July 18, 2009

In Memory of Teoh Beng Hock

Posted in Malaysia at 8:11 pm by egalitaria

Much has already been said about the death of the late Mr. Teoh Beng Hock, political aide to Selangor State Government Exco member YB Ean Yong, and I understand the great anger and sadness being expressed by the public to this effect. I do not know whether what I will share here will be of any use to anyone, but I would like to express my experience of the matter as a colleague of Teoh’s in the State Government (as an aide of the Menteri Besar) in the same Selangor administration. I was not close to Teoh, but being colleagues in the same building we were of course acquainted and I would see him at State events and press conferences.

Words cannot express the deep shock that many of the aides went through when news of Teoh’s death came through. It is no different for me. The fact there this young man, aged 30, was merely assisting in an investigation of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) as a witness and not a suspect, fell to his death at the same building the MACC is located reeked suspicious from the very start. Any one of us as aides could have been equally tantamount to the treatment received by Teoh of the MACC – although the facts of this have not been determined – and this has been a traumatic time for all of us.

Deeper than the trauma stirs a great, great anger that is ready to implode. The anger stems from the knowledge that Teoh’s death is a result of MACC’s treatment towards him during interrogations. Teoh was believed to have fallen to his death from the 14th floor of Plaza Masalam, where the MACC’s office was located. The official post-mortem report states that the cause of death was multiple injuries from a high fall. Whatever the reason for this fall – suicide or otherwise – it must be stated clearly that the MACC must be held responsible.

The MACC’s responsibility is to ensure that any case of corruption is investigated and the culprit revealed. The manner in which they acted here was most unbecoming of a Commission that is supposed to be the bastion of justice, transparency and governance. Instead, their actions shamefully display the very reversal of a commitment towards truth.

First, the case began with the mere speculation on someone’s blog that there were State Exco members involved in misallocation of funds. YB Ean Yong was one of the seven assemblymen being investigated, and the accusation in his particular case was that he had paid RM2400 for 1500 Malaysian flags used in Merdeka Day celebrations in 2008, without actually receiving them for the suppliers. The measly amount of RM2400 surely cannot justify the way in which Teoh was treated, interrogated from 6pm till 3.45am of the following day. Surely corruption cases involving millions of Ringgit are more worth the time and effort of the MACC, and not petty cases as this.

As such, even by the largest stretch of the imagination, that if this case was indeed one of corruption, it is absolutely clear that the MACC was overzealous and making a mountain out of a molehill – which in turn causes minds to question its political neutrality. If instructions were given to play up this case – and that of other assemblymen – then the independence of the MACC has all but disappeared. This incident is the final nail in its coffin, from the public’s point of view. It will be impossible for it to reclaim public trust and confidence from hereon.

Second, the manner of interrogations is also suspicious. Boon Hwa, a councillor from the Kajang town municipality, was questioned in the same case and shared at a press conference that the interrogations involved standing at attention for four hours in a row, without food or drink. Threats were made to beat him up, and mention of his family was made, should he not give the answers they wanted. He was jeered at, with humiliating calls of “Cina Bodoh!” shouted at his face – “Stupid Chinese”, an utter racist remark and itself the most shameful display of an institution of the MACC. This is a far cry from the 1Malaysia concept that the Prime Minister Najib Razak has attempted to introduce.

Although this is speculation, many wonder if Teoh was subject to similar treatment. Psychological and mental abuse that may have taken place is not the role of the MACC. It was said that Teoh was inexperienced in this regard, and being for the first time interrogated in an anti-corruption case, could have been shaken and traumatised. Although his lawyer and boss told him exactly what to do and what to say, his frailty may have caused his interrogators to draw greater strength from their imaginary power and muscle.

Third, it is unclear as to whether the MACC did indeed act according to the laws that govern them. I am not a lawyer and this should be clarified with detailed analysis. Whatever the jurisdiction of the MACC, any witness or suspect in a case should be allowed to have an accompanying lawyer. The length of time allowed for interrogation should not extend to the wee hours of the morning. The numbers of officers should be clearly specified, along with recordings of any statements made during the course of the interrogation done – both in audio and video format. If the MACC was acting outside of its legal powers, action must be taken immediately. Again, this is subject to legal analysis.

Fourth, the MACC was responsible for Teoh as he was being interviewed in their premises. Their current claim is that once interrogations ended at 3.45am, Teoh was allowed to return home but instead he requested to rest in their office. Except for someone who saw him at 6am, nobody else apparently saw him until his body was found at 1.30pm subsequently. MACC’s stand is that because he was released, they were no longer responsible for where he went and what he did.

The story seems strange because Teoh had his car parked at the basement of the building. Would it not make sense for him to have left as soon as possible? Even if he did want to rest at the office, his handphone would have been returned to him (since “interrogations were already over”), and some contact would have been established with his friends and family members, surely. However, no communication was made as far as has been reported to date.

The MACC would surely have monitored Teoh’s comings and goings. As a key witness that would warrant such thorough investigations through the night, surely his presence was important. Surely some record would have been noted, of his having officially left the building’s premises. Whatever the case, the response that nobody knew where he was – is weak and irresponsible.

Teoh was a quiet character who must have been thoroughly enthused about working in a new state administration. I cannot speak on his behalf, but the reason I have chosen to work in this Pakatan State government is because I want to contribute to a cause I believe in. To better socioeconomic policies in the view of fairness for the sake of the rakyat. I am sure Teoh was no different. Spurred on by the results of the March 8th General Elections, hope for a budding democracy had begun. Although the actual management and administration of the State has not been easy, nor without error, the struggle to create a better society is real.

As a young person, I resonate with his desire to contribute so willingly to this cause. His death cannot be in vain. Although it may spark fears amongst the young – and their parents – as to the grave political dangers of this working environment, I believe with a greater urgency and fervour that this is the right thing to do.

It can no longer be mere speculation that we as Malaysians are living in a system of darkness, corrupt and unfair practices. The treatment of a youthful, innocent man could be the same treatment given to any commoner on the street should he be hauled up by the MACC. What justice is available to an ordinary rakyat? No, the need to raise up a new generation of people to transform Malaysia to a nation of hope, justice, peace and good governance is even more necessary.

Along with many others, I call for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the death of the late Teoh Beng Hock. The inquiry must be independent, transparent and conducted by individuals of the highest integrity. This has been a rare first political death of its kind, and should changes not be made immediately to the  rotten system of Malaysia, the question looms dark in our minds: Who will fall prey as the next victim?