On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Making our institutions strong

IT has gripped the attention of the nation. So much dirty linen has been washed, so much mud thrown and so many amazing tales told that Malaysians must be wondering who to believe.  

Now that the Royal Commission has completed its investigations into the Lingam video clip affair, let’s take a step back and assess what the mass of evidence, allegations and disclosures really mean for us, Malaysians.  

Was it necessary for the dirty linen to be washed in public over 17 days? How much of it was the truth?  

Was it necessary for some sorry episodes in the history of the judiciary – former Chief Justice Tun Eusoff Chin’s holiday in New Zealand with lawyer Datuk V.K. Lingam certainly falls into that category – to be dredged up and dissected?  

What was the point in reproducing old pictures, where family members who have no part in the controversy, found themselves named and their photographs published?  

Was it necessary to embarrass the august institution of the judiciary with allegations of case-fixing and other improper behaviour?  

Was it necessary for the Government to push for a commission hearing that seemed, at times, to cast a shadow of shame over the whole country?  

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.  

Despite the misgivings of some Malaysians, the inquiry has given us a chance to come clean about an institution that has been manhandled over the past two decades.  

How can we even begin to rehabilitate this so important body if we do not understand the battery of illnesses that affects it?  

The whispering campaign about judge-shopping and other allegations of wrongdoing has been building up over the years to the point that it has prompted some foreign companies to insist that their legal disputes be settled through arbitration outside the country.  

This trend is more shameful than any mud that was flung during the commission hearing.  

It would have been easy for the administration to pay lip service to concerns about the Lingam video clip.  

It could have made the right noises and switched the channel after a week or so. We have to admit that it is the news cycle, which often dictates our attention span on an issue.  

Also, by and large, Malaysians are more interested in bread-and-butter issues.  

But the video clip issue did not disappear because Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi knows that a Malaysia without strong institutions will be a country without a soul.  

After all, the courts provide the public with their only chance of seeking justice. It is their last refuge in the face of oppression and when wronged.  

Abdullah has tried to protect the institutions by appointing straight shooters like the late Tan Sri Abdul Malek Ahmad as the Court of Appeal President.  

Datuk K.C. Vohrah, a retired Court of Appeal judge, noted recently that Abdul Malek should have been made Chief Justice for his principles and steadfast adherence to fair play and justice.  

“The late Malek was an uncommon Malaysian, whose most important characteristic was his natural and tremendous sense of fair play and his unquestioned integrity.  

“He was the Chief Justice that this fair country should have had but never did,” he said at a remembrance event organised by Universiti Malaya and the Malaysian Inner Temple Alumni Association in memory of the former President of the Court of Appeal who died on May 31 last year.  

Similarly when Abdullah appointed Datuk Abdul Hamid Mohamad as the Chief Justice late last year, it was evident that he was interested in restoring order and credibility to the judiciary.  

Only if good people are put at the top of an institution, will it flourish and give confidence to Malaysians and investors. 

Don’t take my word for it. Let’s just turn back the pages of history and recall some of the illustrious names who led the Malaysian judiciary during its days of glory – the late Tun Mohamed Suffian Hashim and Sultan Azlan Shah to name a couple.  

It is not only the judiciary that will benefit from having good men and women at the helm. Even the reforms in the police force and the civil service have a better chance of succeeding because Tan Sri Musa Hassan is the Inspector-General of Police and Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan is the Chief Secretary to the Government. 

There is much truth in the saying that the fish starts rotting from the head.  

For the Royal Commission members, the hearing is over but their work is only beginning. Over the next few weeks, they will receive written submissions from various parties, deliberate over the information given by 21 witnesses and then get down to the serious job of making their findings.  

Anyone following the inquiry can tell you that some individuals were sparing with the truth.  

They huffed and puffed and even made light of the situation. But this was no laughing matter. At the centre of this hearing was the credibility of an institution that all Malaysians have a stake in.  

It is hoped that the panel will not only be clear in their views about the video clip and the main actors but also recommend suggestions on how the selection and promotion of judges can be strengthened.  

Only by doing so can it help an administration that is keen to improve the health of the judiciary and all other institutions here.  

Only by doing so will it prevent a future generation of Malaysians from having to sit through another session of painful revelations years down the road.