Sunday, 24 February 2013

We live in warped logic

Going The Distance (Selangor Times)
22 February 2013


I DON’T get it. I just don’t get it.

Sometimes the level of warped logic that permeates this country simply beggars belief. Take the “invasion” of Sabah for example.

First off, let me be clear that I am glad there has been no violence at the time of writing. I am not here to call for blood.

Indeed it is quite heartening to see a restrained approach taken by the Malaysian police and armed forces.

In fact it is more than restraint, there is a great deal of compassion as can be seen by Sabah’s Police Commissioner who said that they were dealing with human beings and thus the softly, softly approach.

I just wish that compassion can be shown to Malaysians.

Let’s put this in context, armed men land in our country. They are not carrying baseball bats and machetes, they are carrying automatic weapons. The possession of such weapons unless in very specific situations can carry with it a death sentence, so the mere fact that they are armed is seriously against the law.

But it is more than that; they are here to claim the Malaysian state of Sabah as belonging to their sovereign.

This looks to me like an act of war. A Quixotic act of war no doubt but how else can you describe it?

Yet, these people have been treated gently with no violence or even threat of violence.

On the other hand, when Malaysians gather peacefully, with no weapons whatsoever, and demanding nothing more than the upholding of basic democratic principles, they are tear-gassed and beaten.

Aside from these incidences during large citizen gatherings, we also read of cases where unarmed men, women and children die in police custody or are shot dead by the police.

Is it just me or is something wrong with this picture?

And the warped logic continues.

The banning of Australian lawmaker Nick Xenophon has been hailed by some quarters as necessary to maintain the stability of the country.

He apparently creates instability by criticising our electoral process.

That is some seriously odd thinking. The thing that causes instability in a country is when the election system is flawed.

The best way to ensure a peaceful and stable country is by making sure that people have a voice and that they know their voice matters.

In mature democracies, you don’t see any problems when there is a change in government.

This is because there is faith that the election was fair.

If people feel that then, win or lose, the result can be acceptable. This is because they realise that even if you lose today, there is a fair chance that through democratic means, you will win the next time.

But take away that faith with an electoral system that is rife with gerrymandering, or phantom voters or anything else that will undermine the democratic ideal; that is when problems can occur.

If the powers that be and the academics applauding the deportation of Xenophon truly care about national stability, then they should look at the real causes of instability, not some noisy Aussie senator.

Work your socks off to fix the electoral system in this country so that citizens will have faith in it once more.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Greater professionalism in police

Going the Distance (Selangor Times)
8 February 2013


Again the police are in the news for alleged violence that has led to death. This time the victim is C Sugumar, a man who was reportedly mentally disabled but by and large harmless.

The news reports do not look good for the police. For one thing, the man was handcuffed, so he would effectively have been incapable of inflicting any serious harm.

After all aren’t the police meant to be trained to subdue people without actually killing them? So, once a person is bound, shouldn’t it be standard procedure to restrain him without any further danger to the person?

The fact that there was a crowd involved also raises disturbing questions. What on earth were they doing there when the police were already in charge of the situation, and what were the police doing allowing the crowd to get involved in such a way (apparently they were beating the man too)? Then of course there is the mystery of the turmeric powder.

Naturally there can be no certainty as to what actually happened because there has been no official hearing yet, but this case does bring to the fore the need for two important developments with regard to the police.

Firstly, where is the independent police commission? I see no other choice but to have one if we are to dig the police out of the mire of public distrust they find themselves in. I am not anti police.

I have personally been a victim of crime and of course the first people you call are the cops. And it cannot be denied that these men and women put themselves at risk. We need them there, but we also need to know that they can be trusted.

As it stands there is no way out of this conundrum unless any wrong doing by the police is settled in a manner that ensures the public there is no cover up and where the guilty party can escape. And the only way to establish that is by having an independent body not beholden to either the government of the day or the police to deal with complaints.

Secondly, there is a need for greater professionalism within the police. From an outsiders perspective there seems to be a cowboy attitude prevalent where some of the people in blue at least believe that the ends justify the means.

We give the police a lot of power. They are armed and they can have a direct effect on our lives unlike any other citizens. That power must be used responsibly for when unrestrained and unprofessional behaviour is combined with handcuffs, batons, tear gas and guns, then what we have is a situation where people live in fear or an organisation which was meant to protect.

What is required is a paradigm shift where crime fighting per se is not the sole objective nor is it the measurement with which the success of the police is measured. Instead there has to be an understanding that in a civilised democratic country there has to be the strict adherence to procedure; procedure which is not only designed to solve or stop crimes but at the same time to ensure that the values of a democratic state, human rights, fairness and justice are maintained.

For without these values, and without a police force that understands and respects them, then just what is it that they are risking themselves for?

Non-partisan care for environment

Brave New World (The Star)
6 February 2013

Long-term systemic changes which include good transparent governance, strong legislation and proper access to the judiciary are key to protecting the environment.


IF there is one field of public concern that requires a non-partisan approach, it would be the protection and preservation of the environment.

Two recent news stories go some way in driving this point home.

The first is about the mystery of the dead herd of pygmy elephants in Sabah.

The second is the massive vegetable farming project in the highlands of Kelantan.

The reason why I say this is due to our Government’s system in which the federal system is employed.

The way our Government is structured is determined by the Federal Constitution.

This clearly delineates powers between two distinct governments: federal and state.

Once local government is added to the mix, what we have are three separate centres of responsibility.

The problem is that the environment does not recognise the Constitutional division of power.

In the mid-50s when the Con­stitution was drafted, environmental issues were not on the radar of the drafters, nor was it a priority for the power elite.

So, the term “environment” will not be found anywhere in the Cons­titution.

On the other hand, what we do have is each power base takes responsibility over different aspects of the environment.

For example, pollution control is under the jurisdiction of both federal and local governments.

Land and forests are under the jurisdiction of the state government.

Of course, there will be a lot of overlap.

For instance, what if forestry activities cause river pollution?

So when we look at the Kelantan issue, all three forms of government must take responsibility for the situation.

The state government is the one that determines the status of the land and whether it can be used for agricultural purposes or not.

The local government is the one that gives permission for the specific use of the land.

The federal government via the Department of the Environment has the responsibility to pass or fail the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project.

For the sake of accuracy, I must say here that I do not have the details of the project but generally speaking, projects of such a large scale would require an EIA.

The matter is confused even further when we examine the pygmy elephant deaths.

This is because although penin­sular Malaysia has its own wildlife protection law, Sabah and Sarawak have their own individual enactments as determined by the Consti­tution.

With the political situation in the country being what it is, it is likely that it will be common in the years to come that the state governments and the federal government are ruled by different political parties.

If we have the reintroduction of local government elections in the future, it is perfectly foreseeable that you may even have three political parties bearing responsibility over one area.

Therefore, it is impossible to de­pend on any one party to do the right thing with regard to the environment.

In a situation like this, what we need is the institutionalisation of environmental concern.

Laws have to be effective and digressions from it will result in sufficiently deterring sanctions.

Furthermore, there has to be transparency in environmental decision making.

This is to ensure that poor decisions can be made known and action taken. This then leads to the question of “what action”?

Clearly in situations where the decision-making body is an elected government, public displeasure can be made via the ballot box.

However, there is also a need to ensure the courts are open for grievances to be aired.

Where the courts are concerned we need to ensure that the locus standi or the right to appear in court is broadened to allow an interested party to bring the case forward.

As it stands, our judiciary has limited locus standi to narrow situations where a person has to show he or she is directly and uniquely affected by a poor environmental decision before they have a right to their day in court.

This must change to allow for public interest litigation, that is to say cases where a person or an organisation can bring a case to court purely on the grounds that it is in the public interest to do so.

Even before it comes to that, the decision making processes regarding the environment should include meaningful public participation as far as possible.

This is a principle enshrined by the Rio Declaration in which Malay­sia is a signatory too.

If a situation involves indigenous people, the United Nations Dec­laration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, another document we are a signatory too, demands that any action which affects indigenous land requires the affected community’s free, prior and informed consent before it can be taken.

Protecting the environment is something that cannot simply be solved by political machinations.

What we need are long-term systemic changes which will include good transparent governance, strong legislation and proper access to the judiciary.