By Wan Saiful Wan Jan. First published in Free Malaysia Today 24 August 2016
These days it is easy to find reasons to be upset with the police force. Social media is full of various allegations that the police are corrupt, that they abuse their powers, and that they are influenced by partisan politics.
People may have their own reasons to make these accusations but we must not forget that the security forces, including the police, play a vital role to ensure our safety and security.
I was disappointed when Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor stated that he did not want to declare his assets due to fear for the safety of his family. He was quoted by local media as saying “I used to be a businessman and have a lot of assets. I am also afraid if I declare, my children and wife may be kidnapped. People could rob us. Anything can happen.”
This statement is akin to saying that the police cannot be trusted. If the ministers were to do the right thing and declare their assets to the public, then they will be putting themselves and their families in danger.
The minister was insinuating that he believes the police are likely to fail in their duties to ensure the safety and security of all citizens, especially the families of our politicians.
This public declaration by the minister is unnecessary. He may deny that he meant it that way. But that is the real implication of his statement.
As a minister, he and his family receives a higher level of protection compared with regular people like you and me. If someone as protected as Tengku Adnan feels that the police do not deserve our trust, what hope do we have as lay people?
That is why I think the statement is unwarranted. The reality is, our police force has never failed to ensure the security of our politicians. They work hard day and night to ensure that nothing bad would happen to them.
The police force does not deserve such a public implied criticism. The police deserve a higher level of appreciation from all of us.
The recent lacklustre celebration of Warriors Day is another symptom of our society’s declining appreciation of the police force, and the armed forces generally.
Many people don’t even know that Warriors Day is celebrated every year on July 31 to commemorate the sacrifice and dedication of our armed forces, including the police. This is sad and we need to fix the situation.
At this stage I must declare a vested interest in this issue. My late father was a police officer. He retired in the mid-1980s and his last posting was at Balai Polis Beseri in Perlis. So, whenever we talk about the police force, I am a bit biased in their favour.
Of course I understand that there are weaknesses in the police force. The police themselves have taken actions on their officers when they are proven to have committed an offence.
Just last month Zulkifli Abdullah, PDRM’s Management Director, reiterated that police officers risk disciplinary action if they break the rules. They have even set up the Integrity and Standards Compliance Department to make sure problems can be quickly addressed.
There are weaknesses that are more systemic and require closer attention too.
However, although on the one hand we certainly must make sure the weaknesses are corrected, it is also important to check whether our police force is sufficiently funded and properly resourced to shoulder the responsibilities we impose upon them.
I did a quick search for the salary structure in our PDRM and was shocked when I found the information. According to the website of the Public Service Commission, the salary of a support police constable starts from a mere RM852 per month. The salaries of a full Constable starts at just RM1,014 per month and Sergeant at RM1,711 per month.
Even an Inspector starts at just RM2,329 per month, although the minimum requirement to become an Inspector is a Bachelor’s degree from a recognised university.
Yes, they may receive additional allowances that may increase their take home pay. But the allowances are relatively small and will not make a very big difference to their actual income.
The starting pay is certainly very low. I think even some illegal migrant workers could earn a higher take home pay compared with the basic salaries of these police personnel. How is it justifiable that the people who work day and night to ensure our safety are paid so little?
The government needs to re-examine the pay structure of important institutions like the police force. We have such a high expectation on them and it is only reasonable that they are compensated appropriately.
The question, however, is where the money will come from. I suggest that we look seriously into trimming our bloated civil service.
We do not need so many ministries and agencies, and there are agencies that can be merged into one. Once we have reduced the size of the government, we will then have more money to pay those in the armed forces, including the police.
Wan Saiful Wan Jan is the Chief Executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS)