Kuala Lumpur – Corruption, the perennial scourge in many Southeast Asian countries, dominated the headlines in Malaysia this week with the release of a damning report on the country's police force.
In a report released on May 16, the royal commission of inquiry into the police force reveals – to nobody’s big surprise - that corruption exists at all levels ofMalaysia’s largest law enforcement agency.
The commission, headed by former chief judge Dzaiddin Abdullah, was set up by the government in February as part of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s plan to clean up the police and raise public confidence. In its 634-page report, the commission describes the police force as the most corrupt of all Malaysian government departments, with 5,726 graft complaints between 1999 and 2003.
The report notes that many cases against corrupt cops are not prosecuted because of the unwillingness of witnesses to testify in open court for fear of reprisal.
“We accept it is difficult to convict, but the culture of freedom from conviction and impunity seems to be set in the police force and this makes things more difficult,” Mr Dzaiddin says in the report.
The commission also finds widespread evidence of abuse of powers and a lack of respect for basic human rights by the police. It also calls for the Internal Security Act, which allows for detention without trial, to be amended to allow quicker access to legal counsel and hearings before magistrates.
Despite the damning nature of the report, many observers welcome the report as a significant step in Prime Minister Abdullah’s campaign to rid the country of corruption.
The big question now is: What next?
Mr Dzaiddin believes that “strong and sustained political will" would be needed to see through the "comprehensive reform" required to make the police "efficient, accountable and trustworthy".
In an editorial, the New Straits Times cautioned that it would be unwise to treat “allegations as truth until proof is provided to substantiate them” .
“Needless to say, the least that must be done is to investigate every allegation."
A commentary in The Star noted that the commission had also touched on the lamentable quality of police equipment. For example, the bomb disposal unit still uses "obsolete" equipment and that “it has no protective devices against chemical or biological weapons”.
"The government must support the police by beefing up the force, which needs 40,000 more policemen, and improving their wages, allowances and housing needs so our policemen can operate with pride and dignity,” the writer added.
* Blueprint for renewal (New Straits Times, May 19)
* Need to regain public trust (The Star, May 17)
*Panel reveals corruption in police but laments lack of action (Bernama, May 16)