existing bilateral and multilateral channels of collaboration through information sharing, coordinated investigation or operations and capacity building opportunities.

What is Aseanapol’s role in dealing with human and drug trafficking?

Similarly with terrorism, Asean-apol member countries collaborate through information sharing and coordinated investigations in these two areas of crimes.

In fact, despite the Covid-19 pandemic we managed to hold two virtual conferences on these specific crimes with member countries and some of our dialogue partners and observers.

How successful have member countries been in curbing human and drug trafficking?

I believe the clamping down has been successful among Aseanapol member countries, particularly among those that share borders.

Of course, transnational crimes are always there when there are opportunities. That is why the Chief of Police get togethers during the conferences play a crucial role as it reiterates the commitment among police forces to fight transnational crime syndicates.

Has the Aseanapol played a role in helping to stop the spread of Covid-19?

On this, Aseanapol member countries all have had their own respective domestic roles to play from the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Depending on their mandates, they were mostly tasked with helping to enforce domestic SOPs. Aseanapol member countries, at the beginning, in fact, shared their respective domestic policing SOPs, as this is the first time everyone has experienced a pandemic and there were no case studies on what to do.

The policing we did, especially against the illegal border crossings, helped in some respects to curb the spread of the virus as Asean member countries share borders with each other.

What are your goals as Aseanapol Secretariat executive director?

I had actually targeted to continue the good working platform that has been established in the last 10 years. In fact, I targeted to build up more networking opportunities to link up with more strategic partners for more resources that would be beneficial to our member countries.

During my time, I have put in place new partnerships with new entities and am also working towards more collaborative actions that hopefully can clamp down on transnational crime syndicates.

Can you share a little bit about your background?

I was appointed as the executive director in 2020 and the post is for two years. By right, this should be my last year in the role but due to the pandemic, it has been extended to March next year, when the next Aseanapol conference will be held in Cambodia.

I have over 25 years of experience in law enforcement, coming from the Singapore Police Force. I have also been part of several peace-keeping, humanitarian and diplomatic missions in several countries. Prior to taking up the this position, I was the director of police services with the Aseanapol Secretariat.

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