CHANGES are seeping through the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) since Admiral Maritime Datuk Zulkifli Abu Bakar (pic) took over as director-general on June 1. He is even “diagnosing” the Body Mass Index of his officers so that they are trim enough for the job.
In an interview with Sunday Star, he listed out the many items on his to-do list.
Q: What are your hopes for MMEA?
MMEA was set up on Nov 1, 2005, and we have made a lot of progress in the past 12 years.
I was part of the pioneer batch of MMEA leadership. I know where we can do more and where we can improve.
> What are some of the areas that you will focus on?
I think when we were first established, we were too focused on getting started and doing enforcement. We managed to fulfil our obligations, the KPI that has been set to reduce crime index and so on.
But we also need to develop expertise in specific areas rather than doing things in general and to be good. Now is the time to focus on “specialisation” so that we can sustain in the long run.
I think it is more important to establish ourselves in developing a career path for our officers while making sure that they are equipped with the right knowledge by going for proper courses and continuous training.
> What is your plan to address this issue of training?
We will keep track of all our officers and make sure that we select the good ones and provide them with the best opportunities. For those who are weak, we will try to raise them to a certain level and make them equal or on par with those who are categorised as good.
We will also make sure discipline and integrity are being addressed. Just like any other enforcement agency, time and again, we will hear about officers who lacked integrity or in need of a check or audit. In terms of the image as an officer, I think you have to carry yourself (in the right manner). You have to look like an officer; if you are in uniform, then you must look fit and have certain criteria in terms of BMI, You must act and look the part, walk the talk, look like an enforcement officer and not someone who is weak.
> So you want to focus on an internal revamp?
That’s right, I want our officers and men to be more polished in appearance. I will pay attention to their capabilities so that they will be more knowledgeable and more professional. MMEA is also known as the Malaysian Coast Guard. It carries a different meaning; an additional responsibility. That means internationally, you are recognised as a coast guard and you are supposed to be professional, you are supposed to be knowledgeable not only in law enforcement but also in protecting the country’s sovereignty. We are also getting new ships. We have signed a contract for three Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) to be built in Malaysia.
> You want to improve personnel and career development. So it is not at a satisfactory level now?
I’d say yes. The focus before this was to get MMEA to run the normal day to day operations, so we didn’t really focus on career building. I think it is time to address this situation. We must have a career progression and we must ensure that there is a proper succession plan. For example, I see that there is an age gap in terms of succession. When we first started, we invited other agencies to send their officers to join MMEA. Now, generally speaking, these officers are of certain age or maturity. For example, I was already about 46 years old when I first joined.
Then we started a new intake where officers are between 25 to 29 years old. So the gap is very big. We need to address this in the middle management.
> Is this a transformation for MMEA?
I wouldn’t call it a transformation. To me, I want to address the gaps and weaknesses. In other words, it’s more like tweaking or a modification. I have two years in my tenure as DG. I will retire at 60. For a transformation, I would need more time. In my first month, if at all there is a change, I will address the issue on assets. That I will consider as an “adjustment”. I wouldn’t say it is a change or policy change.
I will consolidate the assets that the agency has. For example, instead of maintaining old assets, I will phase them out and focus on those that can continue to serve us longer. As for the old assets that are too expensive to maintain, I will phase them out. I don’t mind having smaller classes of ships or reduce the number of classes.
> What about having your own headquarters?
We are renting the current building in Putrajaya. Actually, we need our own office. It’s the same thing with the regional offices except for Kuching where we have KOMTAS (Kompleks Maritim Tun Abang Salahuddin). The others are all offices that we have to rent. It is time to focus on infrastructure too as we are here to stay. We have to focus on developing our own infrastructure. For the moment, we are looking at Kuantan and Miri.
>In terms of MMEA’s relations with the police, has the “big brother” mentality gone?
I think you are right. We may not be equal but let’s work together. We may not be equal today but in 10 years time, we do not know what is going to happen. When MMEA was established, they wanted it to be the sole maritime enforcement agency. But look at what happened today; there are still other agencies at sea. We just do our work. Policy issues, we leave that to the Government.
> How serious is the piracy problem and how is MMEA dealing with this?
When Orkim Harmony happened, we were working with our Indonesian counterparts in addressing the issue. (The oil tanker was hijacked in June 2015.) We managed to track where it was. It was heading towards Vietnam waters so we sought the assistance of the Australian air force. They managed to locate the vessel at the position we provided. The navy was with us the last time.
After that case, there has been no robberies so far except for the one in Bintulu. We have yet to solve that one but we have some leads. Both Indonesia and Malaysia are trying to look into this. (A tugboat and a barge transporting palm oil were robbed near Bintulu port in October last year.) You will find that there are no cases so far in the Straits of Melaka and south of Johor.