Civil society should stand up to remove the first “good governance” black-eye under Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s watch as Prime Minister and demand that Parliament review and rescind Bukit Glugor MP Karpal Singh’s six-month suspension as it is the very antithesis of accountability, transparency, justice and good governance

to the Suhakam  Malaysian Human Rights Day 2004 Conference themed “Human Rights and Good Governance” on  “Accountability and Transparency for Good Governance in the Private and Public Sectors”
by Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur, Friday): The term “governance” means different things to different people and institutions, with many referring to a process by which power is exercised as distinguished from its ends.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has defined “good governance” as follows -
“Governance is the process whereby public institutions conduct public affairs, manage public resources and guarantee the realization of human rights. Good governance accomplishes this in a manner essentially free of abuse and corruption, and with due regard for the rule of law. The true test of ‘good’ governance is the degree to which it delivers on the promise of human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. The key question is: are the institutions of governance effectively guaranteeing the right to health, adequate housing, sufficient food, quality education, fair justice and personal security?” – (
In its resolution 2000/64, the Commission identified the key attributes of good governance as:

  • transparency

  • responsibility

  • accountability

  • participation

  • responsiveness (to the needs of the people)

Resolution 2000/64 expressly linked good governance to an enabling environment conducive to the enjoyment of human rights and "prompting growth and sustainable human development".

By linking good governance to sustainable human development, emphasizing principles such as accountability, participation and the enjoyment of human rights, and rejecting prescriptive approaches to development assistance, the resolution stands as an implicit endorsement of the rights-based approach to development.

Good governance therefore refers to the competent management of a country’s resources and affairs that is open, accountable, equitable and responsive to people’s needs and it encompasses:

  • Representative government, held accountable to citizens through free and fair elections.

  • A strong pluralistic civil society, with freedom of expression and association.

  • The rule of law, through impartial and effective legal systems.

  • Public sector institutions that deliver basic public services responsive to the needs of its citizens.

  • Public financial systems that allocate and disburse resources efficiently and effectively, and that enable private enterprise and private markets to flourish.

Promoting good governance is not restricted to federal government agencies. It must also be adopted by service delivery areas of state governments, local authorities, civil society and the private sector.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report 2002 stressed that the heart of achieving good governance is building appropriate institutions, including

  • An electoral system that guarantees free and far elections as well as universal suffrage;

  • A system of checks and balances based on the separation of powers, with independent judicial and legislative branches;

  • A vibrant civil society, able to monitor government and private business – and provide alternative forms of political participation; and

  • A free and independent media.

All these four factors are conspicuously lacking in Malaysia and must rank as among the reasons why Malaysia is still suffering from the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” malaise which the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had rightly diagnosed as a major impediment to Malaysia becoming a fully developed nation.

The nation held its 11th general election on March 21, and despite promises that it would be the most efficient and competent general election ever held in the country, it proved to be the most chaotic, inefficient and disgraceful in the 46-year history of the nation, raising questions about the credibility and legitimacy of the unprecedented nine-tenth parliamentary majority of the ruling coalition. Against all principles of accountability, transparency and good governance, we have the most ludicrous situation where all over the country, whether in coffee shops, teh tarik stalls, forums or seminars, the Election Commission was lambasted for its grossly incompetent and inefficient conduct of the general election – except in Parliament, the highest legislative and deliberative chamber of the land, where not even a question could be asked or raised, let alone allowing my no confidence motion for the impeachment of the Election Commission Chairman and members on the spurious ground by the Speaker that they are protected by the sub judice rule because of various election petitions still pending in court.

Two events that happened in the past eight days provide an excellent backdrop for an assessment of the current state of accountability, transparency and good governance in the country.

The landmark Federal Court decision on Sept. 2 acquitting former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy charges and conviction and setting him free after six years of imprisonment, gave hope that it was a watershed for the system of justice, the first major breakthrough to dispel the black clouds which have blanketed the judiciary for more than one-and-a-half decades.

It was no zero-sum game but a multiple win-win situation. Anwar’s acquittal and regaining of his lost liberty and rights was good for him allowing him to walk out as a free man and to go to Munich for his long-delayed medical treatment of his choice (and he has started on his process of recovery after a successful operation); good for his family particularly his wife Datin Seri Dr. Azizah Wan Ismail and his six children who had suffered even more for six years; good for his political party after a major electoral setback in the March general election and good for the Malaysian Opposition belabouring under the greatest parliamentary defeat in the 47-year history of the nation, with the Barisan Nasional winning an unprecedented nine-tenth parliamentary majority.

But it is also good for the system of justice after being the object of international opprobrium for more than one-and-a-half decade since the arbitrary and unconstitutional dismissal of the Lord President, Tun Salleh Abas and two Supreme Court judges in 1988, climaxing with the report "Justice in Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000", a terrible indictment of the judiciary and the rule of law in Malaysia by the international community of lawyers and judges. The majority Federal Court judgment acquitting Anwar was the first major turning point in 16 years giving hope that Malaysia can restore national and international confidence with a truly independent judiciary and a just rule of law.

It is good for human rights, democracy, good governance and the fundamental principle of the separation of powers of the three branches of government. It is good for UMNO and Barisan Nasional. It is so good for the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that one foreign newspaper had described Abdullah as the biggest winner – that he is “being seen as the man whose calming manner made it possible for Malaysia to begin to put one of its darkest political moments behind it at last”.

Of course, it may not be good for Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and his cronies. Nobody believes that with Tun Dr. Mahathir as the Prime Minister, the Federal Court would have come out with such a judgment to acquit Anwar, and Abdullah deserves credit for creating the environment where such a landmark judgment could be made with his public commitment that the government would not interfere with the judiciary and would respect its decisions.

A swallow, however, does not a summer make. Before the country could be fully assured that the judiciary has truly turned the corner and is embarked inexorably on the road to return to unquestioned judicial independence, impartiality and integrity which it enjoyed during the tenure of the first three Prime Ministers in the country and the restoration of the fundamental constitutional and democratic principle of the separation of powers of the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature, accountability, transparency and good governance in Malaysia suffered another major blot five days after the landmark Federal Court judgment.

This was the decision by the brute nine-tenth parliamentary majority vote suspending DAP MP for Bukit Glugor, Karpal Singh, as a Member of Parliament, depriving him of all parliamentary allowances and perks, for 10 days if he apologises or for six months if he does not apologise within three days expiring today.

What was Karpal’s offence? Was the sentence commensurate with the alleged offence? Although there is considerable media publicity in the past few days about the parliamentary debate and Karpal’s suspension, I do not think more than a handful out of 25 million Malaysians could really answer these two questions – itself an indictment of the multiple failures of accountability, transparency and good governance in Malaysia.

But let me first answer the question - What was Karpal’s offence of breach of parliamentary privileges?

On 14th June 2004, the brute nine-tenth majority of Parliament referred Karpal to the Committee of Privileges to determine whether he had committed two breaches of parliamentary privileges, i.e. made a false statement and misled the House “telah membuat kenyataan palsu dan telah memesongkan Dewan” during the oath-taking ceremony of MPs on May 17, when he had raised the issue of the propriety of MPs not putting up their right hand, citing the Statutory Declarations Act 1949 (and subsequently the Oaths and Affirmations Act 1949).

The report of the Committee of Privileges was improper, irregular and unparliamentary for several reasons, including:

  • It was at most a majority report as the sole Opposition MP on the Committee of Privileges, Chong Eng (Bukit Mertajam) was denied the right to submit her minority dissent report;

  • The report was only signed by Datuk Dr Yusuf bin Yacob, with the other members of Committee never asked to give their approval to the final draft before presentation to the House and therefore seeing the report the first time as other MPs when it was tabled in the House.

  • its findings were not accompanied by the reports of the verbatim proceedings of its four meetings, viz: 25th June, 10th July, 15th July and 10th August 2004, violating all parliamentary practices and conventions whether in Malaysia or the Commonwealth Parliaments;

  • the Committee of Privileges did not display the independence, impartiality and integrity in the carrying out of its proceedings, as the majority allowed extraneous factors, influences and personalities to dictate the results; and

  • the findings are not borne out by the reports of the verbatim proceedings of the Committee of Privileges.

The refusal to table the reports of the verbal proceedings of the four committee meetings was both a contempt of MPs and the Malaysian public as well as a travesty of justice – denying MPs and the Malaysian people their fundamental right to know and the opportunity to study the verbatim proceedings to decide whether they support the findings and recommendations of the majority report of the Committee of Privileges, which go the very core questions of accountability, transparency, justice and good governance.

The shocking fact of the matter is that all the six members of the Committee of Privileges at their second meeting on July 10 unanimously agreed that Karpal was not guilty of both the two alleged breaches of privileges for which they were directed to determine.

The six members were: Datuk Dr. Yusuf bin Yacob, the Deputy Speaker who acted as Chairman as the Speaker, Tun Mohamed Zahir Ismail was an interested party as the complainant against Karpal; Choor Chee Heung (Alor Setar), Dr. James Dawos Mamit (Mambong), Datuk Mohd. Zaid bin Ibrahim (Kota Bharu), Devamany a/k Krishnasamy (Cameron Highlands) and Chong Eng (Bukit Mertajam).

This is from the verbatim report of the second committee meeting on 10th July 2004:

“Datuk Mohd Zaid bin Ibrahim: Tuan Pengerusi, saya melihat dari statu segi memanglah Yang Berhormat bagi Bukit Gelugor mengeluarkan atau menyatakan fakta-fakta yang salah atau silap, bukan sekali tetapi dua kali dan tiga kali dalam akhbar dan di dalam Dewan mengenai rujukan beliau – Oaths and Affirmations Act, Statutory Declarations Act dan macam-macam lagi. Jadi, dari segi itu, saya rasa memadailah kita we can admonish him, kita kata you know Members of Parliament must be more careful, must be more responsible in stating facts in Parliament. Kita boleh begi amaran. I think we can do that.

“Kita ada kuasa macam-macam, this Committee. We can say that he should behave better next time, things like that tetapi to find him guilty of the charge seperti yang saya sebut tadi saya rasa agak sukar kerana saya berpuas hati bahawa kesilapan dia hari itu bukan untuk memesongkan Dewan. Itu pada pendapat saya. Saya juga merasakan tidak ada gunanya dia hendak memesongkan Dewan kerana kertas arahan, saya juga Ahli Dewan yang baru, saya angkat sumpah kali pertama maka saya berpandu kepada arahan Dewan sendiri. Jadi tidak ada sebab mengapa seorang Ahli Dewan lain hendak memesongkan fakta itu kerana arahan daripada Dewan sendiri.

“This is clear dan saya pun merasakan semua orang walaupun Dewan berhak membuat peraturan-peraturn sendiri. Malangnya kita punya Rules Committee, the High Court Committee tidak ada mengatakan kita kena mengangkat tangan tetapi sebagai conventional practice di mahkamah, itu memang biasa dan saya akui Dewan berhak membuat keputusan dan saya percaya dan saya bersetujulah Speaker juga boleh mengatakan angkat sumpah dengan cara mana sekalipun itu saya juga setuju.

“Tetapi hakikatnya arahan ataupun guidance daripada Dewan is to raise our right hand dan saya sebagai Ahli Dewan baru say baca benda itu. Jadi saya tidak nampak apa gunanya seorang Ahli Dewan yang lain cuba hendak memesongkan fakta-fakta itu sedangkan benda itu ada di depan semua ahli. So I don’t think he was trying to mislead the House. He made a mistake and kita sebagai Ahli Parlimen dan sebagai human beings, we all make mistakes. Jadi saya rasa kalau Karpal Singh sudah mengatakan he regretted it, dia regret, dia silap and I think kita pun make our point supaya Ahli-ahli Parlimen lebih berhati-hati, I think we can admonish him, we can warn him tetapi to take it any further I rasa it’s not right also.

“Itulah pandangan saya, Tuan Pengerusi and I say this because one day we all will make mistake also unintentionally and saya rasa this is a precedent yang kita semua sebagai Ahli-ahli Committee ini we have to be responsible for. Kalau we set a wrong precedent, we make a wrong ruling, mungkin kita juga akan rugi in future. Dari segi tindakan Karpal Singh sebagai seorang Ahli Parlimen yang saya lihatlah, tindak tanduk dia itu memanglah, cara dia itu very abusive sometimes dan dia punya sikap yang tidak menghormati, itu saya setuju tetapi itu bukannya the charge yang ada di depan kita. Kalau kita hendak mengambil tindakan kepada Karpal Singh, kita tunggulah di masa-masa lain di mana dia melakukan perkara-perkara yang menghina dan sebagainya, kita boleh mengambil tindakan tetapi bila kita draw up a motion, kita move a motion in Parliament to commit somebody to the Committee of Privileges, kita kena berhati-hati. We must know what we’re doing. Jadi we respectlah.

“Jadi saya rasa soal tindak-tanduk dia, arrogance dia, cara itu, this is irrelevant. The issue is basically sama ada bila dia sebut wrong act itu niat dia hendak memesongkan kita dan atas alasan itulah saya, Tuan Pengerusi, saya rasa perkara ini memadailah kita warn him, kita admonish him, we tell him to be more careful and I think kita selesaikan perkara ini. Terima kasih.” (pp 14-15)

Mohd Zaid repeated later in the meeting: “I don’t think he was trying to mislead the House”.(p 22)

“Dato’ Chor Chee Heung: “Sekarang Jawatankuasa Hak dan Kebebasan berhadapan dengan tiga isu seperti dipersetujui oleh semua Ahli, iaitu yang pertama, sama ada kenyataan yang dibuat pertama kali pada hari di mana Ahli-ahli Parlimen mengangkat sumpah adalah palsu ataupun tidak. Yang kedua, sama ada kenyataan beliau itu telah pun memesongkan Dewan yang mulia ini. Yang ketiga, jika ia, apakah hukuman yang setimpal.

“Pada pendapat saya, bila saya dapat review balik Hansard, apa yang telah pun diperkatakan di dalam Hansard termasuk juga dengan authorities yang sedia ada, saya percaya yang pertama, kita tidak payahlah memanggil Yang Berhormat Bukit Gelugor untuk memberi keterangan yang lebih lanjut ataupun memanggil peguamnya sendiri untuk membela Yang Berhormat bagi Bukit Gelugor sebab mengikut apa yang kita ada ini sudah mencukupi as a basis untuk mencapai satu keputusan.

“Baiklah, kita berbalik kepada hari di mana Yang Berhormat bagi Bukit Gelugor membuat kenyataan bahawa mengangkat sumpah tidak sah kalau tidak mengangkat tangan kanan seperti yang diperlukan di bawah Statutory Declarations Act (SDA). Pada pendapat saya Statutory Declarations Act memang silap, tetapi tidak mencukupi untuk amounting to satu kenyataan yang palsulah…

“….Based on that saya percaya satu kenyataan beliau tidak semacam seperti yang kita katakana palsulah.

“Yang kedua, I don’t think his statement is enough to memesongkan Dewan tetapi oleh kerana dia telah membuat kenyataan yang silap pertama kali sepatutnya beliau haruslah meminta maaf, katalah dia declare dia membuat silap tetapi dia tidak berbuat demikian sebab saya percaya selepas itu event lain itu sudah overtaking of what has happened, dia pergi dekat press, dia ingin hendak apologize, of course that is outside our consideration.

“Walau bagaimanapun, saya percaya kalau kita hendak membuat satu keputusan, pendapat saya ialah if he can say again that he regrets what he said the first time and at admonishment by the House, I think it is sufficient, that is my opinion.” (pp 17-18)

“Dr. James Dawos Mamit: Yang penting adalah kita melihat daripada citation of the Act ataupun sebut akta itu pada 17 Mei, itu memang satu akta yang salah, tetapi Yang Berhormat bagi Bukit Gelugor telah pun membuat kenyataan bahawa beliau menyebut akta yang salah dan beliau juga telah pun menyatakan beliau regret tentang sebutan itu di dalam newspaper.

“Oleh yang demikian, kita harus melihat daripada usul yang dibentangkan pada 14 June apakah makna usul itu. Usul itu menyatakan bahawa sama ada dia sebut akta yang salah atau tidak, dan jika salah sama ada dia memesongkang Parlimen. Daripada pandangan saya, saya lihat dia tidak memesongkan Parlimen. Pada 17 Mei pun kalau saya lihat dia menyebut Statutory Declarations Act itu semata-mata untuk mendapatkan publisiti sebab masa itu pun memang TV ada, media pun ada, tetapi niatnya untuk memesongkan Parlimen saya rasa memang tidak ada.” (pp 18-19)

“Devamany a/l S. Krishnasamy: Saya rasa benda ini sudah jelas sebenarnya misled atau memesongkan Dewan memang tidaklah, kita mengakui daripada apa yang dibincang.” (p. 23)

Chong Eng’s position was equally clear – that Karpal had made a wrong but not a false statement and there had been no attempt to mislead the House.

During the debate in Parliament on the motion to suspend Karpal on Tuesday, I had in fact named the members of the majority report one after another, asking them to stand up to deny that they had individually held on July 10 that Karpal had not made a false statement and had not misled the House, but none stood up to contradict my statement.

After all the five members had expressed their concurrent stand that although Karpal had made a wrong statement, he had not made a false statement or misled the House, Dr. Yusuf went along with the consensus making it an unanimous finding of the Committee of Privileges – a six to zero score that Karpal was not guilty of the two breaches of parliamentary privileges alleged against him.

However, at the fourth meeting of the committee on 10th August 2004, despite their earlier stand on July 10 that Karpal was innocent of both allegations of breach of privileges, five of the six members (excluding Chong Eng) voted to support the punishment for Karpal – ten days of suspension with apology or six months suspension without apology. This created dubious history in Malaysia of a person being punished although he had been cleared of the two alleged offences levelled against him.

What was the rationale for the total reversal of the unanimous finding of the six-man Committee on July 10 that Karpal had made a wrong statement but not a false statement and that he had not misled the House?

This was provided by Datuk Mohd. Zaid at the third meeting on 15th July 2004, when he responded to Chong Eng, who expressed surprise that the two issues were being revisited (Verbatim report):

“Puan Chong Eng: Yang Berhormat Tuan Pengerusi, saya rasa kita semua bersetuju bahawa he did not mislead the House, dia pun tidak buat kenyataan palsu. Jadi, the question of a hukuman did not arise… (p. 3)

“Datuk Mohd. Zaid bin Ibrahim: Nanti, nanti, so there are two parts, the charge is two parts, one he made a false statement, and then whether that statement is mislead the House. Dan pada hari itu saya rasa, kita beri pandangan individu, as a group, kita belum lagi membuat keputusan.

“Saya beri pandangan, Alor Setar dan Cameron Highlands, you look at the minutes, tetapi we still have to sit down and decide as a group. Jadi saya rasa hari itu hanyalah pandangan-pandangan yang diberi oleh individual capacity berdasarkan kepada laporan saya dan pandangan masing-masing.

“Jadi, it is not correct to say, as a committee kita telah membuat keputusan dia tidak bersalah, I don’t think we have done that. [Ketawa]” (pp 5-6)

The laughter could not have come from Chong Eng, who immediately protested though to no avail:

“Puan Chong Eng: Tuan Pengerusi, I would like to get your attention at page 15 in this last report, the last meeting page 15, that Yang Berhormat Kota Bharu mengatakan, so I don’t think he has trying to mislead the House, he made a mistake.” (p 6)

The laughter could only have come from the majority members of the Committee who must have found it ridiculous for them to take the position that while individually, they agreed that Karpal had neither made a false statement nor misled the House, collectively as a group they had to take the majority position that Karpal should be punished nonetheless in accordance with the script which had been written outside the Committee.

A perusal of the verbatim report of the fourth meeting of August 10 shows that the proposed punishment was not the result of any discussion in the Committee of Privileges, originating from one or more members of the Committee, but was presented to the Committee as a diktat from an external source outside the Committee, in the form of a “draft report” of the Committee of Privileges for tabling in Parliament. (p 1)

The upshot was that an unanimous decision of all six members on July 10 that Karpal was not guilty of the two allegations of breaches of parliamentary privileges in making a false statement and misleading the House was overturned resulting in a five-to-one decision in support of the proposal in the “draft report” to punish Karpal .

In Anwar’s earlier corruption case, the charges were amended in mid-stream during the trial. In Karpal’s case, the majority in the Committee of Privileges were given a punishment to impose, and the majority members had to resort to the linguistic gymnastics of equating a “wrong statement” with a “false statement”, after having earlier debunked such an equation, and convicting Karpal of “trying to mislead” Parliament (cuba memesongkan Dewan) when the Privileges Committee was specifically directed to determine whether Karpal had “misled” Parliament (telah memesongkan Dewan). Karpal was never notified that the goal posts had been moved arbitrarily by the Committee of Privileges without the sanction of Parliament and he was again denied the rules of natural justice and his fundamental right to be heard.

In the circumstances, the failure to present the verbatim reports of the four meetings of the Committee of Privileges cannot but take on a sinister hue as intending to mislead Parliament and hide the fact that the majority recommendations contradicted the Committee’s unanimous decision on July 10 that Karpal was not guilty of the two allegations of breaches of privileges.

I understand that it is the Speaker, Tun Mohamad Zahir Ismail who had not allowed the verbatim reports of the four meetings of the Committee of Privileges to be presented to the House together with its report – making an utter mockery of the principles of accountability, transparency, justice and good governance.

I have chosen to speak at length on the case of Karpal’s suspension because it is the first scandal of accountability, transparency, justice and good governance under the premiership of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

No one would be surprised if the unjust, unparliamentary, biased and vindictive motion suspending Karpal had taken place under Mahathir’s Parliament – as Karpal himself had been arbitrarily expelled from Parliament in 1984 and three other DAP MPs had been suspended from Parliament during Mahathir’s 22-year premiership and Zahir’s speakership, viz. DAP MP for Sandakan Fung Ket Wing in 1984, DAP MP for Batu Gajah Fong Poh Kuan who was suspended for six months without allowance in December 2001 and my seven-month suspension in 1992.

But for such tyranny of the majority and travesty of justice to take place under Abdullah’s Parliament is a sober reminder that the country is not completely free from the mindset, culture and clutches of high-handed, arbitrary and undemocratic governance of the Mahathir era. The arbitrary and unjust suspension of Karpal has in fact gone a long way to undo the good of the Federal Court judgment the previous Thursday acquitting Anwar Ibrahim, allowing him to walk out from the Palace of Justice as a free man – raising hopes that real change and reform is possible under the new Prime Minister.

The civil society should stand up to remove the first “good governance” black-eye under Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s watch as Prime Minister and demand that Parliament review and rescind Bukit Glugor MP Karpal Singh’s six-month suspension as it is the very antithesis of accountability, transparency, justice and good governance.

If the Federal Court could take the landmark decision to review its decision on Anwar’s corruption conviction, Parliament cannot do less than review and rescind its unjust six-month suspension of Karpal – to send out a clear and unmistakable message that Abdullah’s Parliament is capable of repairing its first a major multiple failure of accountability, transparency, justice and good governance in the mishandling and victimization of Karpal by a brute nine-tenth parliamentary majority.

Parliament should be the centerpiece of any national endeavour to raise the quality of good governance by upholding the principles of accountability and transparency to promote equitable and sustainable development, eradicate poverty, fight corruption and abuses of power, foster greater participatory democracy and usher in press freedom and freedom of information.

If the civil society cannot hold Parliament to account and prevail upon it to review and rescind the injustice of the six-month suspension of Karpal, then all the conferences and talk about accountability, transparency and good governance would be quite meaningless and count for nothing.

How can Malaysians really hope to have a effective system of checks and balances, upholding the important constitutional and democratic principle of the separation of powers among the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature, leading to the restoration of national and international confidence in a truly independent judiciary and a just rule of law, when Parliament could be so guilty of such scandalous disregard of the core principles of accountability, transparency, justice and good governance as in the case of Karpal’s most irregular and arbitrary suspension?

May be Suhakam can also play a role in this regard by holding an inquiry into the violation of the rights of a Member of Parliament as well as the violation of the principles of accountability, transparency, justice and good governance in the six-month suspension of Karpal from Parliament.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman