ACB Stock – Letting the police handle police corruption – have we not learned from decades-old lessons?
PROFESSOR Jon S.T. Quah began doing research on corruption in 1977 when it was not fashionable or politically correct to do so. Today, more than 30 years later, he is still writing and giving presentations on corruption and governance in Asian Countries, public personnel management in Asian countries, administrative reforms in Singapore, and public policy in Singapore.
There are two stories he has not failed to share when he writes and presents on corruption, particularly on anti-corruption agencies (ACA). Each story led to the setting up of two of the most effective and successful ACAs in the Asia Pacific, if not the world.
The first story tells us about how widespread corruption was in Singapore during the British colonial period because the government lacked political will and made the serious mistake of relying on the Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) to combat graft. In other words, the government had relied on the police to combat corruption in the police force.
The story then tells us of what was known as the Opium Hijacking scandal of October 1951 when a gang of robbers, including three police detectives, was caught stealing 1,800 pounds of opium, which exposed the police’s inability to curb corruption. Consequently, the ACB was replaced by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), which was established a year later in September 1952. Learning from the British colonial government’s weak political will and mistake, the People’s Action Party (PAP) government retained the CPIB after assuming power in Singapore in June 1959 and strengthened it with more legal powers, budget, personnel and operational autonomy.
Today, the CPIB is more than just an effective and successful ACA. It is an institution that has earned its stripes fighting corruption among the country’s most powerful individuals – both in the police force and in Parliament. Through a record of successful actions against corrupt individuals, the CPIB has shown that it investigates any case in which corruption may be involved. It has been a driving force in making Singapore one of the least corrupt nations on earth.
The second story tells us of similar serious corruption problems in Hong Kong as the British colonial government too relied on the police to combat corruption. Like the colonial government in Singapore, the government relied on the ACB of the CID of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force (RHKPF) to combat corruption even though the police were notoriously corrupt. Despite the ACB being upgraded to become the Anti-Corruption Office (ACO) in 1971, it remained ineffective in dealing with rampant police corruption.
The escape of a corruption suspect, then chief police superintendent Peter Godber, in June 1973, to Britain became the straw that broke the camel’s back. It angered the public and compelled Governor Murray MacLehose to appoint a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) to investigate the circumstances of Godber’s escape. MacLehose accepted the RCI’s recommendation to establish the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) ICAC as an independent ACA on 15 February 1974.
What do the stories tell us? I can do no better than quote from Professor Quah:
“The success of Singapore and Hong Kong in combating corruption can be attributed to their rejection of the ineffective British colonial government’s method of relying on the police to curb corruption and their reliance instead on the CPIB and ICAC, respectively. Singapore took 15 years (1937-1952) and Hong Kong needed 26 years (1948-1974) to learn the important lesson of not relying on the police to curb corruption when police corruption is rampant.”
According to the learned professor, “the first best practice is never to let the police handle the task of controlling corruption. This would be like giving candy to a child, expecting that it would not be eaten.”
It is therefore mind-boggling that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has not adopted the “first best practice”. Instead, its chief commissioner has said that it “does not intend to interfere in the Royal Malaysian Police’s (PDRM) ‘cartel’ issue because it is the department’s internal problem.”
The wisdom of not relying on the police to handle the task of investigating police corruption seems lost on Azam Baki, who has expressed his confidence in the ability and credibility of PDRM to address the issue.
It is similarly mind-boggling that the Minister in Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and law) Takiyuddin Hassan should say that “there is no need to establish a RCI into claims made by Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Abdul Hamid Bador that a group of junior officers is out to topple him.”
Have we not learned from decades-old lessons?
Importantly as well, and as rightly pointed out by Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo, was not the MACC set up to promote the integrity and accountability of both the private and public sector administrations? (Section 2 of the MACC Act 2009).
And does not the Act make it a law for the officers of the MACC to “detect and investigate” suspected offences under the Act and “to examine the practices, systems and procedures of public bodies” in order to facilitate the discovery of offences under the Act? (Section 7 of the Act). – March 28, 2021.
* Hafiz Hassan reads The Malaysian Insight.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.