If Wong Chun Wai (WCW)’s ‘Race against time for reforms’ in his On The Beat column on July 13 didn’t touch on one matter of such great significance to this nation, one could just laugh it off as a case of WCW having difficulty shaking of an old habit of spin-doctoring on orders from up above.
That matter of great importance is the reforms to the judiciary.
Speaking of the recently announced two-year transition period before Pak Lah hands over UMNO to Najib, WCW writes :
‘…those who expect Abdullah to be an ineffective PM would be wrong. He has told his supporters and friends that he would devote his next two years to reforms, which he has committed to the rakyat…From reforms in the judiciary to fighting corruption, he would be fighting against time to make all the positive changes – and in the process make it easier for Najib when he takes over…The setting up of an independent inquiry into the VK Lingam video clip issue hurt Abdullah in the general election. The incident took place during the administration of his predecessor but despite the pressure from some quarters, Abdullah went ahead with the setting up of the panel.
I do not share WCW’s confidence.
On April 18, in his ‘Delivering justice, renewing trust’ speech, Pak Lah conceded :
‘…No nation can call itself fair and just without an efficient and trusted judiciary. By “trusted”, I mean a judiciary that delivers justice and is seen to deliver justice…the fact is, we can no longer leave such an important institution to hope and chance. The system must have built-in safeguards to prevent potential abuse and it must have a process that will convincingly identify the best legal minds in the country to join the judiciary…Therefore, the Government proposes a change to make the process of nominating, appointing and promoting judges more transparent and representative…The process to bring about this change will begin now and I assure all of you here today that consultation on the workings and the structure of the Commission will involve primary stakeholders. All will have a chance to provide their input to the Government.
The process would begin ‘now’, he said, and consultations would involve ‘primary stakeholders’?
Who are these ‘primary stakeholders’? It would seem, only UMNO.
On June 19, 2 months after Pak Lah’s grand speech, Malaysianinsider reported that UMNO ministers were not in favour of Zaid Ibrahim’s proposal for the setting up of the Judicial Commission for the appointment and promotion of judges.
What did Zaid propose that these ‘primary stakeholders’ found so unacceptable?
Quoting from that Malaysianinsider report, ‘Under the plan put forward, the commission would consist of 13 members. After deliberations, they would offer the PM a list of candidates for appointment to the Bench. This is a marked change from the current system where the list of candidates is drawn up by the chief justice’.
The following concerns of those stakeholders can be culled from the Malaysianinsider report.
- Not agreeable with the presence of former judges and lawyers on the proposed commission.
- PM’s power of appointment of judges will be usurped.
- Loss of Malay control over the judiciary.
- Top judicial post may go to a non-Malay.
Note that there have not been any reports of non-UMNO politicians objecting to Zaid’s proposals.
Are the concerns of these UMNO stakeholders for real or a mere smokescreen?
On May 7, YB Lim Kit Siang posed the following challenge to Pak Lah in his blog :
‘In the last Parliament, I had questioned the fast-track elevation of Tan Sri Zaki Tun Azmi in the judiciary, with his unprecedented triple jump to become Federal Court judge last September without ever being a High Court or Court of Appeal judge, then quadruple jump in three months as Court of Appeal President, and whether this is to be followed by his quintuple jump in a matter of a year to become the next Chief Justice when Datuk Abdul Hamid Mohamed steps down from the topmost judicial post in October?
Is the Prime Minister prepared to make a public commitment that the appointment of the next Chief Justice will be first referred to the Judicial Appointments Commission which he has agreed to set up?’
Current Chief Justice Abdul Hamid Mohamed is due to retire in September this year.
Who’s in line for the job?
Without the 13-man commission, Pak Lah calls the shots.
September, last year, Zaki was handpicked by Pak Lah to first leapfrog into the Federal Court and then slither into the seat of the President of the Court of Appeal.
Pak Lah may have had good reason to once again overlook Zaki’s colourful antecedents, but would a 13-man commission , in looking to fill that vacancy come September, be less charitable and look to some other candidate whose resume does not include transacting an illegal marriage by a Thai qadhi operating out of jurisdiction in a textile shop in Perlis to a woman almost half his age, then setting the marriage certificate ablaze in the hope that the first wife would not stumble upon this surreptitious union, only to later rely on the fact of this illegality to annul that marriage? If you’re in the dark on this, you may want to read about it HERE and HERE.
Or would such a commission have to sadly report back that there are no more good men left in the judiciary?
And speaking of good men, were there none in cabinet who could rise to the occasion when Zaid’s proposals were shot down by the UMNO stakeholders?