Deal with the Rot, Not the Tape

by M. Bakri Musa

If Chief Justice Ahmad Feiruz has any sense of personal honor and professional integrity left, he should resign immediately. If Prime Minister Abdullah has even the slightest responsibility for leadership and moral duty to the citizens, he should not extend the Chief Justice’s contract, due to expire this October. If the Malaysian Bar Council has any credible principle of societal obligation and self-policing ethics of a profession, it would disbar the lawyer making that phone call shown in the infamous video clip exposed by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Alas, judging from past performances, expect none of these. That is the unfortunate reality of Malaysia today. What remains then would be for the King to withhold consent for extending Feiruz’s contract, thereby precipitating an unnecessary and distracting constitutional crisis the nation could ill bear.

The Bar Council had an Emergency Meeting, but instead of initiating the necessary disciplinary proceedings on the involved lawyer (which would definitely be within its power) it decided instead to march at Putrajaya and hand a petition to the Prime Minister demanding for a Royal Commission. Next those lawyers would be demonstrating on the streets. So Third World, a la Pakistan! I would have thought those smart lawyers would have concocted some novel legal theory on which to sue the government into action.

Meanwhile Abdullah Badawi was “disappointed,” not at the explosive contents of the video but the fact that it was released. Wake up, Mr. Prime Minister! The rot is the Malaysian judiciary, not the taping. If Abdullah does perk up from his slumber, he would probably order the arrest of Anwar Ibrahim!

Chief Justice Feiruz, taking a leaf from the Prime Minister’s notorious “elegant silence,” issued a terse, “No comment!” It was neither elegant nor silent; instead it was ugly and spoke volumes.

Motive for Taping

The quality of the recording is such that it is unlikely to be a fake. With today’s forensic capabilities, it would be foolish for anyone to even attempt this. The lawyer concerned was speaking on his cell phone, meaning, there will be the inerasable digital trail. My monthly cell phone bill details my outgoing and incoming calls. Because of the quality, the video could not be shot surreptitiously as with a cell phone a la the earlier “nude ear squat” episode. Besides, such a device was probably unavailable back in 2002.

The intriguing question then is why the taping was made in the first place. Dispensing with the most common and obvious reason — stupidity — I posit a few.

One is that basic human emotion: vanity. The bragging rights of accumulating the next million after you have already acquired a few declines very rapidly. You need some other trophies, like an embellished royal title or additional wives (for Muslims). If you already have those, or cannot acquire them, then the next intoxicating fantasy would be to a kingmaker, or fancying yourself as one.

For a lawyer to be able to brag that you could “handle” senior judges must be the ultimate high. It also considerably enhances your ability as rainmaker. Years later in your old age, your skeptical grandchildren might attribute your boasts to nothing more than the rambling of a senile mind, unless of course you have the video to prove it!

Closely related to vanity is arrogance. Humility is when you could manipulate the nation’s judiciary and have the quiet satisfaction; arrogance is when you flaunt it. This lawyer Lingam was certainly flaunting it!

Alternatively, I do not put it below this shyster to put on this monologue with an imagined targeted senior judge at the other end, a la Lat’s old cartoon, and then purposely “leaked” the tape out. It would certainly be a headline grabber. As for a motive, rogues are known to do this to each other when they have a falling out. There is one quick way to check this: examine the tape to determine when it was manufactured.

The last possibility is that this could be an insider’s job, perhaps an employee’s scheme to get even with his or her boss just in case he would get nasty in future. Knowing how law firms’ employees are treated in Malaysia, this is a real possibility.

Judicial Commission No Remedy to Judiciary Rot

After much delay and amidst speculations, Abdullah finally appointed, apparently at the Ruler’s insistence, Justice Hamid Mohamed as President of the Court of Appeal, and Justice Alauddin Sherif as Chief Justice of Malaya. The two are highly regarded for their integrity as well as for being apolitical and independent minded. No wonder they were not Abdullah’s initial choice!

Abdullah also appointed a private lawyer Zaki Tun Azmi directly to the Appeals Court. He was on UMNO’s “Money Politics” disciplinary board. Lately he was known more for dumping his young Thai bride (his second, third, fourth?) and then asking her to burn their wedding certificate that was issued in Southern Thailand. Such personal integrity! The surprise is that the Council of Rulers consented to the appointment.

Perhaps Zaki Azmi was Abdulalh’s ideal choice for a future Chief Justice. That would of course reflect on Abdullah.

The rot in the judiciary predates Abdullah. However, he had the opportunity to reverse the trend or at least stem the decline with these new appointments, but as with the massive electoral mandate he received in 2004, he squandered it.

Many are advocating for an independent Judicial Commission to deal with judges’ appointments and promotions. I disagree. Judges and the judiciary generally must be accountable to the public. While I would not have judges be elected, as in some jurisdictions in America, the current system with judges appointed by the Prime Minister and consented to by the Council of Rulers is a good substitute. There is no point wasting time and effort tinkering with the current system.

What is needed instead is for the Prime Minister to be wise in his appointments and to open the field as wide as possible. In America, federal judges are nominated by the President and then consented to by the Senate, after a public confirmation hearing. If the president were stupid enough to nominate someone equally stupid, the Senate would not hesitate to deny the confirmation, after the appropriate public humiliation of the hearings. Additionally, the Bar Associations, legal scholars, and editorial boards would never shy from voicing their opinions.

The Prime Minister cannot abdicate his responsibility in selecting judges. If Abdullah needs guidance (he obviously does!), I suggest that he reads Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs. If he finds the volumes too thick and tedious, I can help Abdullah by referring him to the relevant few pages.

Elsewhere I commented on the intellectual and experiential insularity of Malaysian judges. They are almost exclusively drawn from the civil service, with minimal or no outside experience in academia, private sector, or elsewhere. They follow directives only too well.

I was stunned that Chief Justice Feiruz, when confronted with the evidence that he had promoted judges who had been delinquent with their written judgments, would write to the Prime Minister instead of handling the issue himself. Presumably Feiruz was awaiting arahan (directive) from the Prime Minister. So much for his appreciation and understanding of the concept of separation of powers!

That more than anything reflects the caliber of Feiruz. Don’t get me started on the quality of his legal writings and commentaries!

In the end it does not matter what system you have if those responsible for selecting our judges do not do the job responsibly. The rot in our judiciary is not with the system but with the personnel. The system has produced such judicial luminaries as Tun Suffian and Raja Azlan Shah. It could do it again.

  1. #1 by oct on Sunday, 23 September 2007 - 10:24 pm

    Malaysiamkini said that CJ denied talking to Lingam. Well it is very easy to proof. All we need to do is get the Telco to release the phone no that was called at that time. The company must have all the phone details for the past few years. Don’t tell me that someone has ordered the records to be deleted. Malaysia Boleh. Anything can happen

  2. #2 by Godfather on Sunday, 23 September 2007 - 10:34 pm

    Oct, in Bolehland, Fairuz could simply admit that his phone had received a call on such a date and such a time from Lingam, but he wasn’t in at the time, and someone else must have pretended to be Fairuz, and Lingam got carried away with that conversation.

    In Bolehland, Fairuz will get 3 UMNO supporters to verify that he was with them at the time, and he didn’t have his handphone with him then.

    Case closed.

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 23 September 2007 - 10:51 pm

    “…//…The rot in our judiciary is not with the system but with the personnel. The system has produced such judicial luminaries as Tun Suffian and Raja Azlan Shah. It could do it again…//…” – M Bakri Musa.

    This is not really true. Our judicial system had in the past produced such judicial luminaries as Tun Suffian and Raja Azlan Shah because then the nation had not yet met the likes of TDM at the helm!

    The fact that the system could subsequently change for the worse and set in the rot – corresponding to the change of personnel – the PM – testifies to the inherent flaw in the system.

    A good system has check and balance within that transcends change of personnel at the top. A system that works when the personnel is right and does not work when the personnel is wrong is a weak and bad system that has to be replaced by one which institutionalizes checks and balances notwithstanding vagaries of human ambition and excesses impacting on it.

    Just like in America, federal judges, though nominated by the President, has a built in check and balance of Senate’s public confirmation during which the nominated candidate is grilled.

    I would say that a system whereby the PM selects the candidate from amongst those recommended by an independently constituted judicial commission would have a strong built in check and balance in relation to judicial appointments.

    On the other intriguing question as to why the taping was made in the first place where Bakri posited a few possibilities, he has left out one common possibility – a close female companion (whatever the nature of relationship) since estranged. Heard of the old saying, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”?

  4. #4 by mendela on Sunday, 23 September 2007 - 11:01 pm

    In any other civilized countries, the persons involved in such scandals would have forced to quit immediately.

    In Bolehland, it is no problem at all!

    Feiruz is bringing big shame to Islam and Malaysia!

  5. #5 by ablastine on Sunday, 23 September 2007 - 11:40 pm

    It is incredulous that almost everybody gets away with the most bizarre crime in Malaysia as long as they are committed by those related to the Government. Be it judiciary rigging, murder with C4 explosive, outright siphoning of public funds from every Ministry, megaproject scandals and the list goes on. Nobody is ever accountable and brought to justice no matter how serious is the crime. The reason simply is everybody in the whole damn ruling party is GUILTY all the way to the top man one way or another. You bring to book one of the guilty you open a can of worms and every insider is afraid that he may be implicated. So everything is kept under wrap.

    We are talking about big money now. What I mean is if you are holding an important position in the government you have opportunities to siphon off hundred of millions into your own account and that of your family without ever having to account for it. I will not be suprise if our Ministers are to declare their assets, their net worth will probably exceed hundreds of millions. Why do you think they fight so hard to be MP or Ministers. To serve the people and country? Ha ha that will the best joke of the century. It is so sad isn’t it. In countries like Singapore, every decision that is made is for the people. In Malaysia everything that is planned is calculated on the basis of rate of return for the planners and his cronies. I have a feeling that we as a nation with such leadership and government can at most last two more election before the curtain comes down. Malaysia will really be doomed if they are not voted out by then.

  6. #6 by raven77 on Monday, 24 September 2007 - 1:35 am

    Come,come….there are no smart lawyers in this country…..they have been cheats from the word go….and there never have been enough checks nor balances….its not the system….its the people running the show…..from top right till the bottom…the very word lawyer in Malaysia conjures a person that lacks intergrity and almost always associated with dishonesty….so expect this….

  7. #7 by undergrad2 on Monday, 24 September 2007 - 2:13 am

    “The rot is the Malaysian judiciary, not the taping.” Bakri

    It is the taping of the rot.

  8. #8 by undergrad2 on Monday, 24 September 2007 - 3:07 am

    “Bakri posited a few possibilities, he has left out one common possibility – a close female companion (whatever the nature of relationship) since estranged. Heard of the old saying, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”? – Jeffrey QC

    In these days of same sex marriage, a man’s scorn can be more devastating!

  9. #9 by Bigjoe on Monday, 24 September 2007 - 8:35 am

    Bakri Musa is right that this is not just about judicial rot but actually about the system and Badawi’s failure to correct it.

    What is clear to me is that the video clearly shows that the powers that be particularly the PM knows who the other person is and instead of investigating it, they are trying to cover it up and look for the person who recorded it. Their priority is clear – look after each other cronies despite the huge consequence to the public and the country reflecting clearly Orwellian some pigs are more equal than other pigs.

    This is the core malaise of of UMNOputraism and our elected Sultanate, they look after the elite at huge cost to us. Much like the way the Ottoman umpire was destroyed.

    Secondly, Fairuz, after making no comments several times, now comes and say its not him on the video. Its clear he is lying and its him. Its also rumoured that the unedited version of the video has his name and the basis of PKR charges. This is clear blatant lack of integrity at the top of our judiciary. That alone, this denial of the facts, should be enough to remove him. He is an intellectual peon with less integrity than an Ah Long..

  10. #10 by cherasusie on Monday, 24 September 2007 - 9:05 am

    just get that ‘low-moral’ lawyer to face the music and ask him, to whom he talked to and roll from there.

    if he dare says its not that tarnished cj, then bring out that guy.

    because of our leaders’ narrow and cunning and totally non-god fearing motives and agendas to indiscriminately, favoring a particular ethnic group, has resulted to todays rot.

    when you try to cheat, you lie, you betray, you discriminate, you would do all sort of unholy things to protect yourself, favor yourself, gain yourself and what else?

    how then you explain forcing private sector to employ 30% of certain ethnic group but you find so little non-bumi in government offices, police, army, petronas, highways, waterways etc etc and of course how many indian and chinese judges……they are not fit?

    how can you go to court for your grievances? when you go to the police, the police are full of one particular group…even if they are not all good people, you don’t feel good and now, hai… even the judges are believed to be bias………..if i know, surely you know, the government should know…….how come nobody do anything… hey you MCA, hey you MIC, hey you UMNO….and hey you, the meow, meow of borneo.

    in a multi racial country like ours, you need a good mix in all sectors……..just like people says if you burn my house, your house is just next door….would you do that..

    if somebody criticized you, you would try hard to prove him wrong but our government keep proving otherwise!!!!!!!!!

    bad governance………is, all i can say.

    some unreal nuts out there will try to defend those useless scums by saying……if you so clever why don’t you be pm yourself, why so many people supported bn?

    STOP THE ROT, we are just desperate loyal malaysians yearning for change!!!!

  11. #11 by Godfather on Monday, 24 September 2007 - 9:49 am

    Honour and integrity amongst thieves ? There’s even an idiot asserting on this blog that we are asking for the rule of the jungle if we call on the CJ to be merely suspended. This idiot equates the position of the CJ to those of traffic offenders.

  12. #12 by blackacre on Monday, 24 September 2007 - 10:16 am

    Give credit when it is due…..I for one applaud the speedy resolutions taken by the Msian Bar, the quick call to action and the closing of the ranks to address this problem. As for your view that they should have taken action to discipline V K, I can only say, due process must take its cause (and they have summoned him to answer) not because the culprits are deserving but to quote A Man for All Seasons ” If all the laws (due process) was cut down, where would we run when the devil turns on you?” . Therefore in this time of crisis, steady heads are needed, no sense cutting off our noses to spite our face

  13. #13 by mwt on Monday, 24 September 2007 - 10:31 am

    Yes, the rot has sent in. PM should do a debridement exercise on the country – the removal of dead, devitalized and contaminated policies just as they have done the same to the former PM in IJN on his wounds. For too long problems after problems have been swept under the carpet and hoping that a giant vacuum cleaner will suck them all away. The new judiciary crisis is downplayed to further police investigations which will come out with no result. But the external factors are hurting us most. The PM is worried & concerned only about his next mandate (the “rot” is perceived by others, he can’t see it) and has acknowledged in the latest interview aired over ASTRO 95 that the sluggish US economy will influence the investment climate –which in turn will have a direct impact on the stock market. He hinted strongly “Our mandate still has two more years to go”. So it looks like the GE can also wait, the GE might be delayed.
    More details at

  14. #14 by grace on Monday, 24 September 2007 - 12:22 pm

    oct, your idea is very good. I totally agree.
    But the sad thing is that no telco would dare do it here. By now , to avoid trouble, they would have instructed the software engineers to have all Lingam’s and Fairuz conversation deleted. it is futile to get those crooks here.
    Now we know that the whole system in the country, from politicians to police and judiciary are controlled by hoodlums and tycoons. You just go around tell, you can see big mercs and BMWs parked as and shere they like, blocking up traffic, with inpunity!!! Why? Sudah kira la!

  15. #15 by sotong on Monday, 24 September 2007 - 12:43 pm

    We have inherited a good administration system from the British and all we need to do is improve on it to suit our changing circumtances to advance the country.

    But since independence, many had undermined the system with their personal, narrow and damaging political agenda….there is no quick fix.

  16. #16 by badak on Monday, 24 September 2007 - 12:57 pm

    Sorry lah, I was impressing my girl friend,Just to get her to bed..What lah.An indian lawyer like me can hold the whole judiciary by the balls ahh

    Come on do you think anything will come out of this scandel. NOTHING WILL HAPPEN.Semua nya ok ,Yes police will investicate,ACA will investicate PM will investicate ,Do you think its easy to prove in the court of law.The most important evidence that ie the phone record has long disappeared.

    If immigration records can vanish and nobody even bother.Do you think our corruppted goverment is going to open this can of worms.Which will bring all courts cases under this judge to be open again.

  17. #17 by Screw BN on Monday, 24 September 2007 - 2:10 pm

    ablastine, I absolutely 110% agree with you!!
    In Spore ministers, those in power and even local leaders somehow do backward flips and jumpp thru flaming hoops trying to better the country (island :-D) and better the people. Why is that? All my fellow Malaysians, why is that?

    Why is everyone in power in Spore up to Mr Lee himself (altho the PAP is the only ruling Sporean party) far from corrupt? Far from asleep? Why is it that every minister and those in power in Sprore so afraid they will do something wrong and be seen as only self-serving. You know for all the bashing we hand out to our southwardly neighbour, I think they can show us a think or two about be patriotic. And I dont mean flying the Jalur Gemilang on your Proton Waja. I mean being patriotic means something more. It is not about money or even how you treat and love your country, its how you treat and love your countrymen!!!!!!!!!!

  18. #18 by undergrad2 on Monday, 24 September 2007 - 5:21 pm

    Look, this Lingam tape caught Mahathir with his pants down! No doubt about that. But he is no longer PM – and Abdullah Badawi does not call the shots. He’s just a mouthpiece for elements within his Party.

    Then there’s this news about a certain judge calling a Minister to deny any involvement. What’s wrong with this statement?? What’s wrong with this picture is that a judge has no business calling a Minister who is not even the PM to deny anything!

    The CJ who is believed to be at the other end of the line of that call by V.K. Lingam has not made any statement. V.K. Lingam is nowhere around to be found and has not so much as made a statement through his lawyer to deny.

    UMNO leaders are busy planning how best to proceed with damage control. Yes, all they are interested is damage control. They know the truth and is powerless to do anything about it except wait for the CJ to retire and hope the controversy would die down.

    Malaysians would be suckers to let matters die down! The Bar Council would be criminally negligent in not calling V.K. Lingam to answer the allegations against him – and to reveal at the minimum the identity of the party at the other end.

  19. #19 by ktteokt on Monday, 24 September 2007 - 7:15 pm

    Malaysian law is such that they penalize the informer, not the criminal. Committing crimes in Malaysia are small matters, it is the ones who reports, reminds, brings up or persist action to be taken against the criminals who are always the victims.

    Therefore, it is best to let sleeping dogs lie or LIE!!!!!

  20. #20 by undergrad2 on Tuesday, 25 September 2007 - 8:08 am

    It is the job of all Malaysians to wag the dog. This is one time when sleeping dogs must not be allowed to lie.

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