The Malaysian public has been told that the first draft of a new special preventive law, similar to the Emergency Ordinance (EO) has been sent to the Attorney General’s Chambers for consideration.
Since ‘preventive detention’ appears to be at the crux of the proposed law, a number of concerned citizens have expressed their reservations--- and rightly so. To provide another avenue for preventive detention (it is still in our statute books) through this or any other law is a serious matter.
The public has to be convinced that the 2000 criminals released after the repeal of the EO in 2011 are responsible for the violent crimes that have occurred in the last two years. There is no hard evidence to show this. The USM study led by criminologist, Dr. P. Sundramoorthy --- as reported in the media--- which has become the basis for the shift in the Government’s position on the EO does not provide the statistical data nor the empirical analysis to support such a contention. Perhaps the entire study should be made available to the public.
In the absence of incontrovertible evidence, I am more inclined to believe psychologist and criminologist, Dr. Geshina Ayu Mat Saat, who says that “there is a very tenuous link between the abolition of the Emergency Ordinance (EO) and the recent spate of violent crime.” In fact, long-term observers of Malaysian society would argue that violent crimes have taken place for many, many years. We forget that the increasing crime rate --- dramatized by some violent ones --- was one of the major issues in the 2008 General Election, a good three years before the repeal of the EO.
What criminologists, the police and Malaysian society as a whole should focus upon are new and more innovative ways of dealing with some of the underlying causes of crime. Drug addiction which we have not been able to curb after more than four decades seems to be a recurring reason for thefts, robberies and burglaries. Widening social disparities, an oft cited explanation for crime, is yet another challenge that demands our collective attention.
At the same time, meticulous intelligence gathering, effective police surveillance, thorough investigations, capable prosecution and appropriate penalties would go a long way to reducing crime. A significant police presence in public places and housing areas would also have a deterrent effect upon the would-be criminal. In other words, the repeal of the EO is an opportunity for the police to enhance their competence and their professionalism.
Re-introducing preventive detention through the EO is not an option even if there are safeguards against abuse. It is a blemish upon the concept and practise of the rule of law--- one of the cardinal principles of the Rukunegara --- for the simple reason that the right to a fair trial is essential to the rule of law. And giving meaning and substance to the rule of law is the hallmark of a society that is committed to just governance.