Homing in on security issues
By MAZWIN NIK ANIS
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein is on the pulse of everything pertaining to the security and safety of Malaysians.
TO say that Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein is a busy man is an understatement. As the Home Minister stepped into his Putrajaya office after the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, his officers led by principal private secretary Armizan Mohd Ali were updating him on various issues related to his Ministry. All knew their boss has precious little time to spare.
Always on the pulse of things, Hishammuddin wants to be informed of all goings-on and has been known to pick up the phone and call his secretary-general or the Inspector General of Police for first-hand information.
After going through a “baptism of fire” in the Education Ministry (MOE) where he served for five years, Hishammuddin says he is more prepared to face the challenges of his current portfolio, despite it being what he described as a “zero-sum game ministry”.
“I knew from day one that I will not only have to make right decisions but fast ones too. The decisions must be thought through thoroughly because the consequences will have a direct impact on the very existence of this country and its people.”
Despite being the son of a former Prime Minister, the former lawyer had to start from scratch when he entered politics in 1989, as an ordinary member of the Sungai Mati (in Muar) Umno branch.
Whenever Hishammuddin contested for a post, be it the Ledang division youth chief in 1993, deputy Umno youth chief in 1996 or the vice president’s post in 2009, he would face stiff competition before emerging victorious.
The only time he did not face any challenge was when he went for the Umno youth chief post in 2000. Before that, he was acting chief for two years.
In an interview with The Star, Hishammuddin talks about his three years as Home Minister, what he has done under the National Key Result Area (NKRA) and what he intends to do regarding Malaysia’s security position in a challenging globalised world.
Below are excerpts:
Q: Would you say that in the past two years, the Home Ministry has come a long way since its existence?
A: To say that it has come a long way from what it was before would be unfair to its previous leaders. But I can safely say we have come a long way, based on the changing landscape of the world today and the problems faced with national interest and security issues which require change of mindset and transformation of the status quo, be it systems, processes or even institutions.
In two years, we have done miraculously well. I must say that under normal circumstances Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s leadership will be hailed as one of the best in two years but God doesn’t give us everything. Even though we have done a lot, because of the situation and circumstances outside, due credit is not being given to what we have achieved.
Q: How was it for you, moving from one critical ministry (Education) to another (Home)?
I had to learn very fast. Three years into the job, I am comfortable to give this interview because I know what changes I am going to bring and I have made certain decisions which I would like to share.
But if you ask me, I found it more difficult in the MOE. Why? It is because the gestation period for education is very long. We don’t see results until at least 10 years down the line. To change and transform is a huge task – there are 450,000 teachers alone and everyone has an interest whether you are a student, teacher, father, wife, (or) driver.
When it comes to the Home Ministry and dealing with security and national interest, it is very simple; either black or white, right or wrong, whether you are a crook or on the good side. That makes it easy for me to learn fast.
Q: So, what have been done in the past two years to tackle internal security issues?
The government realised we need to change and accommodate the public. We came up with six National Key Results Area (NKRA). I was one of the lead ministers for reduction of crime, specifically street crime.
We had set targets to reduce 5% for overall and 20% for street crimes. For the latter, we achieved much more than that. For the first quarter of 2011, there were 5,539 incidents of street crime compared to the same period in 2009, where the statistics were 10,189. This shows a significant drop in the number of incidents. Crime index between January and April this year was 40,729 cases compared to 45,008 cases during the corresponding period in 2010.
We really had to think outside the box – utilising the strengths we have in Rela and Civil Defence, for example – with no extra expenses. Since constructing a police station would take too long, we bought mobile stations and converted them. The result is that today, you hardly hear about snatch theft cases.
As for clearing backlog in applications for citizenship, permanent resident status and late registration of births, we managed to clear some 200,000 applications in 2009 and 2010. When we were doing this, officers would send boxes of documents to me every day and every file that was sent to me was cleared on the same day. It took me countless hours to do this but it was done because the target was to clear the backlog as fast as possible.
With that cleared, there are still many things that we are going to roll out. I believe NKRA is on the right track, in which case I can now move to the next major agenda.
Q: Are there still a lot of programmes under NKRA to be rolled out?
Yes. NKRA is not just about enforcement. It is also about rehabilitation. Among others, we are looking at working with the army to use their facilities to train police personnel. We want to give a chance to those who committed petty crimes by not mixing them with hardcore criminals, look at using idle land belonging to the National Anti-Drugs Agency, and work with the Agriculture and Agro-based Ministry on how to utilise the land for addicts.
There are so many things but the public should give us time to get things in order. The public should also encourage and support our officers. I must say that if morale among the police was low at one point in time, it is very much different now and I am proud of that.
Q: How challenging was it to come up with unconventional and out-of-the-box ways to tackle security issues?
When you are put in a situation, whether you like it or not, you need to deliver. The key is to empower, engage and prompt them to do and think differently. Civil servants have the expertise but maybe they never had to look at things that way because all this while, they have been working in silo.
One of the most innovative out-of-the-box decisions was to send civil servants to Bukit Aman to deal with clerical and administration work to allow police personnel to do their job, policing. The uniqueness of Najib’s leadership is that it gets people to work across agencies and ministries to deliver common objectives. Michael Barber, who was head of Delivery Unit during former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s administration, said that what we achieved in a year took them 2 1/2 years to achieve. So we must be doing things right.
Q: Of all the programmes you have to oversee, which have affected you the most personally?
Dealing with citizenship applications and meeting inmates and addicts at prisons. Citizenship applicants have been waiting for years. They are 70 or 80 years old and if they are not loyal to the country, they would have left a long time ago. One of the reasons they needed the citizenship is to get a passport so they can visit their villages, thinking they do not have many years left to do so. To some, I sent personal letters to congratulate them. It gives me personal satisfaction to see the applicants happy and joyful and have pictures taken with some of them. This is one of the best parts of my job.
It also touches me when I interact with convicts and drug addicts, especially when we do the takbir Hari Raya with them. When the Prime Minister met convicts in Kluang prison recently, he was touched and emotional because they too are rakyat. Not many people look at them as rakyat until it happens to thei0r son or daughter. Then you realise that crime is not chosen by the colour of your skin, status or religion.
Q: Now that NKRA is in place and on the right track, are we looking at the issue of Malaysia’s security position in a globalised world?
Today, we live in a global village without borders, open sky with free flow of information and ICT revolution. In the past, people looked at issues in isolation. They looked at terrorism as an issue of the special task force; drugs came under the purview of narcotics enforcement; money laundering was Bank Negara’s problem; and human trafficking did not really affect my ministry.
Aside from these crossborder crimes, there are also issues which I label as transnational issues that need to be addressed. People are here legally due to work or because they are students, diplomats, or tourists. No one looked at these issues as a whole but because of globalisation, they can be inter-related. Money laundering can be used to finance terrorists, drug transactions can be used to finance smuggling of arms and nuclear proliferation from one country, while goods on transit in Port Klang on the way to the Middle East can either be used as industrial parts or for nuclear arms.
Challenges towards security and national interest are much more complex today. You are either a source country, transit or destination. In the cases above, Malaysia is either a transit or destination country so it is important that we address these issues. The country’s economic needs, whether tourism, education or employment, must be balanced with security issues.
Q: Why is it important for Malaysia to look at its security concerns differently now?
Let me give you an example. The crisis in Libya has resulted in 60,000 Bangladeshi workers there being displaced and sent back. If syndicates get hold of these people, they will probably be here next week. We need to be serious because we are either a transit or a destination country for such problems.
According to the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), there are 27.1 million internally displaced persons and 15.2 million refugees in the world as of 2009. The organisation also estimated US$307bil remittances sent by migrants to developing countries. What if the money goes to finance terrorism, move drugs or smuggle arms?
According to intelligence reports, there is a direct co-relation between the movement of drugs and movement of terrorists, and we are not just talking about Islamic militants alone.
But thank God, I can put on record that as far as terrorist threats are concerned, we are seen as a transit country. They are not targeting us.
They are here, no doubt about it, but they are using Malaysia to transact money, to do planning and to meet, but never looked at Kuala Lumpur as a target. I would like to emphasise and assure the public that our task force on terrorism and intelligence is one of the best in the world. We are doing our best to ensure Malaysians are safe and they sleep well at night.
Q: You have identified the concerns. How do you tackle and address them?
We introduced the biometric system at all our entry points effective June 1. We will upgrade our immigration system and put in place the Advance Passenger Screening System (APSS) where we screen people before they even come here.
Under the system, passenger information will be checked at point of origin before they can board that plane to Malaysia. We will also be able to check who they are seated next to, which country they have been to and when their tickets were purchased.
Countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Britain and Canada are already implementing this. If there are those who have been blacklisted, we would know immediately, way before they land in Malaysia.
We are also working closely with other nations to tackle transnational issues. We have signed agreements to work closely with Australia, Britain and Saudi Arabia.
With Australia, we are looking at sharing information and collaborating on human trafficking. With Britain, we want to share intelligence information and work on immigration matters. With the Saudi government, our co-operation encompasses terrorism, training of special forces, stronger links on intelligence and information. We will also be inking an agreement with China in October, and one with Turkey is in the pipeline.
Malaysians should realise the seriousness of the matter. The Home Ministry is on the forefront in dealing with the issue and Malaysia is taking the lead in tackling these rising global concerns.
Q: Can you elaborate on the agreement between Malaysia and Australia on refugees?
What we are doing with Australia is certainly a pioneering approach because we are facing a common threat. We have the political will to look at unconventional ways and explore uncharted waters.
We want to embark on something which other countries will want to adopt. We are serious about this because we are either a transit or destination country for those who want to seek new lives elsewhere.
But let me clarify that this agreement goes beyond refugees and asylum seekers. It will also affect human trafficking activities. The most important element of this agreement is we want to send a loud and clear message to syndicates that Malaysia and Australia are serious in tackling the issue of human trafficking.
We want to tell the people out there not to believe syndicates who claim to be able to place them in either country for a fee. We want to tell people there is no guarantee that they will end up in Malaysia or Australia, so don’t pay the syndicates. The two governments have yet to determine when the agreement will be signed but with the announcement, we are already making inroads and sent a clear message.