Monday, April 11, 2011

Let the law take its course

By R Nadeswaran, The Sun

All and sundry have been calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) and heads to roll without knowing the circumstances or the events leading to the discovery of the body.
  • After the explosion at the Bright Sparklers factory in Sungai Buloh in 1991, the manufacture, sale and use of fire crackers and fireworks was banned. Yet, during every festive season, they are peddled in retail outlets and by street vendors. While occasional police raids result in seizure of small quantities and the arrest of a few individuals, the importers are counting their money.
  • The government appointed a company to supply security ink to be used on all cigarette packets. This, it was argued, would cut down the prevalence of cigarettes on which duty had not been paid. Security ink or not, the rate of smuggling has resulted in the contraband cigarettes having 30% of the market.
  • The price of a 24-can crate of beer in the retail market is between RM110 and RM120, depending on the location. However, with the right connections, one can pick up a crate for less than RM75. It is a well-told yarn that "these crates fell off lorries on the way to the port.
  • The police say that luxury vehicles stolen from our streets find their way to the port and are on the way to their destinations within four hours of the theft.

THESE and other clandestine activities at our ports are costing the government billions of ringgit in losses – taxes and excise duty. Besides, the various industries have been complaining to the authorities that the marketplace has been flooded with goods on which duty had not been paid, and hence they are not getting returns on their investments.

Where else than the points of entry would someone put the finger on? Who supervises, scrutinises and approves the movement of goods? Who must ensure that the proper documents are in order and that the appropriate taxes and duties have been paid and are duly collected? These come under the purview of the Customs Department, and hence the swoop.

The happenings at the ports, especially Port Klang had been under surveillance for a long time and slowly the modus operandi of purveyors of contraband goods was uncovered and their links to the people who enforce the law. Therefore, society expects action against such practices and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) moved in with a nation-wide swoop, detaining 62 officers. Millions of ringgit and gold bars were seized.

And last week, one of those nabbed (and subsequently released on bail) was found dead on a badminton court outside the MACC office in Jalan Cochrane, Kuala Lumpur. Discussing or analysing the cause of death at this stage would not only be pure conjecture, but would be sub-judice as the law must be allowed to take it course in the form of an inquest into the sudden death.

All and sundry have been calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) and heads to roll without knowing the circumstances or the events leading to the discovery of the body. The MACC has now become the whipping boy of Malaysian law enforcement, and it appears that everything they do or don’t do is wrong.

Why are so many groups and people, some eminent members of society and others, self-appointed do-gooders, calling for an RCI? As most Malaysians know, scores of people have died in police custody and many more have died when police carried out their operations. So, why has there not been a single case of a call not for a RCI, but a simple inquest into most of these deaths?

As much as corruption cannot be condoned, the use of force by enforcement agencies should never be tolerated in any civilised society. Why then is everyone jumping the gun assuming that something was wrong? What is more astonishing is the fact that there have been reports of a "go slow" in the Customs Department in Port Klang. Are these government officers above the law and that they cannot be pulled up if they break the law? Then there are some forwarding agents who are holding protests and gatherings. While most of them are generally clean, some are allegedly linked to clandestine operations importing goods without paying taxes. Do they expect immunity for their wrong deeds?

The citizens of this country are expected to support the war on corruption, NOT undermine it. By all standards, two deaths within the premises of MACC offices is two deaths too many. But it will be wrong to scream "murder" without allowing the law to take its course. No wrongdoer should escape reprimand and prosecution but until then, let’s hold our horses.

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