Home detention: White paper needed to prevent ‘dua darjat’


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Project Stability and Accountability for Malaysia (Projek Sama) welcomes Home Affairs Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail’s announcement on 2 March that home detention would be introduced as an alternative to imprisonment “for some prisoners” but calls for a white paper before its implementation to prevent the “dua darjat” (two classes before the law) phenomenon.

Projek Sama asks, how would “some prisoners” be chosen?

In many countries, home and hospital detentions have been abused to free rich and powerful convicts from imprisonment, while convicts from ordinary backgrounds are often denied or deprioritised for such opportunities.

A rigorous white paper will build public confidence that home detention will not similarly become a privilege or ‘priority lane’ for powerful criminals, or worse, be abused as a bargaining chip in political deals.

This white paper must be tabled and debated in Parliament before any changes are made to laws, by-laws or administrative orders.

Projek Sama warns that if home detention is eventually used by 1MDB corruption convict Najib Razak as a covert ‘get-out-of-jail’ card, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and his “Madani” (civil and compassionate) government’s trust deficit with Malaysians and the international community will dive deeper.

The Malaysian ringgit will face greater downward pressure if the Madani government is perceived to be under not just elite capture, but ‘prisoners’ capture’.

The white paper must present the Swots (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of this mechanism, feedback from stakeholders. Most of all, it must demonstrate a transparent, consistent, professional and accountable process to determine the eligibility of applicants.

Projek Sama reminds Anwar that his government no longer enjoys credibility in reforms or in the fight against corruption which it enjoyed when it came into power 15 months ago.

READ MORE:  Home detention for the privileged or influential?

Projek Sama reminds Anwar of the result of the decision to abuse the long-established pardon process and to fast-track the pardon application by an unrepentant, world-class corruption convict, who is still facing three other corruption trials and who still hasn’t even served one-third of his jail term.

The result of his application being allowed to overtake many eligible applicants is that now people in Malaysia have even greater distrust of new initiatives by the government and look even harder for hidden agendas.

The level of distrust also springs from another recent saga. The “Malaysia Madani white rice” policy measure, with far-reaching consequences, was capriciously announced by a ‘floor-crossing opposition MP’ (Syed Abu Hussin) who jumped the gun of the agriculture and food security minister.

The backlash was so enormous, threatening and embarrassing that the government instantly rolled back the announcement and pretends it never happened.

Frivolous policymaking should be guarded against in a country which aims to be amongst the world’s top 30 economies, top 12 in global competitiveness, and top 25 in the Human Development Index, as per Anwar’s ambitious announcement on 27 July 2023.

Projek Sama urges the government to make it a standard operating procedure from now on that every important policy or reform initiative – including home detentions, price control for rice or pension reform for civil servants – would have a white paper tabled and debated in Parliament before implementation.

If the government is only studying a certain issue without a firm commitment to a particular solution, then a green paper should be published to lay down basic facts, considered options and parameters for public debate.

READ MORE:  Home detention for the privileged or influential?

White papers are well established in Commonwealth countries. White papers are detailed reports which describe problems with data, list and evaluate potential solutions, recommend a solution and include responses to comments from the public. White papers are an elementary tool to assure rigour in parliamentary decision making.

A white paper on home detentions will assure the public of the prudence, integrity and abuse-proof design of the policy. A white paper will help the Madani government reduce its severe trust deficit. A white paper will help restore local and international confidence in Malaysia, encourage investment and help curb the free-fall of the ringgit. – Projek Sama

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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