On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Let the royal panel do its job

LET’S get on with the job now that the Government has agreed to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate the video clip featuring a purported conversation between a prominent lawyer and a senior judge over the appointment of judges. 

The whole world has probably seen the video clip, names have been mentioned and some have even replied to the press, mostly pleading ignorance. 

The Anti-Corruption Agency has also confirmed that statements have been recorded from the personalities implicated. 

What needs to be done now is to appoint the members of the panel, set the terms of reference and get to the bottom of the controversy. 

For most Malaysians, enough time has been spent, if not lost, over an issue that has dragged on for close to two months. 

The three-man committee comprising former Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Haidar Mohd Noor, social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye and former Court of Appeal Judge Datuk Mahadev Shankar had submitted separate reports. 

Although the three have not made public the contents of their reports, talk is that two of them believe the video clip to be authentic while one differed. However, they unanimously agreed that a royal panel should be set up. 

Tough call 

It has not been an easy task for the trio because no one has come forward to provide evidence and, unlike a royal commission, they were not vested with the power to call up witnesses. 

It has been a frustrating month for the panel members and they are justified in wanting to protect their integrity and credibility.  

Their hands may have been tied but due process has taken place. 

They have put in their recommendations and the Cabinet, after having read their reports, has agreed to the setting up of a royal commission. 

There have been insinuations, even allegations, that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had been reluctant to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry, and the calls by lawyers and politicians seem to suggest that the decision was made now because of these demands. 

There should be no such reason, and no political implications from the findings of the royal panel. 

After all, if the brokering of these judges turns out to be true, it certainly did not happen during Pak Lah’s leadership. 

The video clip was recorded in 2001 and the personalities implicated were then powerful and influential people under a different regime. 

No one will argue that the judiciary needs an overhaul because its credibility has taken a bashing. 

From allegations of paid holidays for judges to predictable verdicts, many Malaysians have lost confidence in the judiciary. 

Politicians who claim they have not heard this must be hypocritical or living on another planet.  

The rot, it has been said, began when Tun Salleh Abas was sacked as Lord President in 1988 following moves to subjugate the judiciary. 

Heavy price 

What Malaysians are seeing now is the price we have paid for that fateful decision 20 years ago.  

Worse, the doctrine of the separation of powers has been severely tested – and many see it as a failure on the part of the judicial leadership. 

The Government needs to put things right and we trust Pak Lah will appoint people of integrity and credibility to investigate the video clip controversy, without fear or favour. 

Old wounds may open as a result of this investigation and names of retired leaders and judges may surface but this is a chance to clear up the mess. The first step has been taken. 

I agree with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz that there is not much wrong with our institutions, except that wrong decisions have been made. 

There will always be good and bad judges but, as an established entity, the judiciary has performed its duties well for this country. 

Let’s give the Royal Commission of Inquiry the support and the power to carry out its job.