Kota Marudu Member of Parliament

Flood preparation: KETTHA must expect the unexpected

KUALA LUMPUR, 7 January -- The Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry (KETTHA) must expect the unexpected when making preparation to face disasters like flood.
Its minister, Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili said this was based on the uncertain weather conditions currently.

Power should not be in hands of one perso

BY SHAHANAAZ HABIB

IT has been 18 years since Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili was detained for 59 days under the Internal Security Act for purportedly brainwashing people in Sabah into hating the federal government.

“I still remember the days. Memang (Certainly) it was tough. I spent the first 72 hours without sleep. It’s no joke. Then I had to sleep on a plank bed without even a blanket. It was not an easy thing,” he said.

His family were allowed to see him only nine days later. They too had sleepless nights and days worrying about him.

‘The Act should be used for purely security purposes. Don’t use the ISA to get information from people whom you think are dangerous’

“My family feared I had been tortured and that my eyes had been poked out. People form all sorts of perceptions of the Act,” said the Science, Technology and Innovation Minister.

At the time of his arrest in January 1991, he was the Sabah Strategic Research Institute deputy executive chairman and media advisor to the Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan (PBS).

Just months earlier, PBS had dealt a severe blow to Barisan Nasional when it pulled out of the coalition at the eleventh hour of the 1990 general election. PBS won Sabah in that election.

(PBS has since returned to the Barisan fold.)

Throughout his detention and even today, Dr Maximus maintains his innocence.

And 59 days after he was picked up, he was released unconditionally.

He says the police should never have used the ISA as there were other laws like the Police Act which could have been used to detain him for a few days to get further information on the allegation. This would have allowed him to be brought before a magistrate to see whether there were grounds to hold him.

“But if the ISA is involved, it is not easy to reduce the length of stay. The Act should be used for purely security purposes. Don’t use the ISA to get information from people whom you THINK are dangerous,” he said.

He said during his detention, the police were professional in their action and told him that they were only doing their job.

“If changes are to be made, it has to be in the Act itself because the police are just going by what is in it. Police personnel couldn’t answer because it was the top brass that referred them to me. So there has to be transparency in the decision-making,” he said.

Today, Dr Maximus supports the ISA but stresses that it should be used purely for security purposes.

“Otherwise how do you deal with terrorist problems?” he asked.

He however stressed that the decision on whether to hold a person under ISA should not be decided by one person alone.

“It is not enough that it is on police advice or by the Prime Minister or Home Minister. There should be wider consultation.

“It should be put forward to the National Security Council, which is the highest security body in the country, to see if the person constitutes a security threat.

“The ISA should not be decided by one person – otherwise the manner it is done smells of politics,” said Dr Maximus.

He said a judicial review of the detention defeats the purpose of detention without trial.

“How to open it up to judicial review if the person has been there, for say only two days?” he asked, adding that perhaps the detention could be opened up to judicial review after 60 days.

What is more important is that there should be transparency in the decision-making and the guidelines must be clear.

“It should not be decided by one person – be it the IGP or Home Minister or whoever – that someone is a security threat,” he said.

He also called for the harsh conditions of the detention to be reviewed.

Family members, he said, should be allowed to see the person accused because they need to know whether he or she is in good care and is being treated consistent with what is provided for by the law.

Dr Maximus who is now PBS deputy president, said the torture of the lack of sleep was a good exercise of his faith and mental strength.

“It was also a platform of my going into politics – that’s the ‘fringe benefit’ of going under the ISA,” he quipped.

Dr Maximus is not the only one in the Cabinet who has been detained under the ISA.

Defence Minister Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi too was once held under the Act for about a week in 1998.

This was following the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as deputy Prime Minister and deputy president which caused a huge stir in the country and massive protests in support of the removed leader.

Zahid was detained because he was then seen to be very close to Anwar.