Wednesday, October 24, 2012
THE powers of the People's Volunteer Corps (Rela) will be outlined in a new law which comes into effect next month. The new Act is aimed at preventing the abuse of power and impersonation of Rela members. Under the new law, which also sets the enrolment age for Rela members at 18 and limits their tenure to five years, they will no longer have the power to detain, arrest or carry firearms.
PETALING JAYA: A new law to refine the powers of the People's Volunteer Corps (Rela) comes into effect next month with strict measures to curb misuse of authority and impersonation of its members.
Under the Malaysia Volunteers Corps Bill 2012 passed in Parliament on April 20 and expected to be gazetted next month, Rela members would no longer have the power to make arrests or carry firearms.
Anyone found guilty of impersonating a Rela member can be jailed up to three years, fined a maximum of RM5,000 or both.
The law also requires those who are no longer members to return their uniforms and certificate of appointment within 14 days of leaving the corps.
Previously, it was not an offence for them to keep their uniforms even after resigning from the agency.
“Those who fail to return the uniforms and certificate after leaving can now be taken to court,” said Deputy Home Minister Datuk Lee Chee Leong, adding that the maximum penalty for doing so would also be a prison term of three years, a fine of RM5,000 or both.
The new law also limits the period of enrolment for Rela members to five years, after which, the status of membership has to be renewed by an authorised officer.
Those below the age of 18 would also have their membership revoked under the increased age requirement when the Malaysia Volunteers Corps Act 2012 comes into force from June 22. The existing enrolment age for Rela members is 16 for girls and 17 for boys.
As of March 31, the total number of volunteers in the corps stood at 2,924,065.
Lee said the new law was expected to curb crime cases involving the impersonation of Rela members.
In March last year, police arrested two men who robbed and raped a woman after claiming to be police officers.
Two of their accomplices, including a Rela member who had lent his handcuffs to the duo, were held.
In 2006, robbers masquerading as Rela members drove off with RM47mil worth of microchips from the air cargo complex in Penang.
MCA Public Complaints and Services Department head Datuk Seri Michael Chong, who is also an honorary Rela member, welcomed the move to limit the membership to five years saying it would facilitate the management of members.
However, he said making Rela members return their uniforms would not be effective in addressing impersonation.
“If people want to misuse the uniform, they can easily buy it at shops or even online,” he said yesterday.
Chong said there were numerous shops selling uniforms and paraphernalia of all enforcement agencies, complete with their rank.
“This can only be addressed through strict enforcement on the sale of these uniforms,” he said.
Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said there was no reason for former members to hold on to their uniforms.
“We don't want to see people who are no longer Rela members misusing the uniforms to carry out or enforce laws,” he said.
Rela director-general Datuk Mustafa Ibrahim said the Home Minister would be making an official announcement on the Bill and several other laws passed recently.
Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had earlier said in Parliament that the Government had taken the public's views into consideration when drafting the Bill. - Star, 28/5/2012, New law refines Rela powers
QUESTION TIME By P. GUNASEGARAM
The time has to come to ask whether the three million strong Rela is still relevant to our times and if it should be substantially scaled down.
ONE of the most amazing things about the People’s Volunteer Corps, or Rela, is simply its size – almost three million strong, that’s more than one for every 10 men, women and children who live in Malaysia and may be about the population of core Kuala Lumpur!
In comparison, Armed Forces personnel in Malaysia account for a mere 90,000 while the police account for a like number compared with the 2.94 million Rela members as at March 31, according to news reports.
That means Rela members outnumber Armed Forces personnel by more than 30 to one and both Armed Forces and the police personnel by more than 15 to one.
The circumstances under which it was formed are somewhat vague and why its size increased to become so large is puzzling. It was set up in 1972 under the Emergency Act 1964.
The rationale apparently was after the May 1969 racial riots, they were needed to help the police preserve and maintain national peace and security. But it was some three years after the riots.
In 2005, Rela members had their roles substantially expanded. The amendment of the Essential (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat) Regulations in 2005 expanded Rela’s powers to include the right to bear and use firearms, stop, search and demand documents, arrest without a warrant, and enter premises without a warrant.
These powers can be exercised if Rela members have reasonable belief that any person is a terrorist, undesirable person, illegal immigrant or an occupier. Under the Public Authorities Protection Act 1948, Rela officers are immune from prosecution in relation to their conduct.
Subsequently, there were many reports and allegations about Rela members exceeding their authority, including a recent case where a suspected robber was beaten to death in a condominium.
Reports also cited Rela members as having been involved in crime, while others have impersonated Rela officers to commit crimes.
It was this that probably prompted the Government to revise the laws to restrict the powers of Rela members. It was reported that under the Malaysia Volunteers Corp Bill 2012, passed in Parliament on April 12 and expected to be gazetted next month, Rela members will no longer have the power to carry firearms or make arrests.
Impersonating a Rela officer becomes a crime which is punishable with a fine and a jail sentence of up to three years, while the law requires officers to return their uniforms and certificates of appointment within 14 days of leaving the corp.
These are welcome moves by the Government, but there is also a need to severely restrict and curtail the power of Rela lest it becomes a law unto itself. With its membership outnumbering police and Armed Forces personnel by 15 to one, that is an overriding concern that the Government must address.
To have nearly three million citizens in a volunteer force which has access to arms is clearly undesirable and it is now necessary to ensure that arms held by Rela members are returned according to set procedures so that there is no chance whatsoever of them being misused.
The other factor that needs to be raised is costs. How much does it take to train three million people in the use of firearms and law and order maintenance?
The question that is crying out to be asked is why not use this money to recruit and train full-time policemen who can then be deployed on the streets to fight crime on a daily basis and who will be fully and professionally trained in the use of firearms, the law and crime-fighting?
It may be easily possible to increase the size of the force by, say, 50% and give police personnel more benefits, too.
If it is the intention of the Government to bring a large section of the public into the area of law enforcement, civil defence and as reserve force to protect the country from external threats, then the best way to do that is to go for national service so that all sections of the public are represented in the defence corp.
Otherwise, it would be better for the Government to go the full distance in terms of reforming Rela and make it a much smaller auxiliary force which will merely supplement the police in terms of non-force duties such as traffic control at events and so on.
That will mean a substantial scaling back of Rela so that its size is no more than the size of the police and armed forces combined and its members reflect the population composition of the country.
The first steps have been taken no doubt, but it would be better if reform of Rela went the whole way.