KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 21 — While fighting drug traffickers, the Bukit Aman Narcotics Crime Investigation Department (NCID) also has to deal with corruption within the department.
NCID chief Datuk Mohd Khalil Kader Mohd was candid about the struggle that the anti-narcotics unit has had with graft, and how rooting it out remains an uphill task.
“Like this, Syed, if somebody offers you RM20 million, what would you say?” Mohd Khalil asked during an exclusive interview with Malay Mail in Bukit Aman, here.
This rhetorical question illustrates the temptation of narco money and how it can blunt the war against trafficking syndicates.
For Mohd Khalil, drug money remains the biggest stumbling block not only in the fight against traffickers and the cops on their payroll, but also for reform.
The sheer amount of money involved in narcotics means temptation is ever present, especially when police officers are still paid lowly, he said.
Experts have said low wages within the force is among the chief causes fuelling police corruption, and have recommended increasing it.
The global illicit drugs trade has an estimated GDP similar to the economy of several rich countries combined, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime whose 2005 World Drug Report valued the size of the drug market at US$321.6 billion (RM1.3 trillion) in just 2003 alone.
“When you are put in that position, it’s always tough,” he said referring to the bribes NCID officers may be offered in the course of duty.
“I think the challenge is how to instil mental fortitude within these officers... it’s not easy, and we, or my officers, are only human.”
Weeding out bad apples
Under Mohd Khalil’s tenure, the police launched Operation Blue Devil last year to crack down on substance abuse among police officers, as part of a wider reform drive to “heal” the force’s public image.
More than 100 officers tested positive up to August last year, a result Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador described as shocking and showed how drug use within the force is at a “critical” level.
For the NCID chief, cleaning up his unit became top priority upon his appointment last year. Several measures were put in place, including the formation of a covert squad that spied on vice cops.
But with just under a month left to his tenure, he concedes that the task is far from complete.
“I did try to (put in place) reform but of course, I can’t say the unit is completely clean,” he said.
“This type of officer will always be around. But I think we did manage to reduce the number through several measures.”
But Operation Blue Devil remains in force and the police said there is no deadline to its end, which the NCID chief said was testament to his unit’s commitment to clean up.
The police have yet to say if more officers have been caught under the operation. Mohd Khalid, however, told Malay Mail he is confident that the operation had succeeded in driving rogue cops to reform, if not reducing drug abuse within the force.
“It was a problem but don’t think it’s too bad now,” he said.
Target big sharks
For nearly four decades, the government has waged a war against drugs. Yet official data suggests they are nowhere close to winning, as drug-related crimes continue to climb and news reports of large drug busts indicate illegal substances are still finding their way into the country, despite us having some of the harshest anti-drug laws in the world.
Critics say the setback has cost taxpayers millions of ringgit without much to show for it. Instead, it has flooded prisons and state-funded rehabilitation centres with drug-related offenders, many of them minors.
Mohd Khalil said NCID shifted its focus to traffickers under his watch and backed the decriminalisation of addicts, although he remains a believer in punitive laws against what he terms “abusers.”
“Under me, we focused on the supply,” he said.
“We no longer look at those small timers, the addicts and all. Why arrest them? I wanted my men to make quality arrests, those suppliers (and traffickers).
“It’s harder of course and more work but it’s more effective.”