07Ogos2020

Agenda Daily

THE ISA IS NOT A CURE-ALL

As expected, the heavy hand of the Internal Security Act fell on the five masterminds of the Hindu Rights Action Force or Hindraf demonstration last November when they were arrested and detained under the Act for two years. As discerning Malaysians would say, this is not the way to handle the problem. Will the effect be known in the coming general election?

 

AS I HAD SPECULATED IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN, THE GOVERNMENT of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi finally did what many people had expected it to do – use the provisions of the Internal Security Act (ISA) on the organisers of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) demonstration.

Five of them – P Uthayakumar, 46; M Manoharan, 46; R Kengadharan, 40; V Ganabatirau, 34; and T Vasanthakumar; 34 – have been arrested and detained under the Act for two years.

With a stroke of the pen, Abdullah, who is also the Minister of Internal Security, unequivocally proved that he meant business when, on Nov 9, he gave the warning Saya Pantang Dicabar (I

do not take to being challenged) ahead of the massive Bersih clean election demonstration in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 10.

The irony, if any, is the fact that the Prime Minister’s wrath fell not on the Bersih protestors, for which the warning was initially intended, but on the Hindraf demonstrators who took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur on Nov 25.

In making good his warning, the Prime Minister and his agents used two distinct approaches – the ISA and the court of law.

On Dec 3, in his capacity as the Minister of Internal Security, he signed a two-year detention order against the Hindraf five. On Nov 26, the day following the Hindraf demonstration, his Attorney- General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail hurriedly went to court to charge 31 protesters with attempted murder.

So serious was the Prime Minister in showing that he meant business that Gani himself appeared in court to prosecute and demand that no bail be allowed.

Gani’s personal appearance and the seriousness of the charge caught many people by surprise, in particular, those who have been following the less-than-encouraging outcomes of sensational cases prosecuted by the Attorney-General and his team.

Among them was the failure to get the conviction of Tan Sri Eric Chia in the highly publicised breach of trust case that was supposed to be the hallmark beginning of Abdullah’s crusade against high-level corruption.

Another sensational corruption case is the ongoing trial of former minister Tan Sri Kasitah Gaddam.

Sadly, for those who hold the courts and the judiciary in high esteem, Gani’s sensational charging of the 31 Hindraf protesters was a letdown.

While he charged into the courts like a pendekar (the Malay warrior), he withdrew like a vanquished soldadu (foot soldier).

On Dec 17, he dropped a bombshell by dropping the charge against all of them.

His grand excuse was that the prosecution (read, himself and his team) tidak tahu siapa yang membaling batu bata yang mencederakan mata-mata Dadi Abdul Rani (did not know who threw the brick that had injured policeman Dadi Abdul Rani).

The question is: Why was he in such haste to go to court and use such a heavy charge if he did not know who threw the brick?

The about-turn by the prosecution gives the impression that the case was not only poorly prepared, but also of the likelihood of the parties involved using their positions to prove their loyalty to the Prime Minister in his time of crisis.

Then, there are the conspiracy theorists who argue that the reference to the courts had to be hurriedly made because at that point of time, the use of the ISA was not yet considered to be necessary, or did not have the approval of the higher authorities.

So, the best way to bide for time and show that they meant business was to bring the 31 protesters to court although the case itself was weak.

Whatever the reason that prompted the Attorney-General to charge the 31 with attempted murder, his decision to withdraw the case led to speculation that there was an unseen hand pulling the strings.

Such a suspicion cannot be avoided, given the fact that it happened soon after a ‘successful’ meeting between the Prime Minister and representatives of the Indian community, and with Abdullah expressing sympathy for the families of the 31 accused.

With his main Indian-based party, the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), looking pretty pathetic as a result of the communal convulsion, Abdullah had no choice but to extend the olive branch to the Indians himself, or risk a backlash at the polls.

Calling a spade a spade

AS for the ISA arrest and detention of the Hindraf masterminds, it should not have been surprising. Days before the arrest, the pliable mainstream media had been reporting statements and allegations pointing to that direction.

Furthermore, the use of the ISA is not alien to Abdullah, either as Prime Minister from November 2003 onwards or as Minister of Internal Security earlier on.

It can be recalled that in May 2004, he had used the Act to arrest and detain Sri Lankan businessman B S A Tahir. Tahir was once a business partner of Adullah’s son, Kamaluddin. He was accused of dealing in nuclear plant parts using a company linked to Kamaluddin’s corporate flagship, Scomi Bhd.

Abdullah strongly defended the action. He was then quoted by the French news agency, AFP, as saying: ‘Yes, we used the ISA for this case. The reason we use the ISA is because it is an issue of the security of Malaysia.’

The Utusan Malaysia newspaper in reporting the arrest of the Hindraf five in its Dec 14 issue said that they were detained because they masterminded an illegal assembly and caused tension by raising communal issues.

The Star newspaper, on the same day, quoted the Inspector- General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Musa Hassan as saying: ‘They were picked up under Section 8(1) of the ISA after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is also Internal Security Minister, signed their detention order.’

Section 8 spells out the power of the minister to order the detention or the restriction of persons. Section 8(1) reads: ‘If the Minister is satisfied that the detention of any person is necessary with a view to preventing him from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of Malaysia or any part thereof or to the maintenance of essential services therein or the economic life thereof, he may make an order (hereinafter referred to as a detention order) directing that that person be detained for any period not exceeding two years.’

An important point in The Star report was the IGP’s warning of further arrests. It reported him as saying: ‘Other personalities who are involved or have links with any terrorist organization that could threaten or jeopardise national security will be picked up.’

This is a very serious warning and requires deep understanding, as it allegedly implicates terrorist organisations.

Was the IGP saying that he had proof to show that Hindraf was planning to use terrorist tactics, or that it had links with terrorist organisations outside the country?

In the post-Sept 11 (2001) world, when the United States of America and the Western countries are liberally using such terms as terror and terrorist organisations to detain, imprison and torture suspects, most of whom are Muslims, we must be absolutely sure when using the same terms.

We will most certainly feel apprehensive and unsafe if indeed our country is being threatened by acts of terrorism, more so when it is being perpetrated under a religious label, which, in this case, is the Hindu religion.

If Muslims are offended and feel threatened for being associated with terrorism, I am sure Malaysian Hindus feel the same way when they are being associated with terrorism.

But if there is proof that those who were involved in the Nov 25 demonstration were planning to use force or had links with international terrorist organisations, then the IGP owes an explanation to all Malaysians. He must prove that his stern warning is not a mere scare tactic.

When peace hangs in the balance.

ON the other hand, the use of the ISA is not a cure-all. Some of the grouses highlighted by Hindraf — like poverty, victimisation and alienation — cannot be solved by using force.

There are Malaysians of other races, especially the poor Malays, who sympathise with the Indian community because for every poor Indian, there are two or three poor Bumiputeras.

In fact, because there are more Bumiputeras than Indians in this country, the number of poor Bumiputeras is significantly higher than the minority Indians and Chinese.

By tackling these problems on the national instead of communal scale, the government is helping not just the poor, marginalized Indians but also all poor, marginalised Malaysians.

Furthermore, the implications of the ISA arrests will not end here.

The political, legal and intellectual responses to the action are already apparent. As expected, the action was widely condemned by the Opposition parties and civil society non-governmental organisations.

The reference to the courts via the writ of habeas corpus has started. The national Chairman of the Opposition Democratic Action Party, Karpal Singh, who is lawyer to Manoharan and Ganabatirau, has stated that he would file the suit to seek their release.

He has a fighting chance of getting them their freedom, although this does not stop the police from re-arresting them on other charges. The courts have in the past freed several ISA detainees after hearing their writ of habeas corpus suits (the habeas corpus is a writ, ordering prisoners to be brought before a court or a judge to ascertain whether their detention is lawful).

Furthermore, the courts have already been dragged into this quagmire when the police sought their injunction to stop the Bersih march to Parliament on Dec 11.

If the police, with its vast powers, had seen it fit to use the courts to stop the people from exercising their constitutional freedom, then what is there to stop the people from using the courts to protect their rights?

Coincidentally, the reference to the courts is happening at a time when the judiciary itself is under public scrutiny following the V K Lingam videotape controversy.

The reference to the courts is bound to be a new challenge to the judiciary, as it happened just days after the appointment of the new Chief Justice, Datuk Abdul Hamid Mohamad, and President of the Courts of Appeal, Tan Sri Zaki Azmi.

The legal fraternity, in particular, and the people, in general, will most certainly be watching every move and action of the judiciary with the hope that the new appointees would provide better leadership and clearer direction to the country’s judicial system.

These and other developments notwithstanding, the final and ultimate judgement of the government’s action can and will be seen only when the general election is held.

It is fair to speculate that the Malay voters, who are exposed only to the official and the mainstream media, will most likely continue to side with Umno and the Barisan Nasional (BN).

But the urban Malays and the non-Malays, especially the minority Indians, could pose a problem to the BN and its component parties. Its main Indian-based partner, the MIC, does not appear to be too confident and convincing in confronting the Hindraf movement.

The Chinese voters, on the other hand, are almost certain to send a strong message to the government based on their experience and perception as the community that controls the wheels of commerce.

Thus, the Prime Minister may be correct after all when he said that the best time and means to protest is via the ballot box. The voters will most certainly take up the challenge.

OF SIME AND VSS

IS the new Sime Darby Bhd, which was re-listed on Bursa Malaysia on Nov 30, going on a retrenchment exercise earlier than expected and in contravention of some of its earlier promises?

A few days ago, I happened to stumble onto a small piece of evidence that scores of drivers are being offered a voluntary separation scheme (VSS).

So, on Dec 19, I made a telephone call to Ms Tracey Goh at the company’s corporate communications office to request her to confirm or deny the news.

I will not make any comment or draw any conclusion from the series of responses in my e-mail exchanges with Ms Goh, partly because I do not want to be drawn into a debate over jargons and semantics.

Instead, I will publish them verbatim for all readers to read and draw their own conclusions.

Ms Goh’s first e-mail reads:

‘This is a short overview of the situation. Will revert with further answers to your questions. Many thanks. Kind regards, Tracey.’

‘Kuala Lumpur, December 19, 2007 — The Sime Darby Group is offering a Voluntary Separation Scheme (VSS) to 30 drivers in its transitioning exercise following the restructuring of provision of benefits for senior management staff.

‘However, those who opt for VSS can be re-employed by their respective bosses on personal basis and will still be able to retain their individual benefits apart from receiving their equitable voluntary compensation.

‘Senior management has already started approaching the drivers to re-employ them on personal basis.’

In response to her explanation, I sent the following e-mail: ‘Dear Ms Goh, ‘Our telephone conversation is referred.

‘The following has been brought to my attention:- ‘1. That Sime Darby — the new Sime Darby – is offering VSS to its drivers as of today, Dec. 19; ‘

2. If this is true, will it not be in breach of the promises made under the Sale of Business Agreement?;

‘3. A promise was allegedly made to the Hon. PM that everybody stays for at least a year after the acquisition of Golden Hope and Kumpulan Guthrie by Sime Darby; ‘4. If number 1 is true, am I right to assume that this is the commencement of a plan to reduce the group’s employment from around 107,000 now to 75,000 by June 2009?

‘Your response may be used for my Other Thots column in Malaysian Business and my blog The Scribe A Kadir Jasin.

‘Thank you.’

To that, Ms Goh sent the following e-mail response, also on Dec. 19:

‘Had a proper look at your questions and believe that our earlier response would have provided a good overview of the situation.

‘This is really a realignment of Senior Managers benefits. It is a VSS exercise and not a retrenchment. The Groups is principally re-structuring the provision of benefits for management staff.

‘Personalised drivers services are now moved from the being directly employed by the Company, and individuals impacted are compensated if they decide to employ these drivers on a personal basis.

‘HR conducted internal staff briefing to a pool of drivers to explain that the Groups is principally re-structuring the provision of benefits for senior management staff.

‘A Voluntary Separation Scheme (VSS) will be offered to all drivers to apply between 12-21 Dec 2007. After deciding the number of pool drivers each division requires, and considering each case, the VSS will be offered.

‘In addition, incumbent senior management are also approaching the drivers to re-employ them on a personal basis.

Drivers may continue employment with the incumbents in addition to being paid the VSS if they so choose.

‘The internal exercise is group wide impacting no more than 20-30 drivers only. Briefings have been conducted since last Wednesday to explain the situation.

‘As you can see, the drivers who opt for it may get re-employed by their existing bosses. If they do not apply for a VSS they can continue to be employed by the company. There is no compulsion in this matter.

‘Hope this helps shed light on the situation.’

On the same day, I sent her the following e-mail:

‘Dear Ms Goh, ‘Thank you for your reply, though you did not answer my questions. I may highlight these questions as background when I write my report either in Malaysian Business or my blog or both.’

Just to recap, my questions concerning the breach of the Sale of Business Agreement, the alleged promise to the Prime Minister and the plan to reduce employment from 107,000 to 75,000 by 2009 were not answered.

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