No statistics will convince public to think positively of the authorities

No statistics will convince public to think positively of the authorities
By Zan Azlee

“Let’s see a show of hands,” I asked my undergraduate journalism students.

I wanted to find out what they thought of corruption in the country. It wasn’t the bigger picture I was looking for. I was not interested if they think that the 1MDB scandal is really affecting the country’s economy or anything like that. I just asked them what they thought of the police.

I have a class of about 40 students and at least 15 of them put their hands up when I asked if they thought the police are inefficient at what they do and if they think the police are corrupt. Of course, this is purely opinion-based and not factual.

The next question I asked was if any of them had ever attempted to bribe the police. About the same number of hands went up. I asked them to explain and about half said that the police were hinting at getting some ‘duit kopi’. Of course, this is again, purely anecdotal.

But that brings me to the point that I would like to highlight, which is the perception that the public has about the police in Malaysia. As Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said recently, the perception is still negative.

He added that in the past eight years, the national crime rate has gone down by 47%, yet people still question the reduction. He was also quoted to have said that only 20% of the public view the police positively.

Zahid, who is also the home minister in charge of the police, said this during a speech made at the ‘Addressing Perception on Safety and Security’ forum organised by the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) earlier this week.

When it comes to crime and corruption, it can be almost impossible to eliminate the negative perception that the public has just by showing numbers and statistics alone. This is because crime and corruption affect people’s emotions – fear, anger, disappointment, etc.

What the public will be more influenced by are anecdotal stories and experiences. And that’s why a number like “47%” is not going to erase the people’s memories of stories of a neighbour who had her handbag snatched, or a relative who just had his house broken into in the middle of the night.

Scandals after scandals

It’s the same with corruption as well. We will continue to think that corruption is rife because of stories going around about the police “intimidating” people to pay them RM50 so they won’t be fined RM300 for using their mobile phones while driving.

Zahid did acknowledge that in order to improve the perception that the public has about the police, there needs to be more engagement. He said that the police need to strengthen ties with the people and he is absolutely correct.

But I am sure it’s going to be tough because it isn’t just anecdotal stories that we hear from friends and relatives that influence our perception. There are bigger and even more astounding stories that we hear in the media that reinforce our perception.

White-collar crime and corruption cases bombard us on a daily basis in the news. We’ve had absurd cases such as that involving the Sabah Water Department where government officials were caught with more than RM110 million cash in their possession.

There is the case with the Johor state executive councillor, his son, several state employees and businessmen were caught and suspected of misappropriating land. Dozens of luxury vehicles were seized and bank accounts worth RM15 million were frozen.

What of the Felda employees who were charged with criminal breach of trust and abetting involving RM48 million? And let’s not forget the scandal involving Felda Global Venture’s top management who were asked to take leave pending an investigation into dubious business dealings.

Oh yes. There’s also that small little scandal known as 1MDB.

So, with all these stories making the rounds, how are we to expect that a bit of numbers and statistics announced by the government is going to help improve public perception? Maybe if we’re able to stop the stories from spreading and coming out, then it would improve perception.

Err… wait a minute!

[This article was originally written for and published at]

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