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Aug 14, 2000

Harun Rashid

Perhaps the Home Minister jests

Malaysia had a quiet Sunday. The prime minister enjoyed himself on Malaysia's faux-Phuket, lambasting foreign leaders. The finance minister released a bundle of balloons to rise with the hot air, a promise on the direction of the economy.

The trade minister struggled with her new tudung at the Umno ladies' gathering. The foreign minister echoed the prime minister with a 15-minute delay, while the home minister cut another ribbon, giving yet another "stop-hating-the-government" command speech, nearly memorised.

This pet subject of the home minister is boring because no one knows what he is referring to. Malaysians are not haters. They get angry at the lying and graft, but that is not "hate". They become impatient when promises are not kept, but that is not "hate". They are just resentful that the ministers seem to credit them with faulty long-term memory, and even faultier reasoning power.

They are presently totally disgusted with the home minister, because while he is over-sensitive to the point of paranoia about an imagined hate campaign, he seems totally insensitive to numerous public requests to tend to business. The home minister has within in his portfolio the police department. It seems the police cannot make an arrest without breaking a few vertebrae or blacking an eye.

Yet the home minister is blind and deaf to reports of police brutality. He has not shown any interest or competence in the supervision of the police department, other than to make speeches to the cadets that the government is relying on them to protect the ministers in case the people really lose their temper. The cadets don't relish standing firm against their brothers and sisters in a struggle for basic human rights. This causes the ministers to be restless and perspire in their insomnia.

The attorney-general's department has been allegedly busy gathering "false" evidence to convict Anwar Ibrahim, if one may rely on the testimony offered in the various courts. The manner in which the AG carries out his duties is within the purview of the home minister. Yet he does not find any irregularity or sloth there. The public disagrees, and he finds this disagreement "hateful".

But yesterday the home minister suggested there was some justification for the general dissatisfaction. "Maybe there are certain people who did wrong, but they will be punished." This is refreshing news coming from a prime-minister-to-be. He hedged somewhat with the maybe, but the indication of his awareness there was a possibility some of his associates were crooked is taken as a hopeful indication that he is mentally fit. There is serious conjecture in the coffee shops around this subject.

There is a matter hanging in his department which has languished for some time. The former most senior police officer entered a plea of guilty to striking a blindfolded and handcuffed prisoner in a fit of pique that could only be satisfied by a recovery of honour. The guilty plea is a matter of record, as is the subsequent sentence. Yet the matter is unsettled. The man who pleaded guilty has appealed the severity of the sentence and wonder of wonders, is free on bail.

He has not served a day in jail, which in Malaysia is remarkable, given the laws available to immediately accomplish this. It gives the appearance the home minister is either incompetent or providing
protection. Neither enhances his image as a potential leader.

Malaysia has a national police force with an unusual strain of sadism easily triggered when accused have labels like Illegal Immigrant, Opposition, Reformasi or Security Risk. How did this psychological aberration arise? Some speculate it is the result of participating in too many strokes-of-the-rotan exhibitions.

The home minister has not found occasion among his ribbon-cutting to reflect on these fundamental concerns. This contributes to public misgivings of his fitness for higher office. If he is so totally under water with the home ministry, how can any confidence be generated for the heavier role as prime minister. It is a popular rhetorical question.

Just how many guilty parties are there in the government? ... One? ... A few? ... Many? ... All?

Is there to be an investigation by the police? Has a police report been filed? We now know the home minister can fill out a police report. It seems there is special training available for BN ministers in this. In the youth and sports minister it appears almost a fetish.

Have the "certain parties" been identified? That would be novel. Does the home minister wish to give details about his own intent in this matter of "guilty parties" (in the government), or is the public
patience to be abused again?

"They will be punished," he said. This firm promise is then qualified by a careful reference to the much maligned Malaysian justice system. The punishment will not be meted out until "after they have been (brought to court and) found guilty This is not the normal judiciary process in Malaysia. The public has learned to predict with accuracy the judges who will preside over the cases in which the ministers have an interest.

The home minister implies the public can depend on him to oversee that the police and the AG are diligent in the performance of their duties; that he will personally see that justice is satisfied in these cases involving corrupt ministers in the government, members of their families, and the contingent of loyal and supportive business cronies.

What response to his reassurances seems most appropriate? Should it be, "Oh, never mind", or "That's what you said the last time, and all the times before that", or perhaps, "OK, let's see some action". Is it too late to retrieve a seriously flawed system of government in Malaysia? The BN say they plan to change, to accept guidance from the Qur'an.

But Malaysians are reminded of old sayings like "Kerbau saekor membawa lumpur semuanya terpalit" (One muddy caribou soils the herd), "Jangan kerana nila setitik rosak susu sebelanga" (one drop of ink spoils the whole pot of milk), and "Nasi sudah menjadi bubur" (Too late, all the rice has turned to porridge). The more youthful consensus holds that the proverbs are indeed apt.