Friday, July 06, 2007

(II) JOHOR BAHRU (J-enayah B-anyak) AND CRIME

In March 1997, the then Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew during a libel suit against Tang Liang Hong affirmed an affidavit where in he remarked that the Malaysian state of “Johor was notorious for shooting, mugging and car jacking”.

That was enough to make Malaysian politicians have hissy fits and demand that Lee Kuan Yew apologise. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, then the Foreign Affairs Minister described Lee Kuan Yew’s comment as callous and hostile. Najib Tun Razak, the then Education Minister said only an arrogant leader would come out with such an irresponsible statement. Johor UMNO members when welcoming the then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed at Senai airport brandished placards calling Lee Kuan Yew among others of being senile. In the end Lee Kuan Yew apologized.

Ten years on after Lee Kuan Yew’s infamous remark, Johor Bahru has yet to lose its cowboy town reputation and now has become even worst, earning a grim reputation of being a crime infested city.

A few days ago Datuk Maximus Ongkili, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and who is also the Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation Chairman claimed that Johor is safe and that crime rate has dropped by 7.24 per cent in the first six months.

It is easy for the Minister to say that Johor Bahru is safe. He does not live in Johor Bahru. For us Johoreans, we remain remain unconvinced. There is an escalation of crimes in Johor Bahru and particularly vicious and violent crimes. Snatch thefts are so prevalent that it has become a common occurrence and part of city life. The question is how and why crime got so out of hand in Johor Bahru. One thing for certain Lee Kuan Yew has definitely made Malaysian politicians eat humble pie!

A recent spate of vicious and violent crimes and which was widely reported, not only has caused much anxiety among the people but continues to reaffirms the perception of Johor being a lawless city and that the police seem incapable to combat the crime effectively.

Here are some of the vicious and violent crimes which occurred in Johor Bahru in May and June 2007.

June 12, 2007
Three men raped a 19 year old girl and her 22 year old boyfriend could only watch helplessly because he had been slashed twice.

June 13, 2007
A group of armed men, took a couple on a one hour terror ride before raping the 35 year old woman in the presence of her friend who had been slashed.

June 20, 2007
A 16 year old girl was abducted by four men on motorcycles at a park and was taken to a secluded spot 20 kilometres away, where the men took turns to rape her.

June 20, 2007
A 15 year old girl and her 13 year old brother was waiting at a bus-stop when a man claiming to be a police officer stopped and asked for their identity cards. When the pair told him that their identity cards were at home, he told them to get in the car. When they arrived at their home, the man asked the brother to go and get the identity cards. He then sped off with the girl. The girl was taken to a sewerage treatment plant in Taman Teknologi Skudai and was brutally raped.

May, 2007
A pregnant woman who was waiting in the car while her husband went to toilet was held up at knife point and taken on a terror ride and was robbed and gang-rapped in front of her three year old son.

On June 17, 2007 about 200 people, gathered outside the residence of the Johor Menteri Besar in Johor Bahru to demonstrate against the high crime rate. A week later Johor Bahru Tiong Hua Federation launched a 100,000 signature campaign to protest against rising crime rate in Johor Bahru. Such was the effect that in less than a week, the Johor Bahru Tiong Hua Federation collected 118,000 signatures! These events are the people message to the government that the people are beginning to feel helpless, frustrated and worried at the increasing lawlessness.

The people of Johor Bahru are shocked and frightened by the police admission that they have identified seven gangs lording (bermaharaja –lela) in Johor Bahru . On June 30, 2007 the Inspector General of Police went further by revealing that apart from Singapore criminals, criminal elements from Taiwan and Indonesia has been identified to be involved in organized crime in Johor. In fact on June 26, 2007, the Inspector General of Police said that these criminals are being protected by “influential people”. (Minguan Malaysia June 30, 2007). The people’s anxiety worsens when newspapers carry reports of a certain crime boss in Johor dubbed “Tunku” who wields great influence both under and above ground. Nanyang Siang Pau July 5, 2007 claims that Tunku is so powerful that several policemen who had crossed his path were “transferred” and that he is said to have paid RM 2 million to a senior officer at Bukit Aman for the latter’s cooperation, with which he was able to build his underworld base in Johor. Things get murkier when the STAR, July 2, 2007 reported that almost the entire D7 unit based at the Johor State Police headquarters were moved out. This included the unit’s commanding officer and five inspectors. It is not clear whether the officers were transferred out for not carrying out their duties or by powerful syndicates who felt hindered by these officers. (Read the STAR Monday 2, July 2007).

All these revelations does not surprise the long suffering people of Johor Bahru who have been witnessing the increasing lawlessness and are living in fear that they or their family could be the next victim.

So what could the reason be for the escalating crime rate. One reason is the lack of sufficient policemen to fight crime. The crime statistic and police to people ratio for Johor makes miserable reading.

According to police statistics, in 2006, Johor recorded a total of 29,079 criminal cases and out of which 68% of these reports were lodged were of incidents which occurred in the Johor Bahru district alone.

Crime statistics from Ibu Pejabat Polis Kontingen Johor, for the period January to May 2007 reveals that, Johor Bahru Selatan recorded 6,467 cases while Johor Bahru Utara for the same period recorded 2,258.

New Straits Times Saturday June 23, 2007 reported that the 1.5 million people in Johor Bahru were being served by 1,700 policemen that is one policeman to 15,000 people. On Monday 22 June 2007, the Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman in the State Assembly said that Johor requires 6,910 police personnel or one policeman to every 250 people (1:250).

Presently in Johor Bahru Selatan the ratio is one policeman to 1,100 (Johor Bahru Selatan population 1,159079- policemen 1159 ) while for Johor Bahru Utara is one policeman to 776 people (Johor Bahru Utara population 530,990 - policemen 684). This miserable police to people ratio falls short of what is recommended by Interpol, which is one policeman for every 250 people.

The government must be mindful that the Johor Bahru is not only the southern gateway into Malaysia but more importantly the economic lifeline of Johor Bahru is very much dependent on Singaporeans (even if they do not wish to admit it). But with all the crimes making headlines, there is an adverse effect on Johor Bahru. Singaporeans are now fearful of coming into Malaysia. With travel becoming cheaper, they may give Johor Bahru and Malaysia a miss. Soon they may even reconsider if they should invest in Malaysia.

A secure and safe city and state becomes all the more important after the launching of the Iskandar Development Region (IDR). Malaysia is trying to attract investors to IDR but investors will not come to a crime infested city/ region. Thus when Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, visited Singapore to promote IDR the foremost question by potential Singapore investors was the issue of security. That should be a sobering reminder that the success of IDR will very much depend on how serious and proactive the government and the police is in fighting crime.

Fighting crime and keeping criminals out (Johor has 17 entry and exit points making it easier for foreign criminals to slip in) must be of utmost priority and to wage war on crime requires policemen, resources and honest policing. Thus, unless there are sufficient policemen and until these policemen are visibly present on the street together (and entry points well secured) and unless there is a concerted and proactive effort to fight crime, crimes will continue to escalate and criminals will brazenly continue to terrorise the people of Johor Bahru.