Deputy Speaker most unfair and irresponsible in not allowing the
Opposition MPs the chance to expose the intellectually dishonest
answers given by Rais on the rule of law during question time yesterday
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): The Minister
in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk .Dr. Rais Yatim gave the
most intellectually dishonest answers about the rule of law in Parliament
during question time yesterday but the Deputy Speaker Dato' Haji
Muhamad bin Abdullah was most unfair and irresponsible in not allowing
any Opposition MP the chance to expose Rais’ intellectual dishonesty.
Rais said that the concepts of ‘rule of law' as well as
‘rule by law' were practised in Malaysia with adjustments to suit
the country's characteristics.
Quoting a maxim of well-known jurist, Rosenhoff, that the ‘rule
of law' is a concept based on the balance of power and administration which
focuses on achieving justice for all, Rais said:
"But this is a universal view and needs to be adjusted and moulded
in order to fit the characteristics of an individual country." (Malaysiakini
Rais said many countries including Malaysia's neighbours practised both
concepts in meeting the needs of emergency and security laws.
He said that the ‘rule of law' was the central theme of the country's
legal foundation and its tenets were found in Articles 121, 122 and 8 of
the Federal Constitution, he added.
Rais said all parties must abide by these Articles to ensure that
Malaysians enjoy the protection of judicial and law enforcement agencies.
Rais was being intellectually dishonest in trying to claim that
there is rule of law in Malaysia when in his 1995 book "Freedom under
Executive Power in Malaysia", based on his research and study
from 1991 and 1994 at King’s College, University of London, he was very
categorical and unequivocal in asserting that the rule of law
had been superseded by the rule by law in Malaysia.
This is what Rais wrote in his book:
"The future for the rule of law and human rights in Malaysia is
dismal. Rule by law and not rule of law supersedes and takes priority in
most aspects of ruling the people. The decline of the rule of law and human
rights in Malaysia can be traced to the corrupted notion of democracy which
the executive holds. It has been suggested that in Malaysia human rights
and the rule of law are precepts peculiar to the West which, so the
imputation goes, it is inappropriate to apply in Malaysia. This should
be seen as a severe distortion because human rights and the rule of law
are no longer within the confines of the geo-political parameters of each
country. They are now universal rights."
Rais was also very categorical and unequivocal in his assertion that there
was no independence of the judiciary in Malaysia. This is what he wrote
in his book:
"The judiciary has lost its tussle with the executive in controlling
arbitrary executive power. The executive that directly alters the
affairs and status quo of the judiciary in a manner that the Malaysian
executive has done is indeed a rarity and its mode of attack on the Malaysian
judiciary in 1988 is not known to be practised in the liberal democratic
world. But again one must understand, Malaysia is not a liberal democratic
Rais used very harsh terms to express his contempt for Parliament’s failure
to protect the rule of law and fundamental freedoms and instead, "aided
and abetted in their serious violations", when he wrote:
"The executive has come to occupy a truly supreme position that
renders the other segments of government - Parliament and the judiciary
- subservient to it."
"With an overwhelming majority in Parliament of the same political
party since Merdeka in 1957 it has now become a misconception to regard
the Malaysian Parliament as the safeguard of rights and freedoms. In many
respects that institution is the issuer of licence to violate freedoms."
I was particularly drawn by his lamentation about the culture
of fear and the lack of understanding and appreciation of the rule of law
by the Malaysian people, especially as he has now personified the very
culture of subservience and servility which he had condemned in his
book, when he wrote:
"Equally perplexing has been the seemingly calm and patronising
attitude of the Malaysian people in facing and accepting these excesses
vis-a-vis their rights. It is as if Malaysians have lost touch with their
basic rights in a country that prides itself in being democratic and leading
the voice of liberation within the third world countries. Even with the
increasing number of the young and well-educated in the country there appears
to be little interest in the importance of civil liberties. We have noted
how excessive executive powers, omnipresent and far-reaching as they have
been, have rendered constitutional freedoms meaningless. And yet
there appears to be little or no resistance from the man on the street
to counter these inroads. There can be only one explanation to this: the
culture of fear has set in. The underlying fear of executive reprisal
has slowly but surely reduced Malaysians into being reluctantly submissive
in many respects of their daily life."
The state of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, Parliament’s
role as the safeguard of rights and freedoms, human rights and democracy
have gravely worsened since the publication of Rais’ "Freedom under Executive
Power in Malaysia", exposing the country to a slew of unfavourable international
assessments which damaged the country’s international standing and jeopardised
the long-term national economic wellbeing of Malaysians by driving
away international investors from the country.
The recent slew of unfavourable international assessments for Malaysia
includes the damning 2001 Index of Economic Freedom where Malaysia dropped
57 places in the past six years from the 18th position in the 1995
index to the 75th position in the 2001 Index and slipped from "mostly
free" to the "mostly unfree" category; the World Economic Forum
(WEF)’s 2000 global competitiveness ranking showing a catastrophic
collapse in Malaysia’s international competitiveness rating, falling by
nine notches in the past year or 16 places in the past three years; Transparency
International’s 2000 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ranking Malaysia
at the lowest placing ever at the 36th in 2000 as compared to 23rd in 1995
and the terrible indictment on the Malaysian system of justice by the international
judicial and legal community in the report entitled "Justice in Jeopardy:
Malaysia 2000" released worldwide in April this year.
It is sad that instead of informing Parliament as to what had been done
in the past year since his appointment as Minister in the Prime Minister
with specific responsibility for law and justice to restore the rule of
law and regain national and international confidence in the system of justice,
Rais has become the apologist par excellence of the very system which he
had denounced in his book - a system which had since gone from bad to worse!
This was probably why the Deputy Speaker, Datuk Haji Muhamad bin
Abdullah, breached established parliamentary convention and did not allow
any Opposition MP to ask a supplementary question to Rais, although this
was the first time that Rais was standing up in Parliament since his return
to Cabinet a year ago to talk about law and justice - the very portfolios
under his direct responsibility.
Normally, two supplementary questions are allowed for each question
during question time, but in this particular case, after answering the
question by the Barisan Nasional MP for Jelutong and a supplementary question
by the Barisan Nasional MP for Batang Lupar, the Deputy Speaker ignored
the many Barisan Alternative MPs who had stood up to pose a supplementary
question and went on to the next question. Muhamad might have "saved"
Rais from a grilling from the Barisan Alternative - but at the expense
of another example of the devaluation of the role of Parliament which Rais
had described so aptly in his book.
*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman