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TBH inquisition reveals racist underpinnings

July 28, 2011

Was the initial investigation and subsequent campaign of harassment by the MACC started at Umno’s behest?

COMMENT

By CPI

What is most telling about the Royal Commission report on Teoh Beng Hock is its total neglect of the two major structural factors accounting for the tragedy – the Umno and MACC agenda convergence, and the racist character of the civil service.

These ingredients together created a scenario where it is difficult to escape the implications that our independent public institutions, like the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission, are neither independent nor public.

It is unsettling to see the MACC operate as a tool of the state. It could be even more unsettling if there was perversion in the MACC’s function such that it resembles the interrogation unit of the secret police as found in some autocracies.

A deconstruction of events leading and consequent to the deadly outcome is necessary to assess the repercussions of Teoh’s tragedy.

Mind and methods of MACC

Firstly, all the deliberate obfuscation and obstructions put up against the fact-finders seeking the truth of Teoh’s death implies a collusion to serve the interest of the executive branch.

This type direction seemingly coming from high levels is an indication of a political landscape where the state is the party. So has our ruling party Umno become now indistinguishable from the state?

MACC investigation into Ean Yong Hian Wah, the DAP Seri Kembangan assemblyman who was Teoh’s employer, commenced amidst Barisan Nasional hopes that it could take over Selangor following its successful toppling of the Pakatan government in Perak.

Was the initial investigation and subsequent campaign of harassment by the MACC started at Umno’s behest?

Kicking into action through selectively targeting DAP, the federal agency put the party assemblymen under the microscope.

At the same time, the elephant in the room – former Selangor Menteri Besar Mohd Khir Toyo with his unexplained wealth and stunning ‘Bali castle’ for all to see – somehow escaped notice.

The difference in treatment against mere witnesses from the opposition ranks and suspects from within establishment circles is stark. This is demonstrable from the vast discrepancy in the sum for which Ean Yong (RM2,400 order for national flags) and Khir (millions to buy land and build mansion) were respectively investigated.

Further contrast is clearly seen in the varied harshness of the process – “aggressive, relentless, oppressive and unscrupulous interrogation” according to the RCI report on Teoh.

A comparison between the two cases as well as drawing the necessary inferences will reveal the racial discrimination, on top of the political bias practised by the MACC.

Unless the agency is detached from state (read Umno) control and made answerable to an independent body – and Parliament be given oversight – it will continue to function as a political appendage of the party in power and not in any circumstances to regain public trust.

Everything under Umno umbrella

Secondly, the RCI ruling on Teoh Beng Hock runs contrary to the more compelling evidence suggesting murder. Its conjectures are weak speculation and too far-fetched for arriving at a finding of suicide whereas on the other hand homicide cannot be dismissed.

The issue of distrust re-emerges when the commissioners are seen as aligned to the powers that be. In the court of public opinion, the judiciary and public prosecutors are part of the Umno-dominated power axis or have been co-opted by the authorities (synonymous with Umno).

Previously, a royal commission had put forward concrete proposals, including the establishment of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) for the purpose of reforming the police force.

The recommendations contained in the extensive RCI report have been largely ignored to date.

Yet another set of conclusions from a different RCI on the VK Lingam judge fixing has dissipated into thin air.

In the face of the aborted attempts at reform and NFA (no further action), the public is entitled to query the symbiotic relationship between Umno and judiciary and police. Does the one-party control the bench and the men in blue?

Inversely, do the police being in possession of sensitive intelligence hold certain levers to control key Umno personalities? Or else how do we explain the police top brass thumbing their nose at the implementation of the IPCMC?

Recently we had the royal commission with terms of reference to enquire into MACC investigative procedures. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the RCI recommendations will once again be more of the same morass.

What traditionally arise from these so-called royal commissions are cosmetic changes (e.g. moving the MACC interrogation room to the basement), and the inevitable stonewalling on cleaning up the outfits.

After all, Selangor MACC deputy director Hishamuddin Hashim who was the field mastermind behind the torture of Beng Hock was even promoted to MACC director in Negeri Sembilan.

The state-party nexus between those officials in government pay and Umno is more often than not reflected in the arrangement ‘you do our bidding, we cover your back’.

It is this mutual protection racket that helped obliterate incriminating traces of what really happened the night of Teoh’s death. Instead of promoting the rule of law, such destructive living in each other’s pocket only promotes lawlessness as evidenced in the brutish behaviour of the MACC inquisitors.

How the long-drawn saga eventually panned out is not only causing immense anguish to the Teoh family and heaping insult on the memory of the deceased but has also inflamed public anger.

Race-baiting as national blood sport

Thirdly, the MACC and many other public agencies carry an embedded Ketuanan Melayu ideology.

With the civil service considered as Umno’s safe deposit of votes, the elaborate patronage system that has been built around it for more than 50 years soon evolved into an integral component of party-civil service dynamics. The entrenched system is one today that is based on racial and opportunistic self-interest.

The staff composition of the MACC mirrors other government departments. As of Dec 31, 2009, the Malaysian civil service comprised 1.25 million employees, and their ethnic breakdown 78.2 percent Malay, 5.8 percent Chinese, 4.0 percent Indians and 4.2 percent ‘Lain-lain’.

Johor’s civil service is an example of even greater imbalance despite the state being among the most multiracial (Malays 54 percent, Chinese 35 percent, Indians 7 percent).

Of the 8,372 Johor government servants, Chinese are 0.12 percent and Indians 1.39 percent (The Star, April 8, 2010). The anomaly of Chinese as one-tenth of a miniscule one percent on the state payroll is equivalent to the size of a grain of rice in an abundant bowl.

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the 10 MACC men on the DAP Selangor case were Hishammuddin Hashim, Mohd Ashraf Mohd Yunus, Arman Alies, Hairul Ilham Hamzah, Mohd Anuar Ismail, Nadzri Ibrahim, Azhar Abang Mentaril, Hafiz Izhar Idris, Mohd Najeib Ahmad Walat and K. Sachianandran – note the glaring absence of any Chinese officer.

On the night itself, core members of the team took turns to interrogate Teoh whose ordeal lasted for over 12 hours, nearly non-stop from dusk to dawn.

The anti-Chinese agenda in the MACC operation against DAP was quite perceptible. Kajang municipal councillor Tan Boon Wah (a DAP Selangor appointee), summoned to the MACC Selangor headquarters in Shah Alam the same night as Teoh, was abused too.

“They called me a stupid Chinese… Are you from China? You can’t speak Malay?” stated Tan Boon Wah regarding his questioning by the MACC conducted in a dark, tiny room.

While waiting, he was also not permitted to converse in Chinese with another witness present in the building at the time.

Dariff Din, an assistant to Kampung Tunku DAP assemblyman Lau Weng San, told reporters: “They [MACC] asked me if I was Chinese or Malay and I told them that I was Malaysian but they kept insisting on [being told] my race.”

Due to Dariff’s Chinese-looking features (father Malay, mother Chinese), the MACC officers were more interested in his ethnic origin than in his boss Lau’s office expenditure, Dariff recalled in his press conference on July 18, 2009. “Everything went smoothly after they learned that I was a Malay Muslim.”

The Chinese ethnicity is doubtless a liability when dealing with or being dealt with by government officers. Insisting “I am not Chinese, I am purely Anak Malaysia” to the MACC inquisitors would not have gotten the victim off the hook as proven by the whole sorry episode involving the DAP members (whom Umno equates with the Chinese community at large).

Ostrich head in the sand

MACC casting its net on DAP – if not for Teoh’s inopportune and sudden death – would have certainly resulted in the undermining if not possible ouster of the Selangor state government. It was also racial persecution of Chinese from the outset as PAS and PKR were spared.

The Ketuanan Melayu propaganda on Teoh as can be discerned from Umno mouthpieces Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian, and ideological cheerleaders such as NSTP group editor Zainul Arifin who wrote that MACC is a Malay-controlled institution and “Kenapa Menteri Besar Selangor, seorang Melayu, meragui kebolehan orang sebangsanya bertindak dengan tulus dan adil?”and Ridhuan Tee who slammed Teoh’s baby as ‘anak haram’ reflective of Chinese loose morals.

The damage control, spin and counter-attack by Umno new media unit and their network of bloggers and cybertroopers who character assassinated Teoh and pinned slurs on DAP (‘Chinese chauvinist communists’) are racial in nature. Umno’s stance and the government’s response to the fallout is revealing in their racialist approach.

A word of advice; denying one’s Chinese or Indian or pendatang roots in surrender to the odious ideology of race supremacy contained in Ketuanan Melayu will in no way contribute to a meaningful reform of the overall system which browbeats and bludgeons those identifying outside the hegemony.

This is a fact that the political parties representing ethnic minorities or wanting their precious votes must not wilfully blind themselves to.

Neither the political parties nor civil society can hope to change the modus operandi of the government enforcement arms by the mere suspension of three MACC officers without taking into account the climate of ingrained racism.

The racist mentality displayed by the MACC enforcers is no accident but most likely a characteristic of the larger macrocosm, that is, it is institutional and systemic.

Meanwhile, the people on the receiving end should, by now, surely have realised that overcoming racial discrimination is not through bleaching away one’s skin colour.

This article first appeared in Centre for Policy Initiatives’ website.


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