On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Time for all of us to move on


THE general election results would have been very much different if the Barisan Nasional government had acted on certain matters earlier.

Last week, the Prime Minister announced the setting up of a Judicial Appointments Commission.

Promising reforms in the judiciary, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi also said ex-gratia payments would be made to the judges who were sacked or suspended in the 1988 judicial crisis.

The decision will certainly help to restore confidence in the judiciary, maybe not overnight, but important steps have been taken.

It was also the closure of one of the darkest chapters in our country’s history. It’s now time to move on.

Surely it has not been easy for Abdullah as there were leaders who expressed their reservations, if not disappointment, at his decision.

There were concerns, even within the Cabinet, that the decision could split Umno further as supporters of his predecessor would not be comfortable, and even alienate Abdullah further.

Even some of his supporters asked if this was correct, given the massive loss in votes during the polls when voters punished Abdullah’s administration over the V.K. Lingam video clip issue. It was the Prime Minister who allowed the public inquiry and he paid heavily for the decision.

Then, there are those who feel the announcements were no more than “political cosmetics” by the Barisan to make up for the loss in the polls.

But the move to reform the judiciary must go beyond politics. DAP chairman Karpal Singh said the Opposition was prepared to support the Government in providing two-thirds majority required to amend the Federal Constitution.

The Bar Council and Government have also rightly invited Opposition Leader Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah to the dinner last week.

But there will be plenty of work to do. The criteria and scope of the judicial commission would have to be drawn up and made known.

While legal experts, judges and lawyers would make up the board, the Government should also pick representatives from non-governmental organisations.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said consultations would possibly involve former Lord President Tun Salleh Abas.

There was also another piece of good news – Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz reportedly said the Anti-Corruption Agency wants to be independent and has suggested it should operate like the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption.

It was reported that the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and ACA director-general Datuk Ahmad Said had seen Abdullah over the proposal.

There is no reason why the Government should not support the proposal. The leaders have nothing to worry about if they are clean.

The public has long called for the independence of the ACA and that is what a credible anti-graft agency should have. Its work in weeding out corruption should not be meddled with by politicians.

Malaysians are not impressed with statements like the ACA also probed a RM9.90 bribe. Please! We are more interested in bribes ranging from RM9mil to RM90mil and more.

One popular dinner conversation among businessmen in Malaysia is why certain projects are allegedly over-priced and why taxpayers should be burdened with these extra costs from kickbacks.

Down the line, among ordinary wage earners and traders, we hear about corruption involving enforcement workers from the Customs and police to the local councils.

These lower rung government officers feel they should ask for some coffee money if the “jaws” are getting away with it.

And among Umno delegates, the word often used is money politics but seriously, it’s just a euphemism for corruption. Let’s not kid ourselves with the juggling of words for vote buying.

Malaysians also want to see a pro-active ACA which does not wait for reports to be lodged before it carries out investigations. And certainly broad terms like “abuses of power” have long confused Malaysians, who see them as punitive action against political rivals.

Abdullah needs to carry out these reforms quickly if the Barisan is to stay relevant in the next four years.

The pledges to reform the judiciary and to fight corruption were part of his 2004 election promises.

Malaysians are glad that he has finally started to carry them out.