Sunday August 19, 2012
By DZOF AZMI
To win gold at the Olympics, or to eradicate crime in the country, we have first to fully understand the problems that we face.
DATUK Lee Chong Wei and Pandelela Rinong Pamg deserve to be congratulated for their medal-winning feats at the Olympics. Even the National Sports Council (NSC) is pleased, having invested RM20mil in the “Road To London 2012” programme.
Of course, if the NSC had consulted me first, I could have given them some advice: that’s far too little money to hope for even one gold medal.
I say this with some confidence, having read the statistics on what other countries had spent for each Olympic gold medal they won – hundreds of millions of ringgit. In comparison, RM20mil is almost a rounding error.
Another set of statistics I uncovered recently sheds some light on the problem of crime in Malaysia.
The Gallup World Poll identifies seven critical conditions that it believes can affect the development of a country. But it says upfront that “the presence of law and order is the first and most important manageable condition.”
Given that crime is a hot topic at the moment, where exactly does Malaysia stand with respect to this?
As far as the South-East Asian region is concerned, not very well.
Specifically, 17% of Malaysian respondents have had “money or property stolen from (them) or another household member” in the last 12 months. This ranks the country as fifth in the region, behind Singapore (3%), Indonesia (8%), Myanmar (9%) and Thailand (12%).
Additionally, 3% of the Malaysians who responded had reportedly been assaulted or mugged in the last 12 months. The figure is better compared to the Philippines (5%) and Thailand (4%), but worse when compared with Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam (1% each).
However, care must be taken when interpreting results that have low percentage points, given that Gallup’s poll sample sizes are about 1,000 people. Statistical error and the closeness of results means that we cannot be very confident about where exactly the different countries lie relative to each other.
Finally, when asked, “Do you feel safe walking alone at night?” Malaysia ranks the worst in South-East Asia, with only 46% saying yes. The country that’s a notch higher than us on the list is the Philippines, at 62% .
One thing that interests me is that these statistics on crime in the country came from a survey conducted by an independent body which had contacted the public directly. The results are not very detailed, still, there are three conclusions I think I can safely draw from them.
Firstly, it shouldn’t be surprising that many Malaysians know somebody who has been a victim of violent crime – despite the fact that this is usually used as evidence that the crime rate in the country is high.
If you assume the incidence of assault in Singapore is 1% (as implied in the survey), those who have a hundred friends (who form a representative sample of the country’s population) have a 65% chance of knowing somebody who has been assaulted. If we include theft at 3%, there is a 98% chance that the respondents will know someone who is a victim.
Secondly, although Malaysia ranks poorly safety-wise compared to our South-East Asian neighbours, we fare rather well compared to other countries in the world.
On the question of whether money or property was stolen in the last 12 months, we rank a joint 79th safest (along with the likes of Iraq, France, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Canada and Denmark), and on whether one was assaulted within that same period, a joint 53rd (tied with countries such as Norway, Cambodia, Austria, Sri Lanka, China and Ireland).
Again, note that the assault rankings are probably really volatile.
(It may interest those who say that Malaysia is replacing Mexico as the crime capital of the world to know that assault-wise Mexico is ranked 145th, with 16% of its citizens surveyed reporting they had been attacked in the previous year.)
Thirdly, our fear of crime is disproportionate to the actual incidence of crime. Despite ranking 79th and 53rd in terms of theft and assault, respectively, Malaysia ranked 128th when respondents were asked if they felt safe walking outdoors alone. In other words, despite the country being significantly safer than Uganda and Mexico, Malaysians are almost as afraid to go outdoors as their citizens. Why is this so?
This is not an easy question to answer but I suspect that it is a combination of expectation and how the human brain manages risk.
Ironically, in its effort to push Malaysia to developed nation status, Pemandu (the Performance Management and Delivery Unit in the Prime Minister’s Office) has also focused on the issue of crime, which has raised public awareness of it. However, the public is also vocally sceptical about data given by the Government, in view of the number of newspaper reports on crime in the country.
People expect crime in almost-developed Malaysia to be low, so any individual report of an attack seems a contradiction. On top of that, people are notoriously bad at assessing (and managing) risk, and tend to both over-estimate rare occurrences, and over-mitigate with solutions. We even have a phrase for it: “Better safe than sorry.” Truth is, we just don’t know how dangerous it is out there.
We need better data before we can debate solutions. For example, Britain’s police have a website that lists any crime reported, according to city, all the way down to street level (police.uk).
If Malaysia had something similar, it would help warn the public about dangerous hot spots, as well as push local communities to work with the police to find solutions. To that extent, I believe that the Car Park League Table programme (a ranking system for safe mall car parks) is a step in the right direction, if it includes regularly updated crime statistics.
In both sports and crime, we may have been guilty of prescribing solutions without fully understanding the problem first, and then pointing to individual cases as “evidence” of our success or failure.
I hope we can look at the issues in a mature way, for the sake of our future. For a start, I’d like to finally see a Malaysian winning a gold medal in Rio de Janeiro. Anybody has RM100mil to spare?
> Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions.