(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): I welcome the statement by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that the findings of the independent commission of inquiry into the "black eye" and other injuries sustained by former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, while under police custody would be made public.
He said it would be pointless having an inquiry if its outcome was not made public.
I do not know why Mahathir had to take one week to make this statement or why the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi could not have clarified this matter very much earlier, if it is so simple and straightforward in view of the intense public interest and insistent demands by opposition parties, the NGOs and the general civil society for the report to be made public.
However, Mahathir has still to allay public concerns on several other issues which have a direct bearing on public confidence in the credibility and integrity of the Commission of Inquiry and I call on the Prime Minister to remove all ambiguity such as whether the Commission report would be made public simultaneously that it is submitted to the Yang di Pertuan Agong, whether the Commission would have untrammelled powers to carry out its term of reference, including summoning the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, the former Inspector-General of Police, the Police High Command as well as Anwar Ibrahim himself to be the star witnesses, and whether the entire proceedings of the Commission of Inquiry would be open and public.
What surprises me is that the Commission of Inquiry has not started work and has not even been constituted although it is a week after the Cabinet decided on its establishment.
Mahathir said the commission members would need time to get their letters of appointment, work out their terms of reference and set up a secretariat.
After wasting more than four months since Anwar was first assaulted while under police custody on Sept. 20, 1998, the authorities are duty bound to work with despatch to do justice both to Anwar for the "black eye" and to Malaysia for the great harm it has done to our international reputation.
Mahathir denied the New Straits Times front-page report last Friday that the Commission had been given 14 days to complete the job. He said the government wants the Commission of Inquiry to finish its work as quickly as possible but it would be given sufficient time.
As more than four months had been wasted since Anwar was assaulted while under police custody, casting a pall of doubt over the government's bona fides in wanting to get to the truth of the assault, the Commission of Inquiry should be given a time-frame for the completion of the inquiry.
As the case is a very simple and straightforward one, the scene being Bukit Aman lock-up and the potential witnesses being limited to those who have the highest security clearance to have access to the very inner sanctum of the police high command in Bukit Aman, the Commission should be required to start its public hearings within a week of its appointment, and to complete and make public its findings within two months.
What I find unbelievable is Mahathir's statement that he did not appoint the members of the Commission of Inquiry, when referring to adverse public comments and reactions about the appointment of former Attorney-General Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman and the orthopaedic consultant surgeon at the Pantai Medical Centre, Datuk Dr. Yeoh Poh Hong.
I had specifically raised the issue of the appointment of Dr. Yeoh but not the case of Abu Talib.
At the launching of the "Justice For All" campaign in Permatang Pauh and the Hari Raya Puasa Open House organised by the DAP Sama Gagah branch - an all-Malay branch - in Permatang Pauh two days ago, I had raised the issue of the propriety of Dr. Yeoh serving on the Commission of Inquiry.
I asked Dr. Yeoh to consider whether he should decline appointment to the Commission of Inquiry so as not to affect the commission’s public credibility and confidence because he is consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Pantai Medical Centre which is in the stable of companies of one of the sons of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.
I had said that Dr. Yeoh should be aware of the maxim that "Justice must not only be done, but seen to be done" and in view of his position in Pantai Medical Centre, he should consider whether his appointment would seriously compromise public confidence in the independence of the Commission of Inquiry.
I find Mahathir's reaction on this issue flippant, most disappointing, unbecoming and unworthy of his office.
Mahathir had asked: "I don't know about this doctor. Why? What's wrong with him? Did he remove somebody's bone? Did he hit somebody's bone? He is an orthopaedic surgeon."
It was reported that when he was told by a reporter that the Opposition had said it was because Dr.Yeoh was working with Pantai Medical Centre which was linked to his son, Mahathir expressed shock and said: "You mean my son tells the doctor what to diagnose? This is the kind of thing that they try to bring up in order to discredit everybody else.
"My son has nothing to do with this. I didn't even know who he (Dr. Yeoh) was and, in any case, I was not the one who suggested his name."
Who then suggested Dr. Yeoh's name? Mahathir's lame excuse that he did not appoint the members of the Commission must have raised the eyebrows of all Malaysians who read it in the morning newspapers today.
I do not think it is possible to find anyone in the country who believes that Mahathir has nothing to do with the appointment of the Commission of Inquiry. In fact, I would like to see which Cabinet Minister dares to come forward to publicly back up Mahathir by confirming that the Prime Minister had nothing to do with the appointment of the members of the Commission of Inquiry and was not involved in the decision in any manner..
Mahathir should realise that his refusal to give straightforward replies to the various nagging doubts about the Commission of Inquiry are not conducive to enhancing public confidence in the Commission of Inquiry.
The Government and the Commission of Inquiry should be mindful of the need to command public confidence in the independence, integrity and professionalism of every Commission member and there should be no cause for public confidence in the Commission of Inquiry members to come under question.
I want to make it very clear that I am not trying to discredit Dr. Yeoh, but as Mahathir does not deny that his son, Mokzani Mahathir is the single largest shareholder of Pantai Medical Centre, where Dr. Yeoh is consultant orthopaedic surgeon, the Government should withdraw the appointment of Dr. Yeoh or he should decline nomination to the commission of Inquiry to remove any suspicion or doubt about the independence, integrity and professionalism of the Inquiry Commission.
According to Registry of Company records, Mokhzani Mahathir, who is Chairman of the Board of Directors of Pantai Medical Centre, owns 56.53 per cent of the shares of the company, 35.53 per cent of 22.2 million shares directly, while 21% or 13.1 million shares indirectly through Tongkah Holdings Bhd.
Public interest requires that persons who have strong views about Anwar’s "black eye" and have made known these views to others should not be appointed to the Commission.
For instance, it is clearly unfair and against all concepts of justice if a person who openly holds the strong view that Anwar had inflicted the "black eye" on himself is appointed to the Commission of Inquiry. Has the Prime Minister ensured that every member of the Commission of Inquiry does not fall into this category?
In fact, I would advise any such person to decline appointment to the Commission of Inquiry to avoid any future public controversy damaging to the Commission.
I have not said anything about the appointment of Abu Talib to the Commission of Inquiry, although Aliran has questioned it because of his involvement in the destruction of the D.P. Vijandran pornographic videotapes and photographs. Vijandran was then the Deputy Speaker of Dewan Rakyat and MIC Secretary-General.
On Aliran's objection, Mahathir said: "I am not aware about that but I don't think he is involved in destroying the evidence.
"Was he (Abu Talib) found guilty of destroying evidence? He should be charged if it is true but this is just the same kind of suspicion thrown at a person without any basis. You can't penalise a person on that basis … it is not something that is proven. It is just hearsay."
Mahathir is very wrong and seems to have selective memory, as Abu Talib's involvement in the destruction of the Vijandran pornographic videotapes and photographs are not "hearsay" and "unproven", but "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth", as both Abu Talib and the most senior police officer on the case had publicly admitted to Abu Talib's role.
In January 1990, Zaman Khan, the then CID Director, publicly revealed that the police had closed the file on the Vijandran pornographic videotape scandal, and that the police had destroyed 11 videotapes and four envelopes of 2,000 photographs and negatives on the directive of the Attorney-General, Tan Sri Abu Talib.
This was confirmed by Abu Talib in a press conference a few days later, when he said that he had agreed with police recommendations.
Aliran and many Malaysians are fully justified to question the propriety of Abu Talib’s appointment in view of his past record.
I am withholding judgment however as I believe that Abu Talib should be given a chance to prove himself in the Commission of Inquiry, but I reserve the right to express my views once there are indications that the Commission of Inquiry falls below the minimum standards of independcence, impartiality and professionalism all Malaysians expected of it - as for instance in its handling of questions like whether the Commission could act without fear or favour in its investigations, whether the entire proceedings of the Commission of Inquiry would be open and public, whether it would complete its investigations with despatch withou any undue delays and whether it would make public its report simultaneously it is submitted to the Yang di Pertuan Agong.