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.

Suppression taking its toll

Brave New World (The Star)
10 February 2011

Ruling with an iron fist may work as long as a country is relatively prosperous, but if good governance, accountability and fairness are gone it will only be too easy for poor decision-making and corruption to come in.


I WAS, to use that wonderfully Malaysian term, outstation, last week. The hotel I stayed in did not have any Malaysian channels on its telly, so all I had to watch was CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera.
For the entire week I was there, it seemed that the only news in the world were the protests in Egypt. Oh, and Fernando Torres joining Chelsea.
Watching the Tunisian-inspired protests on Tahrir square convinced me even more about the importance of democracy.
Egypt has been ruled by Hosni Mubarak for 30-odd years. In that time, political dissent had been quashed, elections rigged and democracy sidelined in favour of so-called stability.
This may work as long as a country is relatively prosperous.
However, in general, a lack of democratic principles will only lead to poor governance.
With the elements of good governance; transparency, accountability and fairness gone, it is only too easy for poor decision-making and corruption to take root.
Not exactly the right ingredients for prosperity.
Egypt has been mismanaged to the extent that 40% of its people live below the World Bank poverty line.
Food is expensive; Egypt has to import a large amount of its grains from abroad and is far from self-sufficient.
Amid this suffering, the people see a group of politicians entrenched as leaders and who are tremendously wealthy to boot.
Without the usual organs of a democratic state there is little chance for the citizenry to ensure changes of government and to see justice being done when there is corruption or incompetence or both.
This lack of empowerment will lead to frustration.
Such frustration can of course be suppressed by an iron fist; in the case of Egypt, the Mukhabarat or secret police. However, such suppression can only last so long.
We have seen it before in Indonesia, in the Philip­pines, and currently in Egypt and all over the Middle East.
When the pressure gets too much, people will revolt.
In this part of the world democracy is often portrayed as the opposite of order.
If people are free to speak their minds, if governments are tied to laws that limit their power, we are told that this would lead to chaos and a government too weak to take actions that it thinks are necessary for the good of the nation.
The term that used to describe this philosophy was “Asian Values”.
It is as though we Asians do not “value” our human rights and our civil liberties and the inherent dignity that comes with the power to freely choose who leads us.
It is all of course a great fallacy to think that we simple Asians want to be led by the nose by our glorious leaders.
Just as it is a fallacy to believe that without a true democratic system; a system that will keep government in check, dispense justice fairly and transparently, and empowering the people to have a voice in their own destiny; somehow peace and stability will be ensured.
Egypt, along with numerous other nations, has proven this to be not true.

B movie merits more attention

Brave New World (The Star)
27 January 2011

With the infantile politics demonstrated in the Tenang by-election and elsewhere, watching a low-budget science fiction movie may be a more worthwhile pursuit.


ONE night, many, many, many years ago, while flicking through the TV channels, I came across a movie called Robot Monster. It was made in 1953 and was so funny it made me cry.
Robot Monster was one of those science fiction movies about alien invasions so favoured in the 50s.
Of course, nowadays scholars of movies – I’m sorry, I mean, scholars of film – will suck on their professorial pipe, stroke their academic goatees and tell us that these alien invasion flicks were really thinly veiled cautionary tales about the dangers of the Soviet Union and they were actually a reflection of American paranoia.
This may be, but who cares about symbolism and all that stuff when the movie is just so funny.
The one thing that stuck in my mind most of all was the cheapness of the whole thing. The “special effects” if you can call them that, were quite literally cardboard spaceships stuck to wires bobbing around.
The “plot”, which had something to do with indestructible aliens from the moon coming to kill us all, is suddenly inexplicably interspersed with dinosaurs (actually real lizards with extra bits stuck on their backs) coming back to life.
But the coup de grace for me was the costume of the Robot Monster himself. Obviously, the producers were working on a budget, so there was only one monster, not an army. This was so they had to get only one costume.
The costume in this case was a gorilla suit. However, a gorilla was not nearly alien enough. What kind of self-respecting science fiction monster looks like a common Earth gorilla?
So in order to give it that “alien vibe”, the makers of the movie used a deep-sea diver’s helmet as the head of Robot Monster. Voila, we now have a real sci-fi threat in our midst.
But wait! There was a problem. They only had enough money for one gorilla suit and one deep-sea diver’s helmet. For most of the movie, this was okay because there was just Robot Monster wandering the deserts of America (the only country aliens land, it would seem) molesting the heroine.
But in a couple of scenes, Robot Monster had to communicate via a television screen with his boss, Boss Robot Monster.
They used the same outfit for Boss Robot Monster, so they looked identical. How were they to differentiate between the normal Earth-invading Robot Monster and Boss Robot Monster, especially when there was no money?
The answer was ingenious. Some flunky must have looked around the studio’s storeroom and come back with a violin bow. So when you see the two identical Robot Monsters talking to each other, the one waving a violin bow with great authority and menace, well, is the Boss Robot Monster.
I am not sure whether you can find this movie at your usual pirated DVD stall, but if you YouTube “Robot Monster Trailer” you will get a pretty good idea of what I am talking about.
Now, you may wonder why I am writing about such frivolity. Frankly, I was about to write about the Tenang by-election, but the banality, childishness and sheer lack of substance in the politics of this nation had me feeling rather blue.
And although the reality of the infantile politics we are faced with will have to be dealt with, for the moment at least, I’d rather think of something ludicrous that made me cry tears of laughter as opposed to something ludicrous that makes me weep tears of frustration.