Rocky's Bru: Doing a number with numbers
WHEN an investor wants to find out if a country is a good bet, he first looks at the numbers, mostly macro-economic data involving the country's GDP, inflation and unemployment; its central bank's reserves; and perhaps the fertility rate, divorce rate, etc.
Serious magazines like the Economist and Fortune allocate pages and pages for statistical analysis and data compilation to help the prospective investor in his quest.
Highly-paid country risk managers and their researchers will then look beyond economic data and into the socio-political "numbers" that measure a country's freedom, the government's fight against corruption, political stability, race and religious relations, minority rights, etc.
The theory is that the more democratic a government is, the better the country is for the investor.
Something like "1,805 people died in custody" in Malaysia, therefore, is not good news. So is "Over 1,000 people are still being detained without trial".
And yet these are the numbers that some Malaysians have been cooking up and dishing out this past week.
The Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia group, which started as a human rights movement but has since made forays into partisan politics, claimed last week that 1,805 people had died between 2003 and July last year in our remand cells, prisons and detention centres.
If the group's claim is true, Malaysia is a most terrible place. Even the US, at the height of its 'war on terror', was a lot more restrained compared with Malaysia, if one compares the numbers.
According to one report, "nearly 100 detainees have died while in the hands of US officials in the global war on terror" between August 2002 and 2006. At least a third of them were victims of homicide and torture. Others succumbed to accidents, illnesses and harsh conditions of the detention centres.
On the other hand, according to official statistics provided by our Home Ministry, 147 people have died in police custody in the last 10 years since May 2000. For this year, the number of deaths in police custody is three so far. The highest in a year is 23 in 2003.
It is not a sterling record but certainly nowhere near the claim by SABM of 1,805 deaths in half that period.
Which makes one wonder: What kind of numbers are the people behind SABM trying to do and on whom? Where did they get their statistics from, anyway? The claim by Suaram that 1,000 people have been detained without trial is aimed at misleading.
Last year, it says, "there were nine detainees under the ISA". The fact is, there were nine people STILL being detained under ISA that year. There was only one fresh detainee — Mas Selamat, Singapore's terror suspect.
In the last one year, scores of people were released by the government from the ISA, a fact curiously downplayed by Suaram.
And just this morning, the local pro-Opposition sites are starting to quote the New Tang Dynasty Television, which reported Suaram as saying that "Malaysia arrested nearly 1,000 anti-government protesters in 2009, signalling ... a heightened intolerance (against dissent)".
Most of these ludicrous claims will stay unchallenged for weeks, perhaps months.
Sometimes, a fallacy is allowed to fester in cyberspace until it becomes, to many Netizens, a fact.
A good example is the tale of how Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak supposedly calling on the Malays to "bathe the keris with Chinese blood" during a rally in Kampung Baru in 1987.
This scene, which was made up by an anti-Najib blogger about two years ago, went unchallenged, and even made it into Wikipedia and a published compilation of the darndest politicians' quotes.
Banning these books, withdrawing publication permits and raiding media offices as means to fight the lies people write about this country will not solve the problem. Investors won't like it, either.
It will be far more effective for the government to churn out all the relevant statistics that matter about the country, including how many people were not arrested for staging anti-government protests, if necessary, so as to help paint the correct picture of our country, for the benefit of ourselves and not just the investors.