Saturday, May 30, 2009

Double take on Malaysians

This is an interesting piece in the NST, exposing the hypocrisy and double standards in all of us.

KOH LAY CHIN: Malaysia a land of irony and incongruity

IT'S a tragic but fascinating story that is now showcasing the ironies and contractions of politics and public opinion. When former South Korean president Roh Moo-Hyun committed suicide recently over a broadening corruption scandal, he was transformed overnight from leader tainted by graft to honourable man wronged by political enemies. Videos of his funeral have the overwhelming sound of South Koreans weeping loudly in crowds, the outpouring of grief unmistakable.

We see the nation mourning and grappling with the confusion and ironies over justice, corruption and public image.

Malaysia has its fair share of contradictions too.

Are we staunchly against the Internal Security Act, calling for its abolition or are we more agreeable to it when a Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist named Mas Selamat is put under its fangs? There was hardly a peep from any quarter protesting his arrest under the draconian law, so it must have been deemed publicly justifiable.

It must have been galling for pro-Nizar supporters when the Kuala Lumpur High Court had decided he was the rightful Perak menteri besar, and they went about celebrating the rule of law, only to have it turned around by the Court of Appeal. But do we only knock court decisions and government policies when they do not favour us?

Cynics and oppositionists would probably argue that anything to do with the ruling power or perceived to be linked to it "never favours us".

So if people say "Run RPK, Run", telling blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin (who had been twice detained under ISA) to stand up for justice by running away from our courts, would we also be supportive if Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo's supporters, for example, tell the former Selangor menteri besar to run from inquiries into the disbursement of Selangor funds?

There would be the expected arguments, of course, over their personalities and character, over who is actually doing the judging, and who is "truly" right and wrong. But how does anyone really know what is truth, what is fiction, or a mishmash of both?

Do we suffer from selective criticism and combativeness?

Perhaps it is that we have become so clouded in partisanship, and used to people labelling us as either black or white. As to our principles and the stands we take, sometimes it would seem we are at twos about what we want as well.

We don't want foreign workers crowding our shores but we know we still want them at our mamak stalls and taking care of our children. We hate the traffic and environmental degradation but give us more cars, and make them cheap.

We hate corruption, but try to find jalan keluar atau masuk (a way out or in) when it comes to roadblocks or business transactions. We want to obey our royalty, but we don't. We want the best brains to lead our administrations and corporations but woe betide them if they are from Cambridge or Oxford. We want to be recognised in order of merit first, but if lineage or family ties come in the picture we want you out. On the argument of needs versus merit, what reactions await if a rich kid who scores all 17 1As gets the scholarship, rather than the poor student who scores 13 1As.

During his tenure as Education Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had said he really saw how difficult and divisive a subject like education could be to Malaysians. Even as people were crying out for one unitary school system, communalists were fighting for their own schools and rights.

Even the most 1Malaysia-minded and progressive friend I know, a Chinese, paused when asked if he would be okay if we were to abolish all Chinese schools.

"Just Mandarin classes in the national schools, how about that? We make it all the same for everyone," I suggested.

There were a few seconds of confusion on his face, before carefully answering, "Well I guess, that would have to be the case." But, he continued, "Not many will like that."

Those five words are an understatement.

The Education Ministry throughout the decades has failed us, many Malaysians are quick to lambast. But if put in the hot seat, would they face the Malay nationalists, the Chinese educationists, the Hindraf-minded Indian activists and tell them "No more communal demands and battles?"

We love the "salad bowl" side of our Malaysian life, so how do we become more "melting pot"? What do we actually want?

Navigating through these thorny issues is what Malaysia has been doing for decades, and we have had our steady wins and losses. If Malaysians can even argue about 1Malaysia and what it means, it just seems that as we are putting out small fires all over the place we are now as confused and quarrelsome as ever about the bigger picture. There is only one thing that remains consistent throughout: that Malaysia is a land of irony and incongruity. But we sure do keep trying.

PKFZ Report: Time to book the violators

The PKFZ report is out but Malaysians want to see those responsible for violating governmental procedures and guidelines with possible conflicts of interest to be answerable. In other words, the report should not just gather dust. It should not be released merely to calm the public. Real follow-up actions must be taken by the MACC, which has claimed that it has completed its initial investigations.

The public has the right to know because the costs to incurred are very big, ballooning to an estimated RM7.453bil mainly due to interest charges. It could even go as high as RM12.5bil should PKA default on its loan repayments in the years ahead.

If that's the case, the MACC should not waste too much time in hauling up those who need to answer for the role they played in this fiasco.

One is reminded of the RM2.5bil BMF scandal in 1983, where powerful individuals were channelling the money from the bank into their private accounts. One auditor sent to investigate the case was murdered in Hong Kong.

Powerful figures would surely be involved in the PKFZ report but the MACC needs to show that there is no such thing as the untouchables. The PKFZ would mean nothing if there is no action. There is always a price to be paid in the pursuit of tranparency and accountability. The leadership has taken the first step by releasing the report, now it must complete the journey. There would be threats of legal suits but so what? The bottom line is simple - the guilty parties must be prosecuted.

There could be costly political implications but in the long run, this new level of transparency would be good for the country. The people has cried out loudly for real reforms. The talk about fighting corruption and abuses means nothing if there is selective prosecution. This is what "People First, Performance Now" should be about.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Penanti: Aminah spices up the by-election

What is seemingly a boring by-election in Penanti is shaping up to be an interesting one. Independent candidate Aminah Abdullah is claiming she was offered the post of the Penang Municipal Council president and a cool RM80,000 to withdraw from the race. She distributed copies of an audio recording to reporters where the said offer supposedly took place at her home. All very intriguing.
She alleged that two PKR top guns made the offer on May 13. One was said to be an aide to a Penang PKR government official and another a high ranking leader. There is also a video clip too, it seemed. The word is that she is expected to name names tomorrow.

Aminah is a former PKR grassroots leader and her accusations would certainly spice up the by-election, which has been dismissed as a non-event by many following the BN decision not to contest. Aminah, a former Penang PKR Wanita chief, is unlikely to cause much damage to PKR in this state constituency, which is part of Anwar Ibrahim's stronghold.

But what Aminah could reveal, if there is something substantial, would show how little difference there is among politicians, whatever their parties. In the end, it's all about power and fulfilling self interests despite claims to be fighting for the people. The former Penanti assemblyman quit his post following allegations of corruption, which he claimed was an internal conspiracy to get rid of him. He was later cleared by the MACC and had threatened to spill the beans but he didn't.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Perak crisis: Let's end this - negotiate and compromise

Here's a strong but sensible article by highly respectable law professor, Shah Saleem Faruqi. He has called for an end to the Perak crisis, describing the impasse as "insane" and a display of "unprincipled politics" and "in this stalemate, there would be no winners and take all solutions." He has called for compromise and negotiations, which would be a sensible end to this standoff instead of going to the courts. Read this article, which appeared in The Star on May 22.

Put interest of the nation first

THE Perak political crisis can be likened to a malignant cancer that is voraciously spreading to the lymph nodes of our other institutions – the Sultanate, the judiciary, the federal executive, the civil service, the police, the law officers of the Crown, the court registry, the Anti-Corruption Com­­mission and the Election Commission.

The longer we wait, the farther the affliction will spread. It is time, therefore, to stop this madness, this divisiveness, this polarisation.

There are no black and white, open and shut, or simple solutions.

The issues are so complex and so interconnected that arguments from both sides of the divide have depth and richness.

In sych a politically-charged situation, the courts cannot supply any satisfactory solutions. The judiciary is suited to resolving legal issues, not political ones.

The courts usually provide piecemeal solutions to simple, succinct questions.

But when there is a bottomless cesspool of polarising and contentious issues, no court, here or anywhere, can wipe away the discord and restore harmony and sanity.

Thus, even if after an agonizingly slow course of interim proceedings, ap­­­peals and cross appeals there is an authoritative judicial determination of who the legitimate Mentri Besar is, a plethora of other connected is­­sues — each capable of toppling the apple cart — will still be left unaddressed.

Among the issues are the validity of the resignation letters by the three who opted out of Pakatan Rakat to be Independents friendly to Barisan Nasional; the unilateral power of the Speaker to declare Assembly seats vacant; and the power of the Election Commission to make a ruling on the same issue.

If there are calls for a vote of confidence on the floor of the House, the Speaker may frustrate it by disqualifying and barring 10 out of 59 members of the Assembly from attending the proceedings.

Is the Speaker subject to a restraining order from the court, or are proceedings in the Assembly immune from judicial interference?

If the result of a vote of confidence is influenced by exclusion of a large number of members, is the Sultan bound by it?

Or does he have any other way of determining the question of “confidence of the members of the Assembly”?

There are disagreements about the legal validity of the “assembly un­­­­­­­der the tree” and the resolutions it passed.

The removal of V. Sivakumar as Perak Assembly Speaker and the installation of Datuk R. Ganesan as the new Speaker aroused deep revulsion and raised many legal issues.

The repeated dismissal and rein­state­­ment of the Secretary of the Perak Assembly, the State Secretary and the State Legal Advisor pose ma­­ny queries.

Scores of local authority personnel have lost their jobs in the musical-chair manner in which governments are rising and falling in Pe­­rak.

Till a judicial decision is made on the validity of the removal and the rein­statement, there will be doubts about the legality of any decisions they may have made.

Partisan tactics by the police within the premises of the State Assembly raise constitutional issues of the sanc­­­tity and privileges of state as­­semblies.

The officers involved may one day have to appear before the Privileges Committee to answer charges of con­tempt.

In sum, the political crisis in Perak is like a hydra-headed monster that cannot be eliminated so easily by ding-dong judicial decisions.

Let us stop this insane and naked show of unprincipled politics.

Let us accept that in this stalemate, there are no winner-take-all solutions.

For this reason, recourse to the courts is pointless. The warring factions should negotiate and accommodate.

There are four more years to the next general election.

Barisan and Pakatan can agree to share two years each at the helm.

Alternatively, there is the political possibility of appointment of a neutral, caretaker government advising dissolution and state elections within 60 days from the date of dissolution.

There is the legal sledgehammer of federal intervention through an emergency proclamation under Arti­cle 150 of the Federal Constitu­tion, as happened in Sarawak in 1966 and Kelantan in 1977.

This may restore order out of chaos to pave the way for a state poll in due course of time.

The country as a whole is more important than the fate of Barisan or Pakatan in Perak.

In Rome, Nero played the fiddle while the city burned. We should not allow that to happen to us.

Perak politicians have no right to paralyse the rest of the country or to distract us from the many urgent and daunting tasks staring us in the face.

Among them are an economy reeling under the effects of the world financial turmoil, racial polarisation, the conflict between civil and syariah courts, and the deeply divisive is­­sue of religious conversion of minors upon one parent changing his or her religion.

The liberalisation of the economy requires deft handling. The review of such controversial laws as the ISA requires thorough con­­sultation and deep soul-searching. The education system is ripe for review.

Because of the shenanigans in Perak, the country is on the verge of a political precipice.

We are afraid both to climb or to fall. But the ground is slipping be­­neath us.

Quick action is needed.

The public is fed up with political intrigues and wishes a closure to this Perak temasya.

Perhaps the Conference of Rulers can exercise its powers under Article 38 (3) to discuss issues of national importance and to propose some via­ble solutions to the Perak crisis.

Perhaps the Yang di-Pertuan Agong can draw on his vast prerogative power to advise, caution and warn about the long-term effects of Perak to the integrity of our legal and political system.

Perhaps politically disinterested, towering personalities like Tun Musa Hitam or Tan Sri Razali Ismail could be roped in to broker peace and to stop this haemorrhaging of public trust.

We have had enough of political mudslinging and acrimony. We need to move on to the real problems and challenges of living.

Prof Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi is a Professor of Law at Universiti Teknologi Mara

Friday, May 22, 2009

Court of Appeal: Zamry is MB

The Court of Appeal has declared Zambry Abd Kadir to be the rightful MB after granting his appeal. It was a unanimous decision from the three-man bench. The decision would surely be a boost for the BN but the battle is far from over.

Nizar Jamaluddin still has the Federal Court to appeal. That would be the final court battle. There is also the battle for the hearts and minds of the people and at this point, no one can deny that Nizar has the upper hand. The question is this - are there behind-the-scenes moves to get out of this impasse? Has Najib, Anwar and Kit Siang sent their men to meet quietly to work out some arrangements following the reported moves to talk? Or is a fresh state elections the only way out finally?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Perak crisis: Zambry is back as Perak MB

Latest: Please click here for the full written judgment of High Court judge Aziz Rahim.

It has been a short-lived joy for Nizar Jamaluddin. He chaired an exco meeting today but Zambry Abdul Kadir has managed to obtain a stay of execution from the Court of Appeals. In short, Zambry is now back as MB pending the hearing of his appeal. The High Court had ruled yesterday that Nizar was the rightful MB. He is also seeking for a Royal consent to dissolve the state assembly.

As expected, Zambry is likely to use all the legal avenues available to him. He still has the Court of Appeals and the Federal Court to hear his case. Nizar has been escorted out of the State Secretariat. The Perak battle is likely to go now to the courts. But this charade is getting tiresome. It is most terribly hard for the staff at the State Secretariat too. Zambry is expected to go back to his MB office tomorrow. This impasse isn't benefiting anyone, whether BN or PR.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Perak crisis - more battles ahead

Nizar leaves the court after it ruled that he is the rightful Perak MB. More pictures from Star Online, click here.

It's going to be more complicated. The High Court has ruled that Pakatan Rakyat's Nizar Jamaluddin is the rightful Perak MB. It is a significant decision because it proves the independence of the judiciary. The judge did not take any political order. The BN's application for a stay of execution was also rejected. That means Nizar is MB until the Court of Appeal makes a decision.

Of course, there is still the Federal Court but as of now, there is nothing to stop him from chairing a meeting of the state exco. The complication however is this - he does not have the majority of the House. How that is to be proved is yet another issue since the court has ruled that the majority is to be determined by a vote of confidence in the State Assembly and not through other means. Nizar has said that he would seek an audience with the Sultan to get his consent for the dissolution of the state assembly.

Barisan's Zamry Abdul Kadir can be expected to argue that he has the numbers - a point that the Sultan cannot ignore. It would be this point that has made the crisis difficult to resolve in Perak. The Tuanku would also likely consider another factor - the legal avenues have yet to be exhausted.

Given Nizar's popularity, he has plenty of reasons to believe the Pakatan Rakyat would win big if the Sultan agrees to a fresh poll. The other debating point would be the legal position of last week's state assembly, now that the court has ruled he is the rightful MB.

I am not a lawyer and my questions are based on what lawyers and political analysts have said. I am sure there are other legal opinions and lawyers would have differing views on every issue. But it doesn't look like the end of the issue today. Time is running against the personalities involved in the crisis - Nizar needs to have an audience with the Sultan quickly and Zamry needs to file his appeal, get a hearing and a decision of the Court of Appeal. If the Court of Appeal agrees with the High Court decision, it would be a breather for him. If not, he would have lost another round.

At the end of the day, only a political decision can resolve the impasse. Either fresh elections are called or a truce is worked out between BN and PR, an indication of some sort, was voiced out by Najib Razak, Anwar Ibrahim and Lim Kit Siang. But with the new scenario, the PR may longer be interested in such possibilities. The immediate likelihood is that the issue would drag on for a while with the battles being fought in the courts.

See also the Malaysian Bar website.

Police should not be too jumpy

Why are the police acting so jumpy? The cops reportedly stormed a DAP dinner in Sitiawan after the party showed footage of the recent fracas in the Perak state assembly. The DAP apparently defied orders not to show it. Audio visual equipment was seized. We understand the police have a job to do. They would have acted on orders. But seriously, this reactive and super-sensitive actions are not helping the force one single bit.

The visuals are available on You Tube - angles being put up to suit your political leanings - and the footage was also shown on national television. Really, it's no Official Secrets. In short, the whole world has seen it. So what's the fuss if the DAP wants to put it up? In fact, the BN should also put up their own video to prove the BN did not start the fracas. See Rocky Bru for the footages.

Let the people see for themselves the various footages. Was Sivakumar dragged out or did he want to be dragged out? Was it the BN or the DAP assemblymen who created the fiasco?

But the point is that the police need to show they are not taking sides. They need to show some restraint. The recent arrest of five lawyers at Brickfields has already dented the force's image. The latest incident won't help.

Friday, May 8, 2009

How Mas Selamat stays elusive

The big news is the capture of Mas Selamat (Star Online). Singapore Straits Times has the story too. But the satire by the Singapore website is hilarious.

Arrest of lawyers - it's ridiculous and shameful

Updates: 4.30pm - The five lawyers have been released.

The five lawyers arrested for representing the protestors is certainly a case of over-reaction by the police. Surely as lawyers, they have a right to represent their clients. Let the court decide whether their clients have taken part in a wrongful assembly.

The police may have arrested the protestors yesterday but it is not for the cops to decide on their guilt or innocence. Arresting their lawyers is certainly incredulous, even outrageous. What were the cops at Brickfields police station thinking when they decided to arrest the five lawyers?

It is not only shocking but a clear transgression of the rule of law. Turning up at the police station is not exactly shouting protests in the streets. They could have been wearing black suits but not in black T-shirts. Every person arrested by the police must be have the right to legal representation.

What signals are the police sending when they arrest these lawyers? This is totally unbecoming of the police there and the Inspector General of Police should ask for a report from them. They should be reprimanded and even action taken against them for their abuse of power.

Lawyers should not be given the impression that they risk arrest if they represent dissenters. They deserve the right to be defended and certainly what has happened today is utterly shameful. This is not a police state and certainly it would not be tolerated by any rational thinking person.There is no need for the cops to over-react.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Perak's Animal House

It's utterly disgraceful. We all expected them to have a showdown. Name calling, protest and shouting, perhaps. But the Perak lawmakers seem to have gone further. From alleged pepper spraying to shoving and wresting for the microphone, we have gone down the Taiwan way, where such antics have become a norm at their legisalature meetings.

What has happened today is a new low in Malaysian politics. I cannot remember police having to be called into the chambers of any House. It's regarded as a sacred place. During the 80s, I recalled Karpal Singh being escorted out of the Penang Assembly after the Sargeant At Arms failed to persuade Karpal to leave. Karpal left together with then OCPD of George Town. But he did so with a degree of dignity and the officer was also very polite and professional.

There have been calls that a fresh election be called in Perak to let the people decide. But before that, we should all insist that an anti-hopping law be enacted first. What's the point of having fresh polls if there is going to elected representatives who may quit to be independents or defectors. It does not look like there is any political party which would want to have such a law, all claiming it's against the federal constitution which guarantees freedom of association.

PAS deputy president Husam Musa has said that the party is wooing a Barisan assemblyman in Kelantan to defect. The announcement, he said, would be made very soon. Anwar Ibrahim himself planned the Sept 16 massive crossovers which failed miserably. The Perak crisis today is a result of such defections. In Penang, a forced by-election is taking place because of internal PKR fighting. These politicians have failed Malaysians.

Blow-by-blow accounts at The Star Online and Malaysian Insider among others.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Swine Flu: Alarm bells are justified

I have been asked by an annoyed businessman whether the press has over reacted in its coverage of the swine flu issue. The front page coverage is no doubt bad for business, especially for those involved in tourism and air travel. The global financial crisis is already bad enough for airlines and the swine flu isn't helping.

But we are dealing with human lives here. It is a health issue that concerns human lives. So the education and precaution are necessary. In comparison against SARS, which claimed many lives, so far only one fatal case has been reported. But we must note that this is a new strain of flu virus.We haven't developed an immunity and we are unsure how harmful it would be. This is a flu that is spreading from human to human.

The alarm bells are certainly justified. At this point, no one is even sure why the flu has hit so many victims in Mexico. The World Health Organisation has correctly asked the flu to be renamed as pig farmers have been blamed unfairly. In some countries, pigs have been culled and pork banned. It is a silly reaction but that's due to ignorance and even prejudices. This is where education comes to play.

Precaution, as they sayd, is better than cure. Diseases are being spread faster now because the world has become smaller. The easy access to air travel simply means diseases would be passed faster. It's the same with arrivals of foreign workers, who may not have been properly checked. Tuberculosis, for example, has returned to countries like Malaysia and Singapore which do not have such disease for a long time but it has made a comeback because of the foreign workers.