Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rela chief: Give us more power
Andrew Ong
May 29, 07 12:16pm

exclusive If he had his way, People’s Volunteer Corps (Rela) director-general Zaidon Asmuni would like to see the body equipped with even wider powers than it now holds.

“We want not only the power to check passports and travel documents. If you ask me, we want more than that. We want the power to investigate and prosecute in court,” he said in an interview.

“But who am I to ask for this? We just follow decisions made by the top. For now, we will follow whatever is stated in the law.”

Zaidon, formerly the Pahang Immigration Department director, believes that Rela is an unique enforcement body because of its sheer numbers. At last count, it had 475,000 members nationwide.

“(As an immigration officer) whenever I conducted a raid, the most I could bring along was about 20 officers. For 20 people to cordon off a big kongsi (housing for construction workers) which may contain 100 illegal immigrants, the number of arrests would be low,” he explained.

“Rela can call up 300 members. I think not even one (illegal immigrant) can run (away from the raid). The uniqueness of Rela lies in our large numbers.”

Zaidon was also asked to respond to questions on the screening of recruits, use of guns and alleged human rights violations, among other issues that have caused controversy. There is growing criticism by human rights groups and the Bar Council that Rela personnel are abusing their powers and are involved in violence.

Rela, an agency under the home ministry, was created under the Essential (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat) Regulations 1972 which provide the power of arrest, entry into premises without a permit and to carry firearms.

No disciplinary system

Following amendments in March 2005, Rela’s “core business” has become nabbing illegal immigrants through raids led by either the district Rela officer or his deputy - who are former members of the armed forces.

District Rela officers are given blanket approval to seek out and detain illegal immigrants, with operations often conducted at night both for the element of surprise and because many personnel hold day jobs.

“It’s done by calling (up personnel on the phone). We don’t have (to do paperwork) to carry out an operation. We don’t plan (over a) long (period) because we want to keep operations as secretive as possible.”

Zaidon also revealed that after every operation, the district Rela officer has to lodge a cover report with the police, regardless of whether or not any arrests were made.

Unlike other enforcement bodies, Rela does not subject its personnel to disciplinary action in the event of complaints. Those found to have abused their powers are stripped of membership.

“We cannot take (errant) members to court... If the Rela member commits a crime, it is up to the police to investigate under the Penal Code,” Zaidon added.

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