Wednesday, November 12, 2008

of permits and licenses...


The fracas caused by the ever over-reacting Polis di Raja Malaysia during the candle light vigil at Amcorp Mall last weekend brings to light, not only the people's fundamental right to assemble - a right which is guaranteed by article 10 of the Federal Constitution - but also the complete misunderstanding of the purposes and functions of permits and licenses by the authorities.

I have said it before and I will say it again. And this time, let me type this real slowly, just in case the authorities could not read fast enough. The purpose of permits and licenses is not to prohibit but to regulate. Get it? Not to prohibit. But to regulate.

There are some businesses, for example, which, if left unregulated, might affect public order. Take the serving of alcohol. If not regulated, people would be serving alcohol at a stall in front of my gate. Drunk people might then make so much noises in front of my house in the wee hours of the morning. They might even puke on my car! Because of that, the authorities require licenses to be obtained by those who would like to serve alcohol as a business. Thus, the business of serving alcohol could be regulated. For example, they must be done in an enclosed shop. The shop must close at 1 am. Whatever.

In Amsterdam, marijuana or weeds - or grass as it is also well known for -  is legal. But the business of selling and serving weeds in that city is regulated. They can only sell and be smoked in an enclosed shop. Only people above the age of 18 can buy, sell and smoke it. As such, you don't see peddlers at some back street in Amsterdam harassing people to buy weeds. Neither do you see stone-faced weeds-smelling larger louts puking in the drain and jumping into the river at 2am in Amsterdam.

In Singapore, prostitution is regulated. The leisure women go for regular medical check-ups and carry a yellow card (or is it green, I am not too sure). And they can only ply their trade in a certain area of Singapore. That regulates the oldest profession in Singapore.

I am not, of course, advocating the legalisation of weeds or prostitution in Malaysia. I have to say this. Because otherwise people like Zulkifli Nordin would say I am a bad Muslim. I am just pointing out the role, purpose and function of permits and/or licenses. To add to it all, the authorities could also collect fees from the issuance of the permits and licenses.

Another business which is regulated is money lending. It is a fact that people borrow money. And there are also people who lend money. On purely unjust and unfair terms, that is. You borrow money, give them your land title, and if you fart more than 3 times, they would take your land and sell it! That kind of terms. But the authorities now require money lenders to obtain license. And so the business of money lending is regulated. Interest rate is regulated.  Methods of recovery is regulated.

The problem is this. In Malaysia, however, permits and licenses are not issued even if the applicants qualify for the permits or licenses. If you don't trust me, try to get a money lending license. You can't get one. Even if you satisfy all the requirements. So over here, permits and licenses are not tools of regulations but rather they are used to prohibit people from doing the business.

The result is the people who could have been  lawful money-lender now become Ah Long. They would charge 50% interest. Pain your gate red if you don't pay. Spray rabbit's blood on your windscreen if you don't pay after the red pain on your gate. Then they would shyte in front of your gate before shooting the bejeezus out of your brain with a silver bullet! That's what happen when permits and licenses are used as a prohibitory tool rather than as a regulatory tool. The people who fail to get permits and licenses would go underground.

Prostitution here goes underground. It is controlled by triads and heavenly gods! The business churns millions everyday. It is wholly unregulated. I have heard reports from NGOs of 12-13 year old girls being involved in prostitution in Chow Kitt! I don't know whether the authorities know about this and if so, what they are doing about it.

Gambling is big business in Malaysia. And not only at Genting, mind you. EPL bets go to the tune of millions every weekend. They have odds published via text messages. Manchester United versus Arsenal? How about half goal to Arsenal with a draw at half time without a goal and a full time score of 2-1 to Manchester United. Rooney will score first. Three yellow cards. No red. The referee will not get a cramp. And Wenger will lose a tooth. They bet on anything. And it is all unregulated!

So. What have all these to do with the fracas last weekend? Simple. The law provides that anybody who wants to assemble a group of more than 3 people in Malaysia, must obtain a permit. Stop here. Can you imagine? Every assembly of 3 or more people in Malaysia without a permit is in law an illegal assembly? Can you all imagine that? I mean, 3 people shyting in a KLCC toilet could, on the face of it, be arrested for an illegal assembly? Amazing!

Anyway. I was saying, every assembly must have a police permit. Otherwise it is an illegal assembly. Sounds simple? Yea...rite! Try obtaining the permit. And especially when you are wearing a free RPK black t-shirt or Repeal ISA red t-shirt, you can forget about obtaining the permit. Regardless of the fact that all you want to do is to gather, sing some songs, read some poems and burn some candles. No. You just can't get a permit.

The police chief said that they have asked the organisers to obtain a permit. Since they didn't, the vigil was illegal. That was why they had to jump on them, with baton and all,  arrested them and detained them till 3am.

When permits and licenses are used as a prohibitory tool, that is what's going to happen. People will assemble illegally. Take the Bersih and Hindraf rally last year. It was so simple for the police - who I am sure only has public order in their mind - to control the planned rally. Issue a permit. Impose a condition or conditions. Tell the organisers you all can only assemble at Dataran Merdeka. You can't move. You can have one big speaker. Can make noise but cannot exceed 150dB. You can bring banner but cannot be as big as the Malaysian flag on the biggest flag pole in Asia. And you all must wear an orange shirt with green pants. Women cannot wear pants. Things like that. Than the police can control the assembly.

But no. They didn't issue a permit. The people assembled anyway. And so water cannons were used. Batons were used. Malaysia became instantly famous. CNN. BBC. Al-Jazeera. What more with the Mydin guy crucifying the English language on international TV. Great!

What is so difficult about giving permits and imposing reasonable conditions to maintain public order? Why must permits and licenses be used to curtail a fundamental liberty instead of to regulate and ensure a peaceful exercise of it? I really don't know.

And the thing is, the exercise of the arresting power for the so-called illegal assemblies is  not even consistent. Why, for example, the police did not jump on Zulkifli Nordin and his band of Islamist yahoos when they were kicking up quite a ruckus at the Bar Council building during the conversion forum? Why were they not baton-ed or arrested? And what about the long march to the American Embassy by Khairy Jamaluddin last year? If the peace loving Malaysians carrying candle must be so forcefully treated in order to maintain public order, why were the yahoos who were shouting, screaming and acting in a very threatening manner not so arrested?

Sorry. I am just a simple minded person. Perhaps there are some reasons for the different treatment meted out to different people at a different time. Perhaps.

Just perhaps.



agnos said...

can the police force and the individual be sued for lying, arresting without proper cause/procedure, wrongful detention and applying selective prosecution?

de minimis said...

Good rant, Art. Very good line of reasoning too.

Estrelita Soliano Grosse said...

The voice of reason and truth.

Definitely, a great read for those who need to understand the whys and wherefores of permits and licenses.

Apart from navel gazing, you also spend your time justice gazing! Good on ya!


mei1 said...

Wish that I could issue a RED card to all the big BULLIES & get them suspended for 2 years at least.

The other reason is we're living in Bolehland with all sort of "BOLEH" records. Oops, it should be BULLYland, relegated 1 spot from Bolehland after the incident. Beep...., full-time for the moment.

asiseesit said...

does this means even family outings with more than 5 people is illegal?

what i like to know is, what constitute an illegal assembly? if what you ranted (oops, reasoned) makes any sense, almost the entire nation and it's people are guilty of assemblies at one time or the other.

so companies, political parties, organizations, families, etc should not have more than 5 staff, members, relatives, participants, etc, etc, etc.

like our parliament speaker always said - reject, reject, reject. and the police are also doing the same.

art harun said...

Dear asiseesit,

Actually I made a mistake. It's not 5 but 3 people! I have amended the article.

Section 27 (5) Polica Act 1967:

Any assembly, meeting or procession-

(a) which takes place without a licence issued under subsection (2); or

(b) in which three or more persons taking part neglect or refuse to obey any order given under the provisions of subsection (1) or subsection (3),

shall be deemed to be an unlawful assembly, and all persons attending, found at or taking part in such assembly, meeting or procession and, in the case of an assembly, meeting or procession for which no licence has been issued, all persons taking part or concerned in convening, collecting or directing such assembly, meeting or procession, shall be guilty of an offence.

As you can see, any assembly, procession or meetings in any public places of more than 3 persons require a license.

Technically, if I arrange a makan makan at a mamak stall for 3 or more friends without a permit, it could be argued that that is an illegal assembly. Technically that is.

Kris said...

I guess reason and objectivity are overruled by might and the desire for absolute control...

Any number more then 3 constitutes an illegal gathering? On that basis alone, people must be insane electing the barisan nasional into power time and again if these are the laws they enact to keep us under their thumbs...

Anonymous said...

Dear Art,

I view this in different light, apart from the legal implication which is well described by you, the attack appeared more like trying to curb psychological conflict among members of police force.

With so many peaceful assemblies occurred in the past that went on without incident. Interestingly, it went on like carnival with people singing and mingling around, even some policeman began to cast doubt about the frequent long standing indoctrinated theory that, demonstration will eventually turn into riots and causing widespread damages and disturbed the peace here.
Those in power cannot afford to see their own reasoning crumble if it goes on too long(As in "all those demonstrated are traitors and rioters that deserved to be crushed all any expense") So they ordered it to be crushed.
Because if it went on too long, member of police forces will start mingle with the crowd and become too friendly with them, yes, it will happen. So only way to create the tension and draw the line is to ordered brutal actions from police. I do not know who ordered the action or why was it ordered.
In fact, for a society to be peaceful, is when police is willing to work hand in hand with people, (scrapping the lesser well known unwritten social contract - police are tax payer paid for for, therefore they should serve the tax payer's interest rather than listen to some tyrannical regime).
Police is just a pawn, a well armed one, so to speak.
That is why, you rarely see policeman mingle with people anymore, around these day, even though normal citizen welcome them anytime, but due to regime's indoctrination that their livelihood will be affected if people were allowed to have their way to expressed their voice and bring about sweeping changes.


Shanmuga K said...

Excellent as always Art.

Have always wondered: Would all of us doing a "work to rule" on the Police Act have some effect on clamping down on this?

Everyone from now on just swamp the police with applications for permit.

Birthday parties, four people meeting up for lunch, offices asking for permit for their office staff to be in the office together, etc.

And do it every day, every week, every month.

Would it create an impact? Maybe. But would it work though ..?


Shanmuga K said...

Ooops: to clarify, when I said "clamp down", I meant stop the police abusing their powers in the way they are quite clearly doing.

mei1 said...

It sounds pretty insane, 3 in a group is defined as illegal assembly, meeting or procession?

How can we do away with this Act, it's totally contradicted to the Federal Constitution. To my understanding as a lay person, FC is the highest set of laws, why is that other laws have greater power than FC?

Piqued said...

Let' get this right. 3 or more chaps shyting in a KLCC toilet aren't breaking the law so long as they do not neglect or refuse to obey any order given under the provisions of subsection (1) or subsection (3). They can shyte but they have to stop the shyting if they are told to. And vacate the cubicles if they shyte-police require them to. That unfortunately is the law.

How do we go about amending or repealing it?

kalimullah hassan said...

Freedom’s most beguiling feature is simultaneously its greatest advantage and its most frustrating curse; rather than being a monolithic entity, it comprises numerous types of freedoms which are neither mutually exclusive nor entirely consistent. Conflict at the margins of any freedom is an inevitable consequence of this. It is perhaps no surprise that freedom of speech represents the paradigm illustration of the problem. Whilst being among the most all-embrasive of freedoms in that it strikes at the very heart of a person’s expression, it is also one of the most intangible, in that it is peculiarly subjective and at least has the capacity for transience. As John Stuart Mill noted, “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of opinion is that it is robbing the human race … those who dissent from the opinion still more than those who hold it

art harun said...

It is more than ironic that in every democracy the curtailment of freedom might be necessary to protect freedom in itself. It is like saying undemocratic measures have to be taken to protect democracy.

But what makes a democracy great is the existence of powers (and their attendant responsibilities)and the mechanism to check and balance out the abuse of such powers.

If a power is used in the name of protecting democracy, there surely must be in place a recognisable and acceptable mechanism to check the exercise of that power and to balance out the abuse or excesses of the same. And it takes no saying that the mechanism entrusted to do that is the Courts.

But what we have over here is the emasculation of that mechanism which as a result leave the exercise of any such power unchecked.

That is frightening.

Anonymous said...

You have hit the "navel" on the spot! I have always had this thing about licenses and permits. I fully agree, licences and permits are for REGULATING and NOT for CONTROL or PROHIBITION period! Under the guise of the NEP licences have been a major conduit for lucrative deals. A case in point the APs for import of cars which until today isa murky affair. APs are still siiued to cronies and UMNOputras and they are milking the economy and the poor rakyat. Licenses cost money and who makes the money, the bureaucrat who is in charge. It is not only the licences & permits but also the process of registration. If you are NOT registered with the relevant Ministries and also do have the permits etc, forget about Govt contacts, whether big or small. another case in point, the registration of Bumiputra contractors. even then contracts are negotiated directly with cronies!

If you take singapore or Hong Kong or other western states, licnces are available to all and sundry. If you have the capital, capacity and the capability, you obtain the licence and go about doing you business. As long as you comply with the rules, no one disturbs you. Not in Malaysia. Youhave pay money to get the licence. You have to pay again to start the business. You have to pay to get the contracts, who cares whether you have the capacity or the capability. If you are a crony, they will get you the capital, whether you have the capability or capacity. No wonder whether we are still modernising our rural areas. 50 years from merdeka and if you come from the rural area, try applying for basic amenities like water, telecommunications and electricity.

I agree that the need for a police permit to congregate or assemble is against all democratic principles. just tell the organisers that they are responsible to advice the police of their intention, date and time and the location. and le tht epolice be there to ensure unsuly elements do not disturb peaceful assemblies. Isnt that what happens in Bangkok, despite its more military and authoritarian rule. Or in London where this is very common. Why or why is Malaysia sticking out like a really sore thumb in international arena for all the wrong reasons.

ian said...

Mathematical Proof that Mahathirism is Evil:


"The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist." - Sir Winston Churchill

donplaypuks® said...

Bumno's objective ever since Firaun embarked on billion $ mega projects and forgot about administration and controls, is to corrupt every revenue making opportunity into kick-backs and outrageous mark-ups to enrich the few and fill up the Party's coffers.

If this cannot be done, then the next startegy is to frustrate the Rakyat and the opposition while employing double standards to close one eye at the Govt and its supporters' activities.

That way crooked cops of low but cunnning intelligence at the highest levels will lay the groundwork for their post-retirement kick-backs. As gaji buta Chairman of Glcs, Plcs and Givt Commmissions and bodies and in many cases as newborn real estate entrepreneur developers who can acquire thousands of hectares of land in Sabah and elsewhere for a pittance!!

Hope that explains the difference treatment meted out to Govt supporters and their opponents.

As RPK wrote, lock up the top 300 cops in the nation and we would have gone more than 50% down the road towards eliminating corruption.

erniejean said...

Good one Mr. Navel :P

Nothing about Bolehland makes sense anymore...we're run by a bunch of pirates who are only interested in their own survival.