Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Towards more open legal reform

Brave New World (The Star)
19 February 2014

What’s needed is a properly constituted and funded commission, with public participation.


ABOUT four years ago, I was invited to sit on a government committee called the Malaysian Law Reform Committee (MLRC). Its term of reference was rather vague: to review and suggest changes to outdated laws.
The members of the MLRC were mainly Barisan Nasional legislators and government lawyers with one academic (me) and one representative from the Bar.
I never had any illusions that we were going to be making proposals to revoke the Sedition Act or anything like that but still, even without looking at our more controversial laws, there is plenty that could be done.
It did not take us long to realise that we were out of our depth. There is only so much a committee, consisting of part-time members who meet every now and then, can do.
The MLRC also did not have any real authority and hence, if I am to be brutally honest, we were not taken particularly seriously.
To give credit where credit is due, V.K. Liew, (who was chairman before the last general election), was of the opinion that the MLRC was not working and what was needed was a proper Law Reform Commission.
This was supported by the majority of the committee and the current chairman, Nancy Syukri, also shares this view.
What difference would a commission make? A lot, if it is constituted properly.
Of course, it has to be a statutory body answerable to Parliament. And if it is decided that one will be created first and foremost, the commissioners must be independent from the Government.
They must, in my view, not only be independent, but they must be seen to be independent. Therefore, the selection process of the commissioners has to be transparent with input from as many relevant stakeholders as possible.
This country has a trust deficit, and if we create a commission where only one person has the final say as to its make-up, then it would mean the whole exercise starts under a fog of suspicion and the work of the commission would be undermined by a lack of public trust right from the beginning. This is counter-productive for everyone involved.
The commission must also be properly funded with enough money to ensure that high-quality staff (both research and administrative) are hired. Experts can be and must be hired on an ad hoc basis as researchers and advisers when there is a need for it.
The commission could research on existing laws or propose new laws based on suggestions by the Government and, very importantly, on their own accord if they so wish. This independence is vital because the commission’s main ethos has to be about the improvement of the law for the good of the nation and to do this properly they must not be beholden to anyone.
The operation of the commission has to include clear provisions for openness and for public participation. Reports must be published and made available to all. And it is key that there are provisions that a report by the commission is discussed in Parliament. This is the ultimate form of accountability.
You see, it is not as if laws are not being changed or new ones made just because we don’t have a commission. It happens all the time.
Mostly, it is done by the Attorney-General’s Chambers or by individual ministries. This is well and good but I submit that when laws are changed or made in this manner, it is done by agencies with their own agendas; a commission would have a much broader concern which is about the good of the whole nation.
Furthermore, in the current situation, any public consultation is done at the discretion of the A-G’s Chambers or the ministries and more importantly, perhaps, if their suggestions are not accepted by the Government of the day it disappears just like that.
Recommendations of the proposed commission are open to the public and discussed in Parliament.
So even though the Government still has the discretion whether to accept a suggestion from the commission or not, it has to be discussed in Parliament and in that way reasons must be given and this would be open to public scrutiny. It is hard to reject a good plan if you have no good reasons for it.
What has to be remembered is that all the usual mechanisms for legislative changes, suggestions from ministries and the A-G’s Chambers and even private members Bills will continue as before.
The commission does not replace anything. Instead it supplements and adds a further body with which law review can be done.
Its advantage is its independence which should earn it great public trust; its openness which means greater democratic participation and its answerability to Parliament which means it forces proper and transparent debate on its suggestions.
It is time that a more open and independent method of law reform is undertaken here. A non-partisan organisation with intellectual independence, specialisation, academic rigour and public accountability is surely the best way to achieve that.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Teresa Kok Video

Sin Chew Jit Poh
13 February 2014
There will always be nut cases in any society; those with strange, even extreme views of the world. In our country, we seem to have more than our fair share.


It is unfathomable to me that Teresa Kok’s Chinese New Year video can be seen as nothing more than a satire on the situation in Malaysia today. But to some people it is an insult to Islam and Malays.


I couldn’t see it, but then maybe it is because I do not equate the government with either the Malay ethnic group or Islam. That seems to me the only possible reason why these people can see race and religion in a video that is fundamentally nothing more than an attempt to humorously criticise the government.


So you have these nut cases killing chickens in the street, smearing the animals’ blood, stomping on politicians’ faces, threatening racial riots and offering money for people to assault a woman. Like I said; nut cases.


To have idiots spewing idiotic things is not surprising and is in fact one of those things that one has to live with if one believes in the freedom of expression. Of course in expressing yourself there are lines that need to be drawn and when you offer money in order for people to assault someone, then that line has been well and truly crossed. Maybe these loonies don’t know that; after all they are loony, but the Minister for Home Affairs must know that what happened is clearly against the law and that action should be taken.


But no, instead he says that a slap is not a threat and therefore there is no need for action to be taken. I guess it is because he is such a macho man that if people slap him he will just laugh a manly laugh and go his merry way. Who knows?


What I do know is that he has shown a total ignorance of the law as well as exhibiting a behaviour totally unfitting for a Minister. Once you are a minister, you are a minister for the whole country and not just for your party. If you can’t be responsible for the nation, including your political enemies and whoever else you may dislike, then you do not have the professionalism and the necessary principle to be a Minister.


I bet that if I gather a bunch of people and kill chickens, smear their blood, stamp on the faces of the Cabinet and offer money for anyone to slap a Barisan MP; the police will be at my door in no time. I will be charged for sedition, incitement and also probably for slaughtering animals in an undesignated place.


But we will never know because I won’t do that. I won’t do it because I am not a loony, I am civilised and I believe that you counter things you do not like with a better argument and not violence. It is such a shame that some within the government do not appear to have the same point of view as me. Like I said earlier; there will always be nut cases in any society.

Free Malaysia Today Interview - Teresa Kok Threats

13 February 2014


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Broadening the mix of political options

Brave New World (The Star)
5 February 2014

Local government elections could be a testing ground for newer and smaller parties to prove themselves.


THIS entire Kajang debacle appears to be about changing the Mentri Besar. According to an interview I read, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is of the opinion that although he is a good manager, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim does not have the political savvy to deal with the type of attacks the Selangor government has been facing.
Issues which inflame heated emotions need an experienced politician (like Anwar) to deal with them, not a chief executive officer (like Khalid). Yeah, well, whatever.
It is very wearisome to me, all this political wrangling.
Frankly, I couldn’t care less about internal party politics.
What I want is a government that in my view is as good as a government can be. I won’t discuss what I mean by that because that would require a separate article by itself.
So, as long as the mentri besar does his job well, he or she can be whoever the winning party believes should lead them.
Aha, but it is not so simple, is it? Because we don’t have a presidential system of government, we don’t actually have a direct say on whom we want to be the mentri besar.
And even if I am rather blasé about the whole thing, it does not mean my fellow Selangor residents feel the same way.
The sounds that I hear are generally those in favour of Khalid staying; those in favour of Anwar taking over; and those who can live with either of them but not Azmin Ali.
I don’t really know what to think because it is not as if Pakatan Rakyat have been very open about the whole thing, have they?
There is such coyness when talking about whether there actually is going to be a change in boss. And the reasoning as to why such a thing should happen has been very vague.
Like I said, I don’t have strong feelings about the issue. But if you do, what can be done about it?
I think the only option is to make your state assemblyman know what your feelings are on this matter.
They have to know what the citizens of Selangor think and hopefully they will make their minds up accordingly; because at the end of the day it is the person who has the confidence of the state legislature who will be the MB and the state legislators are voted in by us.
This raises another point and that is the role of the Sultan of Selangor in this matter.
It is true that the Sultan has the discretion to choose the MB. However, discretion here has a very special meaning. It means that choosing an MB is one of the things that the Sultan can do without advice from the government.
This does not mean that he can pick simply anybody. His discretion is limited because he has to pick someone whom he believes has the confidence of the house.
This of course makes democratic sense because it ultimately respects the choice of the people, albeit in an indirect manner.
The people can’t choose the MB themselves, but by voting in a particular party or coalition, then there is an implied consent that their chosen group should have a say on who becomes the top honcho.
If the Sultan chooses just any person and the house disagrees with the Sultan’s choice, then they may very well hold a vote of no confidence against the MB once the house is in session.
This could lead to a sticky constitutional crisis. But, and this is a big but, all this depends on Anwar Ibrahim actually winning Kajang and Khalid Ibrahim actually resigning from his post as Mentri Besar.
Who knows what will happen.
This brings to mind another democratic question.
I am sorry if I am meandering all over the place. I think I may have overdosed on mandarin oranges.
I was wondering; if we, the people, get fed up with either Barisan or Pakatan, what choice do we have?
Not much really. I know there are many other political parties which are not the current big guns, but Malaysian politics is rather like Spanish football – two big teams and then everyone else (with apologies to Atletico Madrid fans).
What can be done to add to this mix?
I believe it is hard for smaller parties or new parties to make good because we don’t have local elections. Imagine if we had local elections, then a smaller party could prove themselves at that level.
We can see how well or badly they work and there would be recognition which then could be built upon to go to the state and then federal level of politics.
Local politics allows the smaller parties to get a taste of government at relatively low costs as campaigning in a local government area is a lot cheaper than state or federal level.
Also, it gives the people an opportunity to give them a chance and to see what they can do.
At the very least, local government elections would open up the opportunities for those who want to be directly part of the democratic process. Maybe that is what we need right now; a bit more choice.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Calls for Calm Ridiculous

Sin Chew Jit Poh
29 January 2014
Putrajaya calls for calm after the latest attack on churches in our country. What a joke.


The recent events of Molotov cocktails being thrown at a Penang church and the hanging of banners outside five Penang churches claiming “Allah is great. Jesus is the son of Allah” seems to be the work of people intent on causing trouble.


Of course at this point of time we have no evidence as to who did these despicable acts. But we have seen this kind of thing before. In 2010 there were several attacks on churches around the country; the worse being the one on the Tabernacle Church in Kuala Lumpur which was severely damaged.


And let us not forget the grotesque cow head protest outside the Selangor state government offices. That was done to protest the building of a Hindu temple in Shah Alam.


We know who took part in the cow head protest and we also know who burned down the Metro Tabernacle church. They were not Hindus or Christians.


The reason I raise this point is because if past experience teaches us anything it is that there will be people who will make the claim that the recent fire bomb attacks and the banners are probably the work of Christians themselves in order to stir trouble.


It sounds idiotic, and that is because it is. Unfortunately there are many idiots around who will buy into such rubbish.


Whoever the real perpetrators are, the question that hangs in the air is how did it come to this? We have been having attacks by thugs on Non-Muslim targets for the past four years. How come the government has done nothing to calm the situation down?


In fact they have made it worse. This whole Allah debacle would not have been an issue at all if the government had not decided to persecute The Herald Newsletter for using the word. And worse; to appeal the decision of the High Court which held that the Catholic community had a Constitutional right to practice their religion in peace, which includes using Allah as their term for the Lord.


The government does not appear to understand the Constitution. Reading it, the only reason that a government can lawfully control the activities of any religious group is if they are propagating their faith to Muslims. There has not been any evidence that the Herald was being used for this purpose. There is no evidence that the bibles recently taken by the Selangor Religious Department was being used for this reason.


By persecuting the Herald, by not making a stand on the freedoms of Malaysians as guaranteed by the Constitution, by not saying that the blanket ban on words like Allah and Nabi for non-Muslims is unconstitutional, the government has, either intentionally or not, legitimised the act of the bigoted and irresponsible.


Calls for calm now are all well and good; but let us not forget that neither the Christian or Hindu community did anything unlawful in reaction to the attacks they experienced. Which is why I find the recent announcements from Putrajaya so funny, because the victims don’t need to be told to be calm; instead what should be done is catch the culprits and more importantly return this country back to the path of fairness and justice.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish readers Gong Xi Fa Chai. Let us hope the year of the horse brings our country some happiness.