The lovely thing about being a Malaysian is that once in a long while, a pleasant surprise springs upon you when you least expect it. One such surprise was the political tsunami in March last year.
Earlier this week, another surprise was sprung upon unsuspecting Malaysians. Lawyer Gobind Singh Deo submitted a mysterious letter to magistrate Azmil Mustapha Abas who is acting as the coroner in the inquest. After reading the five-page letter, the magistrate ordered the police investigating officer ASP Ahmad Asri Zainal to look into matters raised in the letter immediately, and the court was adjourned.
The Internet was abuzz with all kinds of speculations regarding the content of this mysterious letter written in by an anonymous person. Apparently it was sent to quite a few persons including some members of parliament. Despite some dispute over whether the magistrate had imposed a gag order on the letter, it was impossible for it to remain a secret for long.
Sure enough, we had to wait for the indomitable Raja Petra Kamarudin to post the content of the letter on his website Malaysia Today. Within hours, it was translated into English and Chinese, and went the round in cyberspace like wild fire. The comments that exploded on blogs and websites was nothing less than deafening.
Writers claim to be MACC officers
We all know anonymous letters are seldom taken seriously in Malaysia. They are mostly malicious poison-pen letters written out of spite for certain individuals by throwing all kinds of unsubstantiated allegations against them. The common thinking is that if a person is afraid of putting his name in a letter he writes, then there is no credibility to the claims in his letter.
But the mysterious letter that surfaced in Teoh’s inquest is different. It is written with a MACC letterhead by writers who claim to be MACC officers who cannot tolerate the corruption and abuse of power within their organisation. The style of writing and the tone of the voice suggest no malice at all, but plenty of anguish for justice to be done. This looks like a whistle-blower’s letter.
A whistle-blower is one who blows the whistle on wrongdoings by individuals and a group of people within his organisation. The term is derived from the practice of the English cops called “Bobbies”, whenever they discover the commission of a crime in public places, to alert other law-enforcement officers and members of the public.
In 2007, we have our own famous whistle-blower Mohamad Abdul Ramli Manan, the former ACA Sabah chief. Just prior to his retirement, he made the explosive revelation about allegations of massive corruption and sexual assault by his boss, the ACA chief Zukipli Mat Nor. Malaysiakini carried his allegations and broke the story to the world.
The police grilled him for 10 hours but nothing seemed to have been done after that. A Parliamentary Select Committee set up to investigate both Zukipli and Ramli was called off. Until today, I cannot recall whether the case was indeed investigated thoroughly during those days before the political tsunami in 2008. That episode probably had something with the setting up of the MACC to replace the old ACA.
Upon his retirement, Ramli discovered to his dismay that the government had held back his pension and other benefits, and he had to make ends meet by working part-time in a law firm. He did sue the government for what he claimed was rightfully his. Can somebody tell me whether he has been successful in his court battle? We Malaysians do have such short memory.
Whistle-blowing takes great courage
Ramli’s persecution does go to show why people generally are reluctant to be whistle-blowers. They tend to be regarded by their colleagues and their superiors as “snitchers” and “traitors” to their co-workers in their own organisation, especially in uniformed organisations like the police and the MACC. They must be fearing for their life after they have blown the whistle. Whistle blowing takes great courage and personal integrity.
In recent times, the person synonymous with whistle-blowing is probably Jeffery Wigan. He was the one-time top executive with the huge American tobacco firm Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp, making US$300,000 per year.
He blew the whistle on his former employer’s lies about the danger and addiction of smoking, and his deposition in a Mississippi courtroom compelled the tobacco company to a litigation settlement of US$246 billion.
He suffered greatly for his courageous act. His wife divorced him, and he needed the protection of armed guards around the clock. Though he was made famous by the ’60 minutes’ TV programme, he could never be hired in the corporate world. He ended up working as a teacher in a high school making US$30,000 a year.
In one interview with the press, Wigan expressed his dislike for the label of a ‘whistle-blower’. “The word whistle-blower suggests that you’re a tattle-tale or that you’re somehow disloyal,” he says. “But I wasn’t disloyal in the least bit. People were dying. I was loyal to a higher order of ethical responsibility.”
Wigan’s ordeal was made into a famous film ‘The Insider’ with Russell Crowe playing the lead role. Wigan felt he was vindicated by the positive reaction from the film.
Laws needed to protect whistle-blowers
Some countries are just beginning to pass laws to protect whistle-blowers. In the UK, the Public Interest Disclosure Act was passed in 1998 to protect whistle-blowers from persecution. There are similar laws in the US as well.
That kind of laws to protect whistle-blowers is precisely what Malaysia needs if we are serious about weeding out corruption in public life. But from the way things are going, we definitely have to wait for a change of federal government for this to happen.
Therefore, it should not surprise us that the whistle-blowers who wrote that explosive letter on MACC senior officer’s close relationship with a prominent politician and his many misdeeds would want to remain anonymous.
If the authorities would promise protection to the whistle-blower(s), and a job transfer perhaps, these whistle-blowers may be prepared to step forth as witnesses in the Teoh inquest. But that would be too much to expect from our Malaysian authorities.
The letter is so believable to many netizens because its content answers many of the puzzling questions hanging in the air. It explains why a former menteri besar was never investigated for his RM24 million palace. It explains also why the MACC in Selangor are so keen to investigate into alleged corruption involving small sums of money by Selangor Pakatan Rakyat exco members. It may even point the way to the real cause of Teoh’s death.
The magistrate was indeed wise in ordering an immediate police probe into the allegations contained within the letter. The details contained in the letter can be verified or falsified by the police, as long as they are not selective or biased in their investigation. If the magistrate had rejected the letter outright just because it is anonymous, the credibility and the moral authority of the entire inquest proceedings would have gone down the drain.
The hearing has been adjourned to Monday. We shall watch closely and find out the truth in a day’s time.
The whole nation is watching.
Questions over “tip-off” regarding MACC and Teoh Beng Hock
By Pak Bui of Hornbill Unleashed
The anonymous letter written by “MACC Officers” in Officialese (mind-numbing bureaucratic language) has stirred up a swarm of questions. RPK, as usual, has done Malaysians a favour, by stimulating debate, and publishing the anonymous letter in full on the Malaysia Today website.
Could it be true?
One obvious question is: are the allegations against a senior Selangor MACC official true? We should adhere to the age-old tenet that any indicted person is innocent until proven guilty. But the Selangor MACC’s record speaks for itself.
The Selangor MACC launched a rabid attack on the PR government, “probing” allocations of funds of less than RM2500. It appears unlikely that Umno can unseat PR’s Selangor government by fair means, because Khalid’s administration has performed well overall, as Nizar’s did in Perak.
Since Hee Yit Foong cannot be convinced to defect to Selangor, BN must seek other foul means to topple PR. The MACC’s ham-fisted investigations should be seen against a backdrop of Umno trying to smear Khalid Ibrahim’s name, trying to intimidate PR elected representatives through police raids, and trying to stir up racial hatred using the Utusan Malaysia attack-dogs.
If you can’t beat them, slow them down and harass them, seems to be the overall strategy. If Teoh Beng Hock was sacrificed as an innocent victim in these “investigations”, well, you know the old saying: you can’t make a witch-hunt without breaking a few hearts.
In contrast, the PKFZ scandal in Klang, Selangor, has cost us taxpayers at least RM12 billion, while the MACC and police sit on their hands. And the PKFZ scandal continues to beget little baby scandals, including Tiong King Sing’s allegations of stuffing Ong Tee Keat’s pockets with RM10 million.
Perhaps the visual impact of these numbers would be best appreciated by listing them down.
RM 12,000,000,000 = PKFZ
RM 1,000,000,000 = Kuala Dimensi’s reported over-billing
RM 10,000,000 = ATM Donation
RM 2,500 = Flag Allocation
Therefore, the MACC’s name has been dragged through the dirt. Umno and the MACC top brass continue to grind it into the dust with their jackboots.
So if the contents of the letter are true, it would not be in the least surprising that a senior MACC officer behaved in this repulsive manner.
Who wrote the letter?
There is an impressive amount of MACC investigation material, quoted in minute detail. The letter employs jargon and it has an insider’s feel. It is entirely conceivable it was written by an MACC officer.
It may, of course, have been written by a retired MACC officer, a policeman, or a senior member of Khir Toyo’s former administration, or an angry member of the public with some inside information.
If you can disregard for a moment whatever you think of the police or MACC, you will not deny there are some honest and upright police officers and MACC staff in the service.
Imagine yourself as such a person of integrity, trying to protect society from crime: any such civil servant (in the original sense of the term) would be seething at the state of affairs in these crippled institutions. It is not hard to imagine such a person could become an anonymous whistle-blower.
I have met one such MACC officer from Selangor, who was proud to have uncovered graft in his state, including among senior police officers and other government servants.
Why blow the whistle?
In societies with better checks and balances, whistle-blowers are protected from retaliation by their employers – even if their employers are government departments. For instance, in the Queensland Whistleblowers Protection Act 1994 in Australia, reprisal is an indictable crime.
The Act, “in the public interest, gives special protection to disclosures about unlawful, negligent or improper public sector conduct or danger to public health or safety or the environment”.
Under this law, if an employer tries to retaliate against an officer who discloses information about administrative crimes against the public interest, the employer may be jailed for up to two years!
One day, under a more enlightened two-party political system, Malaysians may be able to press the government to pass such a law in our own country, to improve transparency in our own public institutions.
But in the final analysis, it does not matter who the author of the letter is, as long as the information is found to be accurate and is a step in the direction of providing justice for Teoh Beng Hock’s family. The letter contains disturbing information that the senior MACC officer liked to interrogate suspects by pulling them up by their belts. Could this have led to Teoh’s torn trousers and played a part in his violent death?
We should welcome the action of the magistrate in the inquest into Teoh’s death, Azmil Muntapha Abas, of suspending the court inquiry. The inquest should be held up until the truth behind the scandal described in the letter is uncovered.
This letter of disclosure makes it even more urgent that the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Teoh Beng Hock’s last hours of life must have access to this letter. The Royal Commission must have their terms of reference widened to replace this coroner’s inquest – an inquest that has far less authority and less powe
Why was this letter written?
One answer may be, as pointed out, that an officer of integrity felt it was his or her duty to the public good. We can only admire such courage. We can also imagine the horror such an officer would feel, forced to work day after day under the current cynical regime.
Others may speculate that the writer might be an envious rival at work, a spurned lover, an MACC officer with a secret passion for the DAP (although nearly all MACC officers are Malay), or all of the above. These possibilities would be more convincing if the Selangor MACC officers had conducted themselves with more dignity, before and after Teoh’s death.
Public anger continues to simmer, over the MACC’s response to Teoh’s death. The top brass of the MACC shrugged their shoulders. They made ludicrous claims that Teoh “had already been released”. They lied that they did not have Teoh’s mobile phone in their custody. And they could not explain their delay in reporting the discovery of Teoh’s broken body.
Does anonymity make it less credible?
If the information in the letter is genuine, it would be completely understandable for the author to want his or her identity to remain concealed. The threat of retaliation, not excluding a threat to the author’s life, would be real.
We can compare this with the poison-pen books written against Anwar and Khalid Ibrahim. The authors would have the entire state and judicial apparatus behind them, if they came out in the open with their accusations. Yet the books carry no author’s or publisher’s name. They are obviously afraid of litigation.
Which author would you think carries greater credibility?