Behind the controversy over the PPS lies another aspect that should be considered. Ours is a highly centralised federal system that has grown even more centralised in the decades after Merdeka.
Since Merdeka, more and more powers that used to be fall under local or state governments have been centralised in the hands of the federal government. Think of sewerage services which previously came under the local councils. The federal government has also taken over the management of water assets.
Almost every essential service now comes under the federal government: education, water, health care, police, airports, ports, etc. Even toll collection along the Penang Bridge eventually ends up in federal coffers when the first bridge has been repaid many times over.
This leaves the state government with very little powers, apart from land matters, collection of quit rent, etc.
More than that, it is not just that power is centralised in the federal government. Power has also been heavily centralised in the hands of the Executive, especially the office of the Prime Minister. That is partly why you have the Prime Minister’s Department, with a whole array of departments below it, now with a budget of billions of ringgit, dwarfing all other ministries. Does this have to be the case, does it make sense, under a federal system?
To compound matters, elections to local government were suspended in the mid-1960s, under the pretext of the Confrontation with Indonesia.
If we look at other nations, we can see how a decentralised federal system can work, perhaps even more effectively and with even greater accountability and with greater participation in the decision-making process. In countries like Australia and India, for instance, apart from the federal or national police force, each state has its own state police force. The state police in India, for example, is responsible for maintaining law and order in townships of the state and the rural areas (see Wikipedia).
So I would look at the controversy over the PPS in this light: I believe it is also question of how much power a state or local government should have over local and community policing in a federal system like ours, which I think should be more decentralised.
Perhaps it is time to look more closely and dispassionately at how a federal system like ours can operate more effectively, democratically and with greater accountability and participatory decision-making at all levels – local, state and federal.
Anyway, here is the Chief Minister’s response to the PPS issue, in case it is not carried in the mainstream media:
The Inspector-General of Police(IGP) Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar should get down from his arrogant pedestal and remember that he is not sacrosanct or a “sacred cow” who can not be criticized, but a mere public servant paid by the people to perform his statutory duty to fight crime. If Khalid puts as much effort in fighting crime and criminals as fighting to defend himself and against those expressing their opinions, then Malaysia would be a much safer place.
Khalid should not be misusing the country’s criminal or punitive laws against criticism against himself but instead rely on defamation laws to clear his name. Using criminal laws against his detractors when Khalid has full resources at his disposal as the IGP, would place his critics in an unfair and unequal position. Will Khalid fight fair by resorting to civil courts of defamation against those who he alleged had defamed him?
The Penang state government wishes to verify claims by Penang police chief Senior Deputy Comm Datuk Wira Abdul Rahim Hanafi that eleven of the 156 Penang Voluntary Patrol or Pasukan Peronda Sukarela (PPS) unit members detained, have criminal records involving theft, robbery, drugs, triad-related offences and even homicide. Similarly, those whose urine tests were tested positive could be due to medication taken for illnesses.
The Penang state government would also seek to verify whether there had been any police reports or allegations against these 11 whilst they were performing their voluntary role in the PPS. Otherwise it would be unfair to tar the entire PPS comprising of 9,000 people with purported information of the background of a few members. Should the 120,000 police personnel also be similarly treated just because of the actions of the few policemen who were involved in cold-blooded murder by C4 explosives, caused custodial deaths, commited crimes like robbery or abused their powers by being involved in corruption?
The Penang state government had stressed that no PPS member would be protected if they commit any offences or break the law but will be subjected to the full force of punishment. The people of Penang can attest to the good work the PPS had done, in particular helping the public and police to carry out voluntary community policing.
Unfortunately the BN controlled media, including some in the Chinese press, has adopted the BN position of being anti-PPS. The Penang state government wishes to reiterate that the PPS has never received any written complaints by the police against the PPS as a whole. If there were any such complaints, these would have been communicated by the police to Penang State EXCO member Phee Boon Poh or myself.
It is regrettable that the same BN controlled media has twisted the PPS into a political issue to fix up the Penang PR state government. The Penang state government had established PPS to provide emergency relief in accidents, emergency and rescue services and also in response to the call by police to strengthen community policing to fight crime. The state government has inherent powers to set up such a body in the same manner that Jawatankuasa Kemajuan dan Keselamaan Kampung(JKKK) or JKKK(P) was established by the Federal government.
Followng the arrests of the 156 and whilst awaiting the pronouncement in courts of their arrests, the Penang state government had announced that all PPS members would be “rested” from carrying their voluntary work and not be wearing their uniform vests. This shows that the Penang state government respects the rule of law and the decisions by the courts.
In the meantime we hope that the police would address the public concerns of the absence of community policing, accidents and emergency rescue services without the voluntary work of the 9,002 PPS participants. The Penang state government remains committed to a safer Penang and to maintain Penang’s status as the safest state in Malaysia.
LIM GUAN ENG