(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the "black eye" and other injuries sustained by the former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim while under police custody is starting on a right note, and I commend former Attorney-General Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman on his statement yesterday.
Abu Talib told reporters that the proceedings of the Royal Commission of Inquiry will be open to the public and that the commission was prepared to begin its proceedings as early as February 22 "provided all adminstrative arrangements can be made".
There is no reason why "administrative arrangements" cannot be made for the Royal Commission of Inquiry to start its public hearings on February 22, and the Chief Secretary to the Government, Tan Sri Abdul Halim Ali should resign if the Royal Commission of Inquiry cannot begin its public hearings on February 22.
I am surprised that the Royal Commission of Inquiry has not yet been officially constituted with the members receiving their letters of appointment and the terms of reference of the commission a week after the Cabinetís decision last Wednesday, as this is not a complimentary reflection of an efficient, effective and productive civil service..
It is good that Abu Talib is mindful that the Commission should conduct itself in a manner not to let the public form the opinion that the commission is dragging its feet.
Since the decision of the Cabinet decision last week to set up the commission of inquiry, I had taken pains to repeatedly stress that after the double scandal of Anwar's "black eye" - firstly, the scandal of a person who just held the post of Deputy Prime Minister being assaulted in the very inner sanctum of the police high command in Bukit Aman and the second scandal of the failure of police investigations after more than four months to identify the person or persons responsible for the heinous crime - the Royal Commission of Inquiry must be particularly mindful of public distrust and suspicion whether it could be independent, impartial and professional in its investigation.
This is why I have been insisting that the commission's inquiry must be open and public, that it acts with despatch with no feet-dragging, that it has untrammelled powers to summon witnesses including the Prime Minister and the then Home Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the former Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Rahim Noor and Anwar Ibrahim himself, that the commissionís findings must be made public instantaneously it is presented to the Yang di Pertuan Agong.
After a week of public controversy, several ambiguities have been clarified. Firstly, that the commission is a Royal Commission of Inquiry. I agree with Abu Talib that as the members of the commission would be appointed by the Yang di Pertuan Agong, it is a Royal Commission.
Secondly, that the commission proceedings will be open and public. Thirdly, that the commission report will be made public, although the authorities have still to undertake to make it public simultaneously with the submission of the report to the Yang di Pertuan Agong in accordance with best practices of good governance in other countries.
With regard to the need for the Commission to start work without any delays, I commend Abu Talib for beginning to prepare his case to carry out his assignment to lead the investigation and the Commission members for making preliminary decisions about starting public hearings on Feb. 22 even though they have not been officially commissioned yet.
Abu Talib knows that I had been one of his fiercest critics when he was Attorney-General, particularly over the Vijandran pornographic videotape scandal, but I have decided to withhold judgment on his appointment to the Royal Commission of Inquiry as he should be given a chance to prove that he could act with independence, impartiality and professionalism as the "Kenneth Starr" of Malaysia.
The press reported that when asked on public questioning of the commissionís credibility and independence, Abu Talib said: "You can judge our credibility by the results and by how the inquiry is conducted. The people will be the judge for they are the best judges and we are prepared to be judged fairly."
Malaysians will hold Abu Talib and the Commission of Inquiry to these very words.
In view of the intense public and international interest, the Commission should ensure that it conducts its proceedings in the biggest venue available to accommodate all those within and outside the country who want to attend the inquiry, as well as allowing international observers to be present. The public hearings of the Royal Commission of Inquiry should also be telecast live.