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The minimal “feel good” effect created by 2008 Budget destroyed in 24 hours by police firing live bullets at a ceramah crowd in Batu Burok, Kuala Terengganu wounding two and the latest Auditor-General’s Reports highlighting continuing widespread and incorrigible government inefficiency and waste of public funds
(Dewan Rakyat, Monday): I must start with the shameful episode to the nation, which marred not only the presentation of the 2008 budget but also the 50th Merdeka Anniversary celebrations – the police firing live bullets at a ceramah crowd at Batu Burok, Kuala Terengganu on Saturday night and wounding two and the ensuing confrontation between the crowd and the police.
In 24 hours, the minimal “feel good” effect created by the 2008 Budget had been destroyed by two incidents - the police contempt for human rights and excessive use of force in Batu Burok on Saturday night and the latest Auditor-General’s Reports highlighting continuing widespread and incorrigible government inefficiency and waste of public funds.
All Malaysians, regardless of race, religion or political beliefs, are shocked by what happened in Batu Burok on Saturday night, especially with the mainstream media carrying screaming headlines like “750 pembangkang merusuh, rosakkan harta awam di Terengganu” (Utusan Malaysia), “4 polis cedera rusuhan di Kuala Terengganu” (Berita Harian), “RM1m damage, 23 held in riot” (New Straits Times), “Ceramah clash” (The Star), “23 held and 7 injured in riot” (The Sun).
Why did a traditionally peaceful ceramah organized by Bersih, a coalition of political parties and NGOs campaigning for free and fair elections degenerate into a confrontation between the police and the crowd, turning it into a “riot” with police firing live bullets, resulting in four being hospitalized and 23 arrested?
Isn’t it a reflection of failure of the police to uphold law and order when what would have been a peaceful ceramah ended up into a “riot” between the police and the crowd?
Who must bear responsibility for the disgraceful incident in Kuala Teregganu – the police or the ceramah organizers?
The police has only itself to blame when its official account, giving full publicity by the mainstream media, both printed and electronic, are suspect as history has shown that official accounts, whether police or that of other authorities, could give distorted and very one-sided accounts.
The best example was the Kesas Highway Incident on 5th November 2000, where I was personally present, with the members of the public who had gathered peacefully for a rally treated like criminals by the police, which indiscriminately fired tear gas and water cannons.
Suhakam conducted a public inquiry in 2001 and these were some of its findings:
From the Suhakam inquiry, it is clear that the Police must bear full responsibility for the Kesas Highway incident. What actually happened in Batu Burok, Kuala Terengganu on Saturday night that a traditionally peaceful ceramah could be turned into a riot with the police firing live bullets at the public?
We do not countenance violence but the full facts must be established whether police mishandling of the situation had largely been responsible for the breakdown of law and order.
Is this another example of what had been mentioned in the Report of the Royal Police Commission – “a peaceful demonstration that turned into rioting was not caused by the action of the demonstrators but on the provocation of the police”? (p. 306)
DAP calls for the immediate establishment of an independent public inquiry into the Kuala Terengganu riot on Saturday night to establish its full facts and circumstances.
Such a public inquiry is imperative as the Kuala Terengganu incident seems to have provided the final proof that all the three major objectives of the 125 recommendations of Royal Police Commission for world-class police service - to reduce crime, to eradicate corruption in the police force and to uphold and respect human rights - had been completely disregarded.
The Kuala Teregganu riot would not have happened if the recommendations of the Royal Police Commission to the police to respect human rights in particular with regard to the fundamental right to hold assemblies, meetings and processions had been taken seriously.
The Royal Police Commission held that the right to hold assemblies, meetings and processions “is one of the most basic and indispensable of the fundamental freedoms necessary for the functioning of a democratic society and is provided for in the Federal Constitution”. (Chap. 10 – 2.3.2i).
The Commission made specific recommendations “to ensure that the rights of any person engaged in lawful advocacy, protest or dissent are not limited by the OCPD and to ensure that the exercise of that right shall not by itself be considered as prejudicial to security”.
If these recommendations of the Royal Police Commission, the country would have been spared the disgraceful episode in Kuala Terengganu and the police saved from another severe blow to public confidence as to how it could have allowed a peaceful ceramah to degenerate into a riot.
The mainstream media have reported that in the riot yesterday, home-made bombs and Molotove cocktails were hurled at the police.
Such accounts are highly suspect unless there are independent verification of the facts, which is why an independent public inquiry must be established.
This is because there were very biased media reports, spreading even falsehoods, over the nine-hour stand-off last Tuesday between a 2,000-strong multi-agency contingent including police FRU, immigration, environment, state and local authorities, backed by riot gear, water cannons, personnel in “space suits” and a helicopter in constant reconnaissance on the one hand and defenceless men, women and children on the other in a most high-handed and unlawful operation to destroy tens of thousands pigs in Malacca.
Some media, especially TV3 alleged that the Paya Mengkuang pig farmers hurled Molotov cocktails at the enforcement officers in the stand-off, when this was a downright lie – but up to now there had been no correction, retraction or apology from TV3 or the media concerned.
Was there an excessive use of force and unreasonable demands in Kuala Terengganu on Saturday night as happened in Paya Mengkuang last Tuesday – with 2,000 personnel from various agencies mobilised to destroy tens of thousands of pigs without any notice whatsoever and subsequently arbitrarily demanding that 90,000 heads of pigs must be culled or removed out of the state in a 17-day period till Sept. 21?
MCA Youth leader and Deputy Youth and Sports Minister, Datuk Liow Tiong Lai had launched a ferocious attack on the Malacca State Secretary, Datuk Ismail Salleh, labeling him as a “Little Napoleon” responsible for the unilateral, arbitrary, high-handed and insensitive 2,000-strong operation to forcibly cull tens of thousands of pigs in Malacca, forcing a nine-hour standoff with defenceless men, women and children in Paya Mengkuang on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
Liow claimed that Ismail launched the massive multi-agency operation without approval by the Malacca State Government. He described what happened on Tuesday as a blot to the 50th Merdeka anniversary which could not be tolerated.
Liow put the whole blame on Ismail in unilaterally resorting to force against defenceless men, women and children when the state government was still discussing how to resolve the pig-rearing problem, stressing that such insubordination by Ismail should not be allowed to recur.
Liow’s speech has come as a shock for two reasons:
Firstly, why he is blaming the Malacca state secretary as “Little Napoleon” for the unilateral, arbitrary, high-handed and insensitive 2,000-strong operation to forcibly cull tens of thousands of pigs in Malacca on Sept. 4, mobilizing Police FRU, water cannons and even police helicopter, resulting in a nine-hour standoff with defenceless men, women and children, when the whole operation was clearly on the directive of Chief Minister Ali Rustam?
Secondly, if Liow absolves Ali Rustam from responsibility (which cast a severe aspersion on his competence and capability as Malacca Chief Minister), are the MCA leaders both at national and state levels demanding that serious disciplinary action be taken against the Malacca state secretary – at minimum his immediate removal?
Clearly, a person who could act in so unilateral, arbitrary, high-handed and insensitive a fashion, committing gross insubordination as well completely heedless of the sensitivities of a plural society, is not fit to continue a single day in such a high office as the No.1 civil servant in the state government.
Or was Liow merely indulging in the latest MCA “sandiwara” to deflect public attention from the latest MCA political failure and irresponsibility despite their representation in all three tiers of government – national, state and local?
The Malacca Chief Minister Ali Rustam had never disclaimed responsibility for the operation. In fact, he had come out with a statement to state that the operation to cull the pigs in Paya Mengkuang, Man Lok and Bukit Beruang last Tuesday was halted on the appeal of the MCA President and Housing and Local Government Minister, Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting as made through Najib.
Ali Rustam said Ong asked for time to reduce the pig population in the state to 48,000 heads and this was why he had given the new Sept 21 deadline.
MCA leaders must explain why without authority, mandate and consultation with the pig farmers in the state, they had agreed to the ban on all pig-rearing activities in Malacca state outside Paya Mengkuang and the cap on pig population to 48,000 heads by Sept. 21.
As the Cabinet has decided that pig farmers in Malacca are eligible for Bank Negara “Fund for Food” Aid to install proper waste system, this decision should not be made meaningless by the Malacca State government insisting on a ban on pig farming in Malacca outside Paya Mengkuang and to cap the pig population to 48,000 heads.
All pig farmers in Malacca should be given time to avail themselves of the Bank Negara “Fund for Food” aid to install proper waste system to meet all environmental requirements for the pig-rearing industry.
Meanwhile, the earlier decision to cull or remove 90,000 heads of pigs by Sept. 21, which is arbitrary, high-handed and impractical, should be immediately revoked.
One question many Malaysians asked before the presentation of the 2008 budget on Friday was whether it would address one of the top national concerns – the rising crime index.
To underscore this national obsession about galloping crime, it was reported on the eve of the 2008 Budget the country’s longest-serving and most famous Inspector-General of Police, Tun Hanif Omar was victim of burglary in his Subang Jaya home – the second former IGP to be a victim of crime after Tan Sri Norian Mai recently. In February this year, former Penang Chief Police Officer Datuk Albert Mah was murdered in his Petaling Jaya home during a robbery – and the criminals are still scot-free.
It was only last August that Hanif wrote in his Sunday Star column “Point of View” on “Crime and our quality of life”, that the prevalent fear about personal safety whether of oneself or one’s loved ones in the streets and public places was so bad that he had been advised by his wife to be armed when going out.
Clearly, the crime situation has worsened instead of improved in the past year.
There was nothing whatsoever in the 2008 Budget to make Malaysians feel safer whether for themselves or their loves ones, in the streets, public places or even privacy of their homes.
If former top police officers like two ex-IGPs could be robbed, and a former CPO could be murdered in his home in a robbery, who can feel safe in Malaysia?
After the disgraceful episode in Kuala Terengganu where there was an excessive use of police force and misallocation of police personell, whose top priority should be to fight crime rather than to trample on the human rights of Malaysians, public confidence in the police has taken another plunge.
What does all this mean to the quality of life of Malaysians as well as creating the conducive environment to attract foreign investors and tourists to Malaysia?
Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic
Planning Commission Chairman