Privileges on Karpal must not be in a “rush to judgment”, reckless and
regardless of the rules of natural justice, all notions of fair play and
established parliamentary conventions
Media Conference Statement (2)
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Thursday): On 15th June 2004, the Parliament Secretary Datuk Abdullah Abdul Wahab wrote a three-paragraph letter to the DAP MP for Bukit Glugor, Karpal Singh, a day after Parliament had adopted a motion to refer Karpal to the Committee of Privileges, which reads as follows:
“Usul Merujuk Kepada Jawatankuasa Hak and Kebebasan
“Saya diarah menulis surat ini kepada Yang Berhormat berkenaan dengan usul yang telah diluluskan oleh Dewan Rakyat pada 14 Jun 2004. Satu salinan usul itu disertakan bersama-sama ini.
“2. Saya diarahkan memohon Yang Berhormat menghantarkan kepada saya satu kenyataan mengandungi hujah-hujah Yang Berhormat berkenaan dengan apa yang perlu yang bersangkut dengan usul ini.
“3. Sila hantarkan penyata Yang Berhormat itu pada atau sebelum 24 Jun 2004 untuk pertimbangan Jawatankuasa Hak dan Kebebasan.”
This letter from the clerk to Parliament to Karpal is not only most improper but raises the grave question whether the Committee of Privileges is under a secret directive to be in a “rush to judgment”, reckless and regardless of the rules of natural justice, all notions of fair play and established parliamentary conventions.
Why has the clerk to Parliament “jumped the gun” in sending such a letter to Karpal when
the Privileges Committee has not yet met to decide on its modus operandi as to how to discharge its remit to conduct investigations following the parliamentary motion on Monday to refer Karpal to it?
Who had directed the clerk to Parliament to write the improper letter to Karpal? Is it the Speaker Tun Mohamed Zahir Ismail who is chairman of the Privileges Committee? This will be doubly improper, as Zahir is directly involved in the privileges complaint referring Karpal to the Committee of Privileges, which is why I had wanted to amend the motion in Parliament on Monday to also refer Zahir together with Karpal to the Committee of Privileges – although it was overruled by the Deputy Speaker, Lim Si Cheng. Karpal had announced in Parliament during the debate on Monday that he would be calling Zahir as a witness when he appears before the Committee of Privileges to defend himself.
Zahir must be scrupulously correct and proper as far as the Committee of Privileges proceeding against Karpal is concerned, and although he is Chairman of the Committee of Privileges, he must recuse himself and cannot influence its proceeding as he would be called as a witness by Karpal in its hearing.
Who else then had directed the clerk to Parliament to write such an improper letter to Karpal? It could not be the Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chairman of the Privileges Committee, Datuk Dr. Yusof bin Yacob, as on the matter of the privileges complaint against Karpal, the clerk to Parliament can only act on the instruction of the whole Privileges Committee and not of any one person in whatever capacity.
The New Straits Times report yesterday quoting Abdullah as saying that Karpal need not have to be present and appear before the Committee of Privileges and that “he could argue for his defence via submission of documents” is clearly against all established parliamentary rules and conventions.
The Parliamentary Committee of Privileges must conduct its investigations in a fair and just manner, observing the rules of natural justice and the maxim that “Justice must not only be done but seen to be done”, so that it would not be equated with a kangaroo court as in some unfortunate previous instances in the past.
It will be going against all parliamentary precedents both in Malaysia and the Commonwealth if Karpal, as the subject of the Committee of Privileges investigations, is denied the opportunity and the right to appear before it to defend himself.
The last time that Parliament referred MPs to the Committee of Privileges to investigate into breach of privilege was on 23rd November 1983, when both the then DAP MP for Sandakan, Fung Ket Wing and the Sabah Chief Minister, Harris Salleh (who was also MP for Ulu Padas) were jointly referred to determine as to which one of the two had made a false statement with regard to the extent of the latter’s land ownership in Labuan.
Fung not only appeared before the Committee of Privilegtes to defend himself, he was also represented by Counsel, K.C. Cheah.
With such a precedent, there can be no reason why Karpal cannot appear before the Committee of Privileges to defend himself, and also to be represented by Counsel.
It was reported that the proceedings of the Committee of Privileges would be held behind closed door, with the outcome to be made public when the House resumes meeting on July 5.
There seems to be an effort to “rush” the entire privilege proceedings to be completed by the July meeting of Parliament in less than three weeks time. This is another gross impropriety and injustice, as there is no way that the Committee of Privileges could fairly and justly carry out its investigations in time for a report to be made to Parliament for its July meeting.
In the Fung Ket Wing case, Parliament adopted a motion to refer him and Harris Salleh to the Committee of Privileges on 23rdd November 2003, and Parliament debated the recommendations of the Committee of Privileges on July 23 and 24, 1984 – after an interval of eight months. Why is there a deadline for the “rush to judgement” in the Karpal privilege case in a matter of weeks this time?
I call on the Committee of Privileges to be fully mindful of the wind of change and reform blowing through Commonwealth Parliaments in the past few decades but which had completely bypassed the Malaysian Parliament, and the new ethos of openness, accountability and transparency which have been embraced by progressive Parliaments worldwide as testified by the proceedings of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, with Malaysia as a member of both.
As a first step, the Committee of Privileges should stop holding its proceedings in closed-door but conduct them in public – especially as the verbatim record of its entire proceedings have to be tabled in Parliament when it submits its report.
I wish to take this opportunity to call on the Parliamentary Accounts Committee to also spearhead an era of greater openness, accountability and transparency by holding all its proceedings in public, and I hope it would have started its work by before the next parliamentary meeting on July 5.
Parliament at its recently-concluded meeting had constituted the three Standing Committees, i.e. the Privileges Committee, the House Committee and the Standing Orders Committee.
It was the past unhealthy practice for these Standing Committees to go into long sleep for five years after its constitution, without at times holding a single meeting. This should not happen again.
The House and Standing Orders Committee should meet before the next parliamentary meeting on July 5 so that they can give a report to Parliament next month on its agenda of business – how the House Committee is going to upgrade the facilities available to MPs to make them effective elected representatives of the people and how the Standing Orders Committee is going to initiate a process of parliamentary reform and modernization to make the Malaysian Parliament a First World Reform Parliament.
If members of the the House and Standing Orders Committee are not prepared to work hard to catch up on the decades of neglect in these two fields, then new members should be appointed to carry out these tasks.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader,
Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor & DAP National Chairman