Thursday, October 4, 2007

Malaysian Judiciary on trial

My pal Oon sent this via email. Felt it was an interesting read, so asked his permission to post it on my blog. He wrote it for TODAYonline and you can find his excerpt at http://www.todayonline.com/articles/214688.asp.

Anyway, here it is. Take a look.

Malaysian judiciary on trial
By Oon Yeoh
Oct 3, 2007

A mass demonstration by lawyers last week in Putrajaya underlined the serious questions raised about the integrity of the Malaysian judiciary, following a press conference by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, during which a controversial video clip was made public.

The eight-minute video, said to have been shot in 2002, shows high-powered lawyer V K Lingam allegedly chatting with a senior judge and brokering the appointment of certain judges.

The local media has not mentioned either the lawyer or the judge by name. Online news sites and political bloggers, however, have not exercised any such restraint.

The authorities' reaction to this scandal has disappointed many who had hoped this would be a chance to restore confidence in the judiciary.

Confidence in the judiciary has been eroding since the late '80s, when former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had the Chief Justice sacked.

Instead, the government has reacted defensively, instructing the local media to play down the issue and questioning the authenticity of the video.

The video may not be of broadcast quality but the audio is crystal clear.

The authorities also say that it is not clear who the lawyer is talking to. However, the context of what is being said leaves no doubt about the identity of the person at the other end of the line.

It is worth noting that although more than a week has passed since the video's release, neither the lawyer nor the judge has come out to directly deny the allegations. However, Mr Nazri Aziz, a minister in the Prime Minister's Department, has issued a denial on behalf of the judge.

If the video is indeed fake, would one of the country's most powerful lawyers and one of its most senior judges not immediately deny the allegations and sue the people who released the video?

Why the silence?

The most damning evidence is circumstantial in nature but it is very convincing. Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang has highlighted how the lawyer's comments, about what would happen, have played out almost exactly as per the video-taped conversation.

For example, the lawyer spoke of helping the judge with a "Tan Sri" title that year. The judge was awarded the title that year. It was also mentioned that within three months, the senior judge would be promoted and within six months, promoted again. The judge was promoted in December 2002 and March 2003.

Could this be mere coincidence? Following pressure from various parties, the government has set up a three-member panel to determine the authenticity of the video. The panel consists of two former judges and a former social activist.

Bar Council president S Ambiga said: "The reason we would like a royal commission of inquiry is that it has wider powers to compel evidence which this panel may not have."

"We will continue to call for a royal commission with wide terms of references to include looking into the status of the judiciary."

Last Wednesday, the Council organised a protest march in Putrajaya. Some 2,000 participants, mainly lawyers, walked from the Court of Justice to the Prime Minister's Department, to demand that a royal commission of inquiry be set up. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had earlier said a royal commission of inquiry was not necessary.

Perhaps more disturbing is Mr Abdullah's attitude towards this scandal. "If the evidence shows what transpired in the video was not the truth, action should be taken against those who released the video, as well as all those who lodged ACA (Anti Corruption Agency) reports," he said.
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This is the same Prime Minister who said that it was easy to allege corruption but hard to prove it. Now that he has been given video-taped evidence, he sets up a government-appointed panel instead of a royal commission with greater powers to investigate the matter.

His warning to the whistle-blower prompted the opposition's Lim to say: "All right-thinking Malaysians are mystified and upset by the Prime Minister's response and have one question — why is he threatening dire consequences if the video is not authentic, but said nothing about action to be taken if it is proven true?"

Abdullah said: "I am disappointed. The video was released with the aim of getting the people angry with the country's judiciary system."

What Mr Abdullah should have asked himself, is if there are serious questions about the judiciary's integrity, why shouldn't the people be angry? Indeed, why shouldn't he?
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Oon Yeoh is a writer and commentator based in Kuala Lumpur.

2 comments:

  1. what is the world coming too... Myanmar is going to hell, Shooting monks is so wrong.

    Protest in Pakistan and now this in Malaysia... watching the video of the lawyer talking so casually on the phone as if he was talking about some arranging for a picnic made me sick.

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  2. Haha.. Difference is, in Malaysia, even Mahathir is saying things are unfair, when HE's the same bloody bloke who caused so much unfairness to happen in the first place..

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