Friday, 25 February 2011

Commission must be neutral

Brave New World (The Star)
24 February 2011

To ensure that there is no conflict of interest, the conducting officers must be totally unbiased.


THE family of Teoh Beng Hock has decided that they do not want to take part in the Commission of Inquiry which was set up to investigate his death.
This act has been criticised by some quarters as being a political ploy designed to delay the proceedings. I beg to disagree.
The family has some very compelling reasons for doing what they did.
Their main complaint is that there is currently an appeal in the courts regarding the findings of the inquest.
To refresh your memory, the inquest that was formed to investigate the cause of Teoh’s death concluded with an open verdict.
The magistrate was unable to come to a conclusion whether Teoh was killed or whether he committed suicide.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers has decided to appeal to the High Court.
They believe that the cause of death was suicide and they want a declaration from the court to that effect.
The family want this High Court case to either be settled first or dropped by the A-G before the CI continues.
This is a reasonable request for what happens if the CI comes up with one decision and the High Court another?
They are also unhappy that the conducting officers are from the A-G’s Chambers.
The conducting officers are the people with the responsibility of conducting the inquiry.
They organise proceedings, for example by drawing the witness list.
It is odd indeed that the people who are conducting the proceedings of the CI are from the very same body (the A-G’s Chambers) who are calling for a finding of suicide.
It would appear therefore, that there is clearly a conflict of interest here. They are working for the CI, which is supposed to be independent and neutral, yet they are also from an organisation that has made up their mind as to the cause of death.
I am not for one moment questioning the integrity of the individuals who make up the CI.
However, the CI must be impeccable in its neutrality and, more importantly, it must appear to be impeccable.
The way it stands, this neutrality can be cast in doubt.
Furthermore, it must be remembered that the A-G’s Chambers was involved in the initial investigation.
For example, the Investigating Officer revealed the so-called suicide note so late in the inquest proceedings because he was waiting for the green light from the Deputy Public Prosecutor (who is part of the A-G’s Chambers).
The DPP and thus the A-G’s Chambers had a supervisory role in the original investigation, so how can their staff play such a prominent role in the CI.
In order to ensure that there is no conflict of interest, the conducting officers must be totally unbiased.
If it means getting them from an independent source, so be it.
There is after all precedence for this.
In the Commission formed to investigate former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s black eye incident, an independent party was chosen to lead the conducting officers.
The CI has to distance itself from any possibility of impropriety.
This was not done and thus casts doubts on the whole procedure.
This is the reason why the family and later the state of Selangor decided to pull out.
It is unfortunate that there are accusations that the family had done what it did under external pressure.
They have been through the mill for the past two years or so.
They have stated time and time again that all they want is justice.
It is perfectly within their right to withdraw, and it is perfectly understandable.

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