Down2Earth - EAIC proposal misplaced

THE Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission's (EAIC) proposal to bring the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) under its purview has sparked much discussion over the past two weeks.

The argument is that since the EAIC investigates complaints of abuse of power and irregular conduct against enforcement authorities including the police, then why should the MACC enjoy immunity from the EAIC?

EAIC chairperson Datuk Yaacob Md Sam had been quoted as calling for the deletion of Section 1(5) of the EAIC Act 2009 which exempts the MACC from EAIC jurisdiction.

Yaacob's proposal seems to hinge, among others, on the cases of two deaths in custody under the MACC.

Detractors of this proposal argue that the proposal does not make sense as the MACC already has five independent oversight panels which act as a watchdog over the MACC and the conduct of its officers.

Both the MACC and the EAIC were set up at the same time, with the MACC given full autonomy to preserve its independence.
The introduction of the oversight panels comprising eminent individuals from various sectors including corporate, civil society and the media is meant to work as the required check and balance.

In any case it has been six years since the enactment of both the EAIC and the MACC legislations. It has also been six years since the death of political aide Teoh Beng Hock and four years since the demise of Selangor Customs assistant director Ahmad Sarbani Mohamed when both were brought in for questioning.

So why wait all this time to demand yet another reporting level for the MACC? Especially when the EAIC has its hands full investigating police custodial deaths?

Is this meant to be a reaction or complement to the assault on the MACC in relation to the 1MDB investigations leak, where two senior officers were briefly transferred to the Prime Minister's Department?

Could the suggestion to do away with Section 1(5) be the EAIC's way of protecting the independence of the MACC from the interference of powerful third parties?

Or is the EAIC positioning itself as a protector of the interest of the third parties?

Irrespective of intentions, before making the proposal Yaacob should first ask if the commission has the capacity to take on another agency.

With only 72 staff, it is reasonable to assume that the EAIC is biting off more than it can chew.

Even former EAIC chief executive Nor Afizah Hanum Mokhtar acknowledged that a lack of manpower was hampering effective investigations into police custodial deaths.

Yaacob had revealed that the EAIC received 262 complaints between January and October this year.
Last year, the number of complaints was 309, 306 in 2013 and 357 in 2012.

My experience in getting the EAIC to investigate claims of abuse by immigration officers in Putrajaya last year, tells me that the EAIC is already way over its head.

Can the EAIC please tell me what has happened to report numbers EAIC 600 (S)-1/1/2014-98 and EAIC 600 (S)-1/1/2014-99?
This was the case of zumba instructor, Colombian national David Velez, who spent eight days at the immigration lock-up despite having proper work permits.

He related the horrors of being detained in a cubicle with one ventilation hole, with about 60 foreigners.

He had alleged there were elements of corruption as some of the wardens were upset that he had no money on him.

It was only after former Colombian president Andreas Pastrana was informed of Velez's plight that the latter was freed when officers from the Prime Minister's Department showed up at the detention centre.

I had accompanied Velez and his then girlfriend (now wife) Chew Vee Lyn to the MACC where they met the chief commissioner, Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed, to relate their ordeal.

Abu Kassim referred them to the EAIC saying the elements of abuse of power were more distinguishable than corruption, although he did not dismiss the latter.

The couple were accompanied by senior MACC officials to the EAIC where they spent three hours giving their report.

Many follow-ups were done with the EAIC, including by the likes of Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Paul Low.
Yet today, 20 months since Velez's detention, nothing has happened.

EAIC CEO Kamal Bahrin Omar, however, tells me that the notification to Velez is in the mail, where the EAIC had made its recommendations.

However any further queries including action at immigration level needed me to write in officially.

The question then is if the EAIC is sincere in addressing abuse of power, did it at least visit the detention centre to find out if Velez was telling the truth of detainees crammed like sardines with limited access to drinking water?

Although it does not have prosecution powers, it can investigate cases of public interest.

So perhaps instead of demanding to widen its scope, the EAIC should first see to it that it has the capacity to be effective in addressing complaints, seeing them to their end – or is the MACC a means to an end? A clever way to get more funding and manpower by adding another agency to the current 21?

How will bringing the MACC under the purview of the EAIC be of any significance to the public when it is impotent in addressing complaints on other enforcement agencies?

However one must remember that the EAIC, which costs about RM7 million a year to operate, is only as effective as the system allows it to be.

The EAIC after all was set up as a compromise to the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) – following objections from Bukit Aman.

The true barometer to the effectiveness of the EAIC is how the agencies respond to the findings of the commission; and if the Attorney-General's Chambers has charged officers implicated in EAIC reports.

The answer to this question is a disappointing "no". Which is why one cannot be blamed for presuming that instead of reinstilling confidence in enforcement agencies, the EAIC is an expensive public relations dud.

Terence feels that just like Transformers, there's more than meets the eye in the EAIC's proposal.