Checks and Balances: True test of reformation lies in the future

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on May 6, 2019 - May 12, 2019.

The police continue to be the single most powerful and unaccountable institution in the country and, therefore, the IPCMC will be crucial in reining them in

Other stories in the Malaysia Baru: One Year On Special Pullout

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Although civil society may be concerned about the slow pace of reform in Malaysia Baru, the Pakatan Harapan government has done more in one year than the Barisan Nasional ever did in checking gross abuse of power, lifting the veil of impunity and putting back in place a respect for the rule of law. Implementing genuine reform measures will take time after more than six decades of one-party rule, where state institutions may be conflicted about doing things differently as, after all, the system has served top bureaucrats well.

Although many of these reforms have yet to be implemented, the government has committed to ensuring checks and balances between the executive, legislature and judiciary. Some important initiatives include freeing up the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the Election Commission to make them answerable directly to parliament instead of the prime minister and the executive, setting up the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) and reintroducing the Parliamentary Service Act 1963 (repealed in 1992) to provide parliament with more autonomy to conduct its own administration, staffing and financing.

A positive change in parliamentary culture has been advanced by the new Speaker, Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof, who has introduced reforms and more select committees to encourage better debate, independence and accountability.

We have now seen dozens of corruption, criminal breach of trust and money laundering charges brought against those who were previously invincible — Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Mansor, Tan Sri Musa Aman, Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad, Tan Sri Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah and Datuk Rizal Mansor. Of course, the litmus test for institutional independence of the police, the MACC and the Attorney-General’s Chambers is when those who are now in power — the truly big sharks — are arrested and charged if they commit similar crimes.

As for abolishing or amending oppressive laws to bring them in line with the Federal Constitution and international human rights standards, the government seems unsure as every positive move they make is either resisted or spun as something detrimental to the country. We have seen efforts to abolish the death penalty, the Sedition Act, the Prevention of Crime Act and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act being stifled, and thus far only the Anti-Fake News Act has been repealed.

The police remain unchanged and unbowed today. They are still unrepentant over the enforced disappearances of pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat, despite the damning Human Rights Commission of Malaysia inquiry report that concluded that Special Branch personnel were responsible for their disappearances. Police have also been unable or unwilling to locate Pathmanathan Krishnan @ Muhammad Riduan Abdullah, the Muslim convert and former husband of M Indira Gandhi, and their daughter, whom he abducted 10 years ago, despite the Federal Court verdict that favoured the mother.

We should also be extremely concerned about the ongoing revelations of police inaction and cover-up in the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Wang Kelian mass graves of at least 139 human trafficking victims.

We saw how the previous Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, stopped all investigations into the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal. But for the change of government, Najib and his co-conspirators would have been free to continue looting the country’s coffers instead of facing criminal charges. The police continue to be the single most powerful and unaccountable institution in the country and, therefore, the IPCMC will be crucial in reining them in.

Eric Paulsen is Malaysia’s representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission of Human Rights