Merely treating symptoms won’t work

  • Letters
  • Friday, 03 Oct 2014

ANY effort to reduce institutional corruption must be commended.

However, Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s decision to take a leaf from the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) success story against “graft” in the once notoriously corrupt police needs careful examination.

On a superficial level, the NYPD model seems a perfect fit for the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM), but is it really? Countries trying to stave off a financial crisis or systemic corruption will find out soon enough that there is no “one size fits all” solution.

The NYPD tradition, best practice and culture are uniquely suited to the New York environment; NYPD in popular culture is admittedly good entertainment. Unfortunately, the massive impact of corruption on Malaysian society leaves us little room or time for fantasy.

Malaysia should look for inspiration to police forces or services which share a broadly similar police tradition, culture and practice.

I have in mind the Queensland and New South Wales police services that have an excellent record of confronting corrupt practices decisively within their ranks.

Then, there is our neighbour, Singapore, which has tackled corruption with a will and the results are clear for all to see and admire.

Hong Kong police corruption in the 50s through to the 70s was arguably worse than that found in the NYPD.

NYPD worked hand in glove with the mafia and other criminal elements, and the Hong Kong police was in partnership with triad groups. In both cases, extortion was refined into an art form.

There is also much we can learn from the success of the Metropolitan Police of London and county police services in Britain in keeping corruption under effective control. These are police services with a similar police culture and operating procedures.

Poor, corrupt leadership has an important bearing on corruption in the police the world over. Police corruption is as old as policing itself and it is a universal problem.

PDRM, to be fair, did not invent corruption. They are nothing more than victims of the environment in which they operate.

We cannot solve a problem, any problem for that matter, unless we clearly understand the nature of the problem confronting us.

Do we really understand the nature of police corruption, used here not merely in the context of “graft” but corruption in the widest sense of the word?

As defined by the founders of Transparency International: “Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for personal gain.”

To fight institutional corruption with a view to making the practice a dangerously unprofitable business venture, and, therefore, not worth the trouble, we need to treat the causes and not as we, including the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, and its predecessor, the Anti-Corruption Agency, have done for years, merely to treat the symptoms.

We cannot fight corruption with gimmicks and slogans. PDRM will need to be turned, literally, inside-out if we want to see it change in ways that will restore public trust and confidence which on current showing renders the police incapable of reaching its full potential.

Just as banks have been told to know their customers, police reformers must know theirs; the men and women in blue on whom we depend for the protection of life and property.

Let us not rush about like a bull in a china shop in our misguided crusade against police corruption.

We have lived with it for so long that it would be entirely prudent to go about it in a way that does not leave the police feeling that they are being unfairly targeted.

I suggest that a police reform consultative group (PRCG) be set up with appropriate terms of reference, under the chairmanship of former Inspector-General of Police Tun Hanif Omar, to study how the Singapore, Hong Kong, Queensland, New South Wales and London Metropolitan Police services have succeeded in curbing corruption and enhancing the overall quality of policing in their jurisdictions.

PRCG could also submit a report on how we in Malaysia should go about transforming our PDRM to bring it into line with current Commonwealth and global best practices.

The proposed PRCG should not include serving police or MACC officers as their involvement at this stage would detract from the larger issues involved in the transformation process of PDRM which are quite outside their competence.

The early Hong Kong experience with police reform should teach us the importance of being sensitive to likely police reaction; certainly not an unusual response given the circumstances.

Remember, the police are our friends and in good and dangerous times, they have been at our service for more than 200 years.


Kuala Lumpur

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