Friday, 25 July 2008

Now, boys, just settle down

Brave New World (The Star)
24 July 2008

The teacher has to rein in the unruly few or the lesson cannot start and the whole class, nay, even school, will suffer."


Good morning, boys. Good morning. Settle down, settle down. Now, it’s been a tough couple of weeks for us and as your class teacher, I think we should go over a few things.

We have been the premier school in the country for the past 50 years, but a few unpleasant incidents recently have put that position at risk.

If we don’t get our act together, we may lose our hallowed position.

Therefore, before we begin our history lesson, there are a few matters I would like to discuss with you.

First off, our head prefect, Mr Hamid, can you stand up, please? Well, it seems that you have ...

You there, yes, you, the boy at the back. Can you please stop making that obscene gesture with your hands? No, you can’t say you are just tapping your right hand with your left. That is an obscene gesture. Keep it up and I’ll give you six strokes.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, Mr Hamid. It seems that you caused a massive traffic jam at the school gates. Your prefects were stopping everybody and checking their badges and their bags. Do you realise that you caused a great deal of problems?

Boys were late to class and even teachers were late because of your overzealous behaviour. Mr Tan the Maths master was furious because half his class missed their calculus exam.

What did you say? You were concerned about the security of the school because you thought our rival school was going to cause trouble at your prefects’ meeting? And where, pray tell, did you get this intelligence?

Oh, you heard it on the grapevine? Well, the next time you choose to listen to plants, please check with me first before you go disrupting our school day.

Second on the list is our debating team. Gentlemen, please join me in a round of applause for the hard work of our team captain, Mr Chik.

He put up a courageous display against a debater who had miles more experience than him. Bravo, Mr Chik, a brave effort indeed.

Brave but futile, I’m afraid. Mr Chik, I have spoken to the debate master and he told me that you hardly did any research.

Listen, my boy, you can’t beat the opposition by making personal attacks on their past.

You have to put over your point clearly; otherwise you’ll just look foolish.

And one more thing; for the next debate, please bring a handkerchief.

All right, now it is time to discuss some academic matters. I have just marked your General Paper test and I was quite shocked with some of your answers.

Mr Ibrahim, stand up, please. Young man, I read your essay on government scholarships and it was very passionate and fiery but you can’t just make things up.

There is nowhere in the Constitution that says that all scholarships are reserved for Malays.

It says that reservations of a proportion of scholarships for Malays may be made by the King. It does not say every single sen is for one group or another.

Don’t argue with me, boy! You got it all wrong. All you have to do is read the blinking thing.

What do you mean you did read it? What did you see exactly when you read it?

Perhaps I should send you to the school nurse. I think you need glasses.

One last thing; as you all know, half the boys in this school stay in the hostel.

It has come to my attention that the day boys have been teasing the hostel boys by questioning, how can I put it, their ... manliness.

This behaviour has got to stop. It is childish and undignified. It also reflects an obsession with matters sexual that borders on the unhealthy.

The next time you get the urge to speculate about another person’s private life, may I suggest you play some rugby and let the exertions raise your minds from the gutter?

Very well then, I trust the events of the past few weeks have taught you all a lesson and the debacles that have so embarrassed us will not be repeated.

We can now begin our history lesson. Would you be so kind as to take out your textbooks and turn to page ...

For the last time, boy, stop making that gesture! You have had your warning, and seeing as how you are too uncouth to show the slightest bit of remorse and repentance, I shall see you after class.

Let’s see whether you can keep doing that with your hands once I’ve caned them raw.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, please open your books to page 46 ...

Who knows what’s true anymore?

Brave New World (The Star)
26 June 2008

"The accusations made over the past couple of weeks are merely symptomatic of a justice system on the verge of collapse. We are in desperate need of a revamp of the justice system, and we the people should keep demanding for it."


What a messy couple of weeks it has been. First, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is accused (yet again) of the type of love that dare not speak its name. Then out of nowhere, a private eye comes out with a statutory declaration implying that the Deputy Prime Minister was involved in the murder case of Altantuya Shaariibuu.

The very next day, the same fellow retracts his original statutory declaration and replaces it with a new one that completely leaves out any mention of the DPM. Apparently, he was coerced into making the first one.

I was asked the other day who I believed. Whose story is true?

My answer was “How the blinking heck should I know?” I am not any of the people mentioned above. I am not their friend or relative, and I was not present at any of the places where all these things were supposed to have happened.

And most of us don’t know either. That is not to say that the chattering does not stop. In fact, the chattering has got very noisy indeed.

Some are so disgusted by all these claims, counter-claims, accusations and counter-accusations that they have withdrawn in a hissy huff.

Others relish the new developments, coming up with theories and conspiracies that boggle the mind.

The Prime Minister then steps in and says all this must stop. All the second-guessing and rumour mongering is akin to treachery and is bad for the nation. The truth must not be clouded by perceptions.

Ah, the truth, the sweet, sweet truth. That is the real issue here, isn’t it?

While some refuse to give all the dirty political manoeuvrings the time of day and others add grease to its wheels, neither have mentioned the all-so-obvious – the reason this kind of garbage can occur and the reason it gets discussed so much is because we don’t know whom to trust any more. We are not confident that the truth will ever be uncovered.

However, all this hullabaloo surrounding the accusations is merely symptomatic of a justice system on the verge of collapse.

If we had a police force whom we knew with almost 100% certainty would serve the law and not the executive; if we could believe that every single judge was utterly independent of any outside influence; if we could place hand on heart and say that the Public Prosecutor would prosecute without fear or favour; then we would have a sound justice system.

And if that were the case, all these issues would be sorted out via due process and in good time. And all the conspiracies would be confined to the fringes rather than be in the mainstream of debate.

This debacle must not be taken at face value. It must be treated as what it really is – a loss of trust in the institutions of justice.

So, instead of hiding in the comfort of Astro TV or wallowing in the who-did-what-to-whom, we should instead be focused on finding a cure to the real problem. We are in desperate need of a revamp of the justice system.

This is something that we the people should keep on demanding.

And the Prime Minister should also take heed that it is well and good to tell the people to listen to the truth, but after years of judicial scandal; a police force that appears governed by the executive and not by the rule of law; an Attorney-General’s Chambers that is beholden to the political demands of the nation’s leaders; and a press muzzled by repressive laws with a government that is not afraid to use them; it is not a simple matter of not wanting to listen to the truth.

It is a matter of not ever being confident just what the truth is.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Is the Government serious or not?

Brave New World (The Star)
26 June 2008

Making the judicial appointment process more transparent and accountable and having true separation of powers will be our main safeguard against tyranny."


In April, the Prime Minister made a speech at a dinner organised by the Bar Council and the Government. In it, he promised that there would be established a Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) made up of “primary stakeholders” to shortlist nominees for judges.

This was to make the judicial appointment process more transparent and accountable and thus ensure that the judiciary could once more be trusted.

Earlier this month, the Royal Commission set up to investigate the Lingam tapes came out with its report and, apart from confirming the veracity of the video and condemning the damage done to the judiciary by those named by senior lawyer V.K. Lingam in their devious ploys at determining which judge was promoted, the Commission suggested that a JAC be established and that its recommendations should be taken heed of by the Prime Minister, who could reject its views only in the most extreme of circumstances.

I didn’t write about these two developments earlier because, being Malaysian, cynicism runs in my veins and I wanted to see whether any real developments would happen. Not just talk.

Personally, I would like to see the Prime Minister, as the head of the Executive, having nothing at all to do with the appointment and promotion of judges. Only in that way can there be true separation of powers, our main safeguard against tyranny.

In that sense, the Royal Commission’s suggestion was a little mild for my liking. Having said that, it is still a million times better than the system that we have now – a system where the Prime Minister has the final say, and the appointment and promotion of judges is done arbitrarily.

Regarding the Prime Minister’s speech, although I did not feel the need to give him a standing ovation as the Bar did, I was optimistically cautious. After all, the independence of the judiciary was one of the waves that made up the political tsunami of March 8.

No right thinking premier indeed would not take note of this fact and take the necessary steps to give the people what they want.

And for a while at least, it looked like the Prime Minister was on the road to doing just that.

He appointed Datuk Zaid Ibrahim (who was not even selected to stand for election – maybe because of the liberal sounds he makes) as a senator and made him the de facto Law Minister. Zaid then promised not only a JAC but also to return Article 121 to its original form.

Article 121, for those of you who have never slept through a Constitutional Law lecture, is about judicial power. It used to be that the Judiciary determined its own jurisdiction, i.e. what cases it could, and could not, hear.

Article 121 was amended in 1988 to give that power to Parliament. So now Parliament has the power to tell the Judiciary what sort of cases it can judge. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the separation of powers.

Then last Saturday, it was reported that the proposed JAC Zaid tabled before the Cabinet had been “put on hold”. The newspaper report was full of coy statements by the Law Minister when faced with the question of whether the Prime Minister was truly committed to the idea.

Well, I’m not in government and I don’t have to be coy. If the Prime Minister and his Cabinet were committed to the idea of a clean, fair and independent judiciary, we should be making substantial steps forward with the proposal by Zaid being made open to the public for further debate before it is sent to the Attorney-General’s Chambers to be made into a Bill.

As it is, it all seems to be in limbo. Just what is it about the proposal that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet dislike? Is it the fact that one man does not hold all the power anymore? Could it be the idea that the loss of the ability to twist the judiciary around the fingers of the Executive is so shocking that it can’t be endured?

Frankly, I think that is the only reason for this plan to be “put on hold”. The Government wants to control the Judiciary. It doesn’t want an independent bench. It doesn’t want the citizens of this country to enjoy the security of a competent court whose powers are separate and safe from the political machinations of the Executive and the Legislature.

If a JAC made up of reputable “primary stakeholders”, and not by toadying civil servants and politicians, is not established, and if Article 121 is not returned to its original form, then whatever shred of credibility this government may have will be destroyed.

The Cabinet will have to decide. Does it want to “renew the public’s trust in the nation’s Judiciary”, or is its hunger for dominance and total control over the three branches of government so ravenous that it can’t see beyond the short term?

Does the Cabinet not realise that by taking away from the people what is rightfully theirs, it is merely digging its own grave?