Candid replies to current public concerns

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 24 Sep 2003

Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail is not an easy man to catch. But he was more than willing to discuss several issues in depth and the need for changes in the Malaysian mindset,writes SHAILA KOSHY,in the first of a two-part interview 

In a two-and-a-half-hour interview recently, Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail gave candid responses to questions on tontos, corruption, law reform, local government enforcement of decency by-laws, child witnesses, prosecution of parents who don't report child abuse, illegitimate children, stateless children, terrorism and money laundering, and enforcement of syariah criminal laws. 

The following are excerpts of the interview.  

Several parties have suggested having a new law to deal with the tonto scourge. Are you drafting such a law? 

No. There are already enough laws. It's just a matter of enforcement. 

They are committing an offence under the Penal Code when they obstruct enforcement officers in the performance of their duties. 

Their other activities come under offences such as criminal intimidation, hurt and assault. 

Why is it whenever something crops up, we resort to amending laws? 

The trouble is the enforcement agencies are not well trained in what their rights and their duties are. 

When the tonto stops them on their rounds, get the police to arrest them and they will be charged for obstruction. 

But no reports are made, no investigation papers are sent to us – what can we do? Amending the law isn’t everything. 

Recently, those who had beaten up some enforcement officers were arrested and charged with obstruction, mischief and hurt. Semua kena bantai (We hit them with everything). So tell me, what is wrong with the law as it is?  

Some of them say the tonto stake out their houses and follow them, but they don’t lodge a report. We only read about it in the newspapers. You don’t fight criminals in the papers! 

The Deputy Prime Minister announced recently that more civil servants have been prosecuted for corruption and the Chief Justice has said it was up to the DPPs to ask for the maximum penalty during sentencing. Do you think we are addressing corruption the best way? 

It may be wise for us to re-look at how we administer criminal justice (with regard to corruption). 

If a civil servant solicits a bribe, that's fine, we charge the person for that. 

But the other matter is, we always charge the government servant for receiving the bribe but not the giver. That's also why we have a greater number of civil servants who have been prosecuted and convicted.  

We have a lot of cases where the private sector person comes to a government person and says, “do this for me lah and I'll give you money.”  

Maybe it's time we look hard at the giver as well. 

But if you prosecute the giver – the whistle-blower, so to speak – who will come forward?  

Normally, the person giving the bribe does not complain, until something goes wrong. Then he complains. 

Do you really want to let the giver get away?  

Right now, we use the giver as a prosecution witness against the civil servant. Maybe we should charge the giver and use the civil servant as a witness.  

I'm not saying that we let off the civil servant. We must take action against him as well. 

Disciplinary action ranging from a warning as the lowest form of punishment to dismissal as the highest form. 

In that sense, you can catch both. I'm looking at this seriously.  

If I just prosecute the civil servant, what can I do with the giver? Nothing! 

And it's become the culture to pay money.  

Several of the cases involving government contracts involved huge sums of money. Do these contracts come under ACA jurisdiction? 

Corruption is basically the focus of ACA and not the police, although the police, too, can arrest. But the ACA also cannot move in without reasonable suspicion or if they don't have information that gives them reasonable suspicion.  

The public focus on the civil service is because many civil servants forget that they are there to serve the public and because they hold positions of trust. They are part of the bureaucracy but they are not supposed to be making money out of the red tape.  

What a person has to do is lodge a report and we will get them. 

The ACA can set a trap for the civil servant. 

My advice to the public is this, the moment a civil servant asks for gratification, lodge a police report. 

Don't think if you pay money you will get the job done. You are also cheating the system. 

Instead, if you don’t get a response after two weeks of making an application, write to the ministry. Almost all ministries have a public complaints' section.  

For the Chambers, we have to respond to a complainant within 14 days.  

Is there a higher responsibility on civil servants to be above corruption? 

They are also humans and are open to temptation. There should also be a study of the level of corruption in the private sector. 

Remember, gratification/ bribe has been defined in so many terms – bonus, commission, gifts, ex-gratia, incentive and consultancy fees. Shouldn't we look at the private sector as well?  

What is your view on police refusal to enforce the Hudud and Qisas Act 2002, passed by the Terengganu state legal assembly in July 2002, on grounds it was unconstitutional? 

The state legal adviser had related to me the concerns of Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang. 

My view is this – the normal syariah laws are enforced in all states. Police assist in all the states. Terengganu is no different. So police must enforce. 

The difficult part now is the hudud and qisas law. They have not prescribed any date for enforcement. 

As such, there is no issue about the police enforcing it. But I told the police they have to enforce all the other laws.  

PART TWO: A-G highlights children's rights 

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