Royal Commission of Inquiry terms of reference are so narrow in Teoh’s case

Civil society and opposition leaders continued to press for justice for DAP political aide Teoh Beng Hock, urging Prime Minister Najib Razak to expand the terms of reference for the Royal Commission of Inquiry into his suspicious death after a marathon interrogation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

Ramon Navaratnam, a past president of Transparency International and the current chair of the MACC’s panel for prevention of corruption and consultation, appealed to the government to take note of the peoples’ wishes.

He urged Najib to embrace new thinking and fresh ideas, saying that the Royal Commission would only be credible if the government consulted civil society and other leaders before finalizing a fresh and beefed-up set of terms.

“I am disappointed that the terms of reference are so narrow. It is so difficult to get good people to join and under the aegis of the Royal Commission of Inquiry to just study procedures,” he told Suara Keadilan.

“I would have thought the Royal Commission would be charged to investigate the circumstances and environment leading to the tragic death of Mr Teoh Beng Hock.

“Then the Royal Commission would have been in an ideal position to examine the whole role of the MACC and to be able to make concrete and effective proposals to fight corruption – the major scourge in the country.

“I hope the goverment will take into account the deep and wide concerns of the people. There is still time to review and expand the terms of reference before members of the commission are appointed. Let this opportunity be seized.

“In drawing up the terms of reference for any public commission, it is always better to consult people from outside and who are concerned with the future of the country because sometimes if done in-house, there can be unhealthy inbreeding.

“Fresh thoughts and current thinking should be welcomed from the public and press. Then only will there be a truly effective and independent commission.”

Contradictory and self-limiting terms of reference

His words were echoed by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, who warned that the RCI proposed by Najib on Wednesday in its current form was mere whitewash.

“The terms of reference will definitely limit the investigation of the royal commission and will not succeed in stopping the erosion of people’s confidence in security and judicial institutions, and it will not answer the questions behind Teoh’s death,” said Anwar in a statement.

“It is not appropriate for an investigation to determine the cause of death to be handled by a magistrate, while the ongoing probe is handled by the Home Affairs Ministry and the police.

“I am confident that the people of Malaysia do not want this royal commission to end up like the investigation into the VK Lingam video and the assault by the former Inspector-General of Police on me.”

In a move to quell public anger, Najib had agreed to an independent investigation. But instead of dousing the fire, he may have fanned the flames even more.

On Wednesday, he announce the formation of the much-awaited RCI. But instead of investigating what led to Beng Hock’s death, the RCI he proposed would only review the MACC’s investigative procedures to determine if there were any human rights violations during his interrogation.

The PM also said an inquest would be separately conducted by a magistrate to determine Beng Hock’s death.

Severe loss of public confidence in federal institutions

Beng Hock, a 30-year old former journalist, was found dead outside the MACC building after he underwent a marathon investigation at its 14th floor office in Shah Alam, Selangor.

He was called in for questioning over a probe into his boss, Seri Kembangan assemblyman Ean Yong. Though the MACC repeatedly stressed he was merely a witness, it still grilled him mercilessly from 5pm on July 15 to 3.45am July 16.

The authorities gave no explanation for his death – discovered at 1.30pm on July 16 – except that he apparently “jumped”. The police initially also rushed to deny any signs of foul play.

But the ensuing public outcry was too great, clearly reflecting the severe loss in public confidence for the authorities.

Latest clues uncovered by the police have bolstered the widespread postulation that elements of foul play – whether intentional or not – were involved in his death.

Said prominent lawyer and MP for Puchong Gobind Singh Deo: “A magistrate has wide powers but only in so far as finding the circumstances leading to and the causes of death in that particular case are concerned. A magistrate may not go the extra distance to inquire into the propriety of the investigative procedures adopted on the deceased, as in the case of Teoh.

“A Royal Commission of Inquiry on the other hand may be asked to inquire into both. This means the RCI may look into the circumstances leading to and the causes of death of a person in custody and also the sufficiency or otherwise of measures existing to protect the rights of individuals who are detained for questioning.

“What comes across as strange in the decision of the cabinet is the separation of the two. If the cabinet did not feel it fit to set up a RCI, then one would fall back on an inquest. But where the cabinet decides to set up a RCI, then what is the logic behind separating the two?

“Not only would there be two separate hearings held, which will involve twice the time and cost, there could be a serious problem if the findings of both were different. That would result in an absurd and highly embarrassing position for the government.

“Having said that, how is the RCI going to focus on the events which led to the death of Teoh? Are they to rely on the findings of the Inquest or are they to reevaluate the whole case and if they are required to rely on the findings of the Magistrate, then what real purpose is there for the RCI if it cannot inquire and judge for itself the real facts of the case?”
SK
23/07/09

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