Tough man suited for a tough job

MALAYSIA - For Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the job of tackling crime is like facing war every day.

Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is regarded as a man of action who, in the quest to fulfil his responsibilities as Home Minister, is not afraid to crack the whip. As such, the seasoned politician is unmoved by the numerous controversies and criticisms that have come his way almost from day one on the job.

In an interview with The Star, he confides that his job now is like "facing war every day" but he declares his belief that if one is committed to the given responsibility, one will be able to overcome all challenges.

> Within months of assuming office, you have taken stern action in fighting crime, including naming 49 of the country's notorious triads. How do you feel about the job?

I am fortunate to have worked as Defence Minister and my experience enables me to act as Home Minister based on the concept of total defence. In the Barisan Nasional election manifesto, tackling crime was listed as the main priority of the coalition and this is what we intend to do. However, let us be reminded that tackling crime is not just the responsibility of enforcement authorities but the people as well. Both criminals and enforcement officers are colour blind. Our priority is to provide the best protection for the 28 million Malaysians.

> Which is more challenging, becoming Defence or Home Minister? Have you set any target?

In Mindef, the war is fought occasionally but in the Home Ministry, I am at war on a daily basis. I treat all ministerial posts as the same. There is none that is better or more important than the other. I believe that we must carry out our duties sincerely. If we are committed towards our responsibility, then it will precede any challenges. My objective is a situational objective. We are subjected to KPI (Key Performance Indicators) and last week, a review was done by the Prime Minister and the ministry's achievement as at end of June was about 78 per cent. I cannot claim this credit alone as it was also done by Datuk Seri Hishammuddin.

> Recent actions against gang members are being seen as the police being trigger happy. How do you deal with such perceptions?

Action taken by the police in these cases is according to their Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). They acted after conducting surveillance and, mind you, we are not talking about it being (done) over a day or two.

They have taken proactive measures to cripple the underworld.

> You revealed the list of secret societies recently. Should the police and public be worried about retaliation?

We have set up an elite force consisting of two special squads to face any retaliation but I don't feel it will come to that. At the same time, squad Charlie will be tackling serious crime cases while squad Delta will deal with drugs.

Fighting crime is the responsibility of all. I have been getting support even from the Opposition when I went down to Johor recently.

Two assemblymen, one from PKR and the other from DAP, said: "Whatever you are doing now, we support you as we are colour blind." In a recent forum, we had NGOs supporting our efforts to increase security and safety.

I also plan to meet with all chief editors and crime reporters to brief them. It doesn't matter if we don't get praises, but just appreciate our efforts. We don't want sympathy, just understanding.

> The repeal of the Emergency Ordinance (EO) has been attributed to the hike in serious crimes, including shooting cases. Why was the EO effective in curbing crime?

The EO is now history. Let's move forward. There are two existing laws - Crime Prevention Act 1959 and Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act 1985. If need be, we will table amendments or improvements to the Acts during the next parliament session. A panel of four ministers, Datuk Paul Low, Nancy Shukry, Datuk Idris Jala and I, will be heading a forum to discuss preventive laws.

> The recent shooting cases have been linked to rampant gun smuggling. How do you plan to boost security at the border?

I have prepared a Cabinet paper to get approval to upgrade the anti-smuggling unit (UPP) to a department. It also includes getting more scanners, working together with the Navy and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. Arms smuggling from neighbouring countries is very rampant, both through land and sea. We must also work with the Fisheries Department to tackle this. When the UPP becomes a fully fledged department, it will have more jurisdiction and power to fight smuggling be it in arms or subsidised goods. My cash flow projection is to get a five-fold of revenue compared to expenditure in forming the department once it is up and running.

> What about deaths in police custody? At what stage is the SOP for lockups and detainees being reviewed?

There have been 231 deaths in custody from 2000 to May this year, but only two deaths were from injuries caused by police personnel. There are NGOs claiming that a certain race has the highest number of deaths but, in fact, more Malay detainees have died while in custody.

We have taken proactive measures by setting up a centralised lock-up in Jinjang and soon all state police headquarters will have one too, complete with CCTVs.

And we will continue to review the SOP from time to time. We will also set up a board of inquiry and set up a Coroners' Court in every state.

> How do you plan to tackle street crimes?

Three steps. First, installing more CCTVs - and I will be asking the Finance Ministry to approve the purchase of high definition CCTVs. The police are also working closely with the Armed Forces to patrol hot spots. This started even when I was Defence Minister.

We have also set up the crime prevention department to create greater public awareness and will work closely with NGOS and boost volunteerism. The RakanCop and Skuad Muda KDN will be re-launched, the number of auxiliary police will be increased and there are plans to get more schools to have police cadets as part of co-curricular activities, with the hope that they will want to take up the profession later.

> On the Immigration's nationwide crackdown on illegal immigrants, how effective will it be as there are claims that those who are sent back can easily re-enter the country?

That was before we had biometric scanners. Now we have the biometric and Radio Frequency Identification Technology (RFID) so there's no chance for them to return to Malaysia without us knowing that they were once here illegally.

We will co-operate with other governments, starting with Indonesia and Bangladesh. We will also work closely with the Myanmar government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).