A Legacy the Country Can Do Without

by M. Bakri Musa

When the Council of Rulers did not even entertain former Chief Justice Ahmad Feiruz’s request for an extension of his tenure, it went beyond royal rebuff. It was a very public and equally royal repudiation of Prime Minister Abdullah’s judgment.

The Council went further. Traditionally it does not even announce details of its meetings, but on October 31st, 2007 the Rulers specifically stated that the item was not even on their agenda. Presumably they went out of their way to declare this fact openly to pre-empt anyone from “spinning” this royal snub into something else.

The immediate consequence was that Feiruz left office unceremoniously the next day, with no end-of-term “photo ops,” elaborate dinners, or the obligatory farewell tours. There was not even a parting interview or any dispensing of words of wisdom. It was the body language of someone drummed out of office rather than a dignified farewell of someone proud of his legacy. It was the image of a guard dog turned renegade, desperate to escape for fear of being shot, with its tail between its legs after it was found snatching one of the lambs it was supposed to protect.

On this point, Ahmad Feiruz had read the situation well; his legacy is not one that the nation should be proud of; neither should he.

Has Prime Minister Abdullah learned anything from this disgraceful saga? Sadly, no! In elevating recently appointed Judge Zaki Azmi to be President of the Court of Appeals, the number two slot and thus potentially in line to be the next Chief Justice, Abdullah has again demonstrated his incompetence as well as inability and unwillingness to learn from his mistakes.

This is the same Zaki Azmi who before his elevation to the bench grabbed headlines with his attempt to have his second marriage in South Thailand annulled. Press reports alleged that he might have instructed his bride to destroy their wedding certificate, potentially an act that could be construed as obstruction of justice, a serious charge especially to an officer of the court.

Nonetheless he had the personal integrity then to withdraw himself from UMNO’s Disciplinary Committee investigating “money politics.” Thus we have the specter of a man who earlier felt himself unqualified to be in UMNO Disciplinary Committee being appointed by the party’s leader to be next in line as Chief Justice. The mockery of this appointment is lost on the judge as well as the Prime Minister.

A Shameful Legacy

The legacy of a judge is his written judgments. According to the Bar Council, during the seven years he was on the High Court, Feiruz wrote a meager seven judgments, about one a year! Such productivity! Despite that, he was promoted to the Appeals Court. In the seven years he was on the Federal Court (the highest) he was no better, writing a total of again seven judgments only. This is not a question of quality making up for quantity, rather a legacy lacking in both.

I read his last written judgment on the highly publicized Lina Joy case in which he, as Chief Justice, wrote for the majority. It was enough to discourage me from looking up his other cases. Feiruz obviously had not heard of such basic tenets of democracy as the freedom of beliefs and conscience. To him, one should not be allowed to change one’s religion “on a whim.” He missed the elementary principle that freedom when constrained is not it.

Such a high profile and potential landmark case would have been a splendid and rare opportunity for him to showcase his judicial wisdom, legal scholarship, and grasp of social realities. His authoring the majority report indicated that he did recognize that occasion; alas none of those qualities are reflected in his written judgment. There was a reason – he lacked them!

His non-bench commentaries were equally mediocre. His speech at a recent symposium honoring the late legal luminary Ahmad Ibrahim was inappropriate as well as injudicious, if not downright irresponsible as well. He advocated doing away with the current reliance on English common law in favor of the Sharia. Such a suggestion would have been appropriate from a legal scholar, and would have precipitated lively and productive legal, political, and philosophical debates. Coming from the Chief Justice, a man sworn to uphold the law (presumably in its current form) his advocacy was misplaced and downright reprehensible. It would shake the public’s confidence in our laws and courts. Such wild speculations do not reflect mature or judicial temperament.

Even Ahmad Ibrahim, an expert in our constitution as well as Islamic laws, and whose intellect, scholarship and legal talent dwarfed Feiruz’s, had never suggested anything even remotely close.

In the end it is wholly appropriate that Feriuz’s legacy, or more correctly notoriety, would have nothing to do with his performance on the bench. Instead he will be remembered as the judge mentioned in the infamous “Lingam tape” of the pariah lawyer bragging of his ability to have senior judges in his pocket. Such supreme irony!

Precedent Setting Royal Snub

Ahmad Feiruz would not have made his formal request to the Rulers for an extension of his tenure without Abdullah first agreeing to it. In rebuffing Feiruz, the Rulers were also brushing off Prime Minister Abdullah. Whether Abdullah is too dense to get this none-too-subtle message or that his advisors had “spin” it differently to him is immaterial; it is obvious to all.

From his reactions, it was equally obvious that Abdullah was totally unprepared for this royal rebuff. Consequently when Feiruz left, he was automatically replaced by his number two, as per the constitution. Once again the Prime Minister was pathetically reduced to a hapless bystander, unable to control much less influence events around him. Instead events had overtaken him.

The power to appoint senior judges in particular the chief justice is one of the most important prerogatives of the chief executive. It is the one power that he or she would not want delegated. It is also one that should be exercised with great diligence, as its impact would long outlast the term of the chief executive.

Obviously Abdullah does not appreciate the import of this authority. On second thought, Abdullah has been derelict in all his other responsibilities, so this is nothing unusual.

This Council of Rulers is no ordinary one, for among its members is Raja Azlan Shah, the current Sultan of Perak and a former distinguished Chief Justice. Rest assured that his brother rulers were paying close attention to what he had to say on the matter of Feiruz. Raja Azlan had formed his judgment on his later successor, and his brother rulers listened.

It is one thing for the laity to pass judgment on your professional capability, but when it is one of your peers especially one as distinguished as Raja Azlan, then that is significant.

All these are obvious to everyone; yet we have the de facto Law Minister Nazri arguing that the King has to abide by the advice of the Prime Minister on this matter. By not even entertaining Feiruz’s request, the King through his brother rulers is also crudely telling Nazri to shove it.

Whether Nazri is as dense as Abdullah in not getting this brutal message is immaterial. What we do know is that the King has effectively shut Nazri up. I eagerly await Nazri’s response. In particular I would like to see whether he has the strength of his conviction to challenge the Rulers.

If Nazri and Abdullah do not challenge this precedent-setting move by the Rulers, it would establish once and for all the operative meaning of that seemingly innocuous clause – “royal advice” – stated so dryly in our constitution.

Whether Ahmad Feiruz or Prime Minister Abdullah is getting the royal shove does not interest me in the least, but when there is a significant shift in our constitutional processes, especially in matters of the crucial exercise of checks and balances, that should concern us all.

  1. #1 by oknyua on Monday, 10 December 2007 - 4:30 pm

    Very interesting article.

    Sadly, I doubt AAB’s ability to read and comprehend, much less respond in any way.

  2. #2 by budak on Monday, 10 December 2007 - 5:05 pm

    by the time he able to read English messages, it’s time for him get out from PutraJaya… he doesnt belong to this office…

  3. #3 by HJ Angus on Monday, 10 December 2007 - 5:20 pm

    Don’t forget to sign the petition by Haris Ibrahim if you want to do something for the Juducuary.


  4. #4 by ckm on Monday, 10 December 2007 - 7:01 pm

    Justice seems to be the last thing on AAB’s mind.

  5. #5 by DiaperHead on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 2:13 am

    “Sadly, I doubt AAB’s ability to read and comprehend, much less respond in any way.” oknyua

    He graduated with a degree in Malay and Islamic Studies from the University of Malaya, didn’t he? You failed your SPM.

  6. #6 by DiaperHead on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 2:16 am

    “It was the image of a guard dog turned renegade, desperate to escape for fear of being shot, with its tail between its legs after it was found snatching one of the lambs it was supposed to protect.”

    No. It was an image of an old mongrel about to be put down.

  7. #7 by Count Dracula on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 5:59 am

    “If Nazri and Abdullah do not challenge this precedent-setting move by the Rulers, it would establish once and for all the operative meaning of that seemingly innocuous clause – “royal advice” – stated so dryly in our constitution.”

    The King did however give them the “Royal Flush”.

  8. #8 by Bigjoe on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 8:24 am

    The big question I have about this is, after Fairuz was rejected, why did the PM went ahead try appoint Zaki? One wonder what the official reason for rejecting Fairuz? It suspiciously appears not being really qualified is NOT one of them.

    Can the rulers really be trusted to defend the the system? Is there another game of bargaining that is going on behind the background?

  9. #9 by undergrad2 on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 8:57 am

    Zaki Tun Azmi has good relationship with the Palace.

  10. #10 by oknyua on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 9:11 am

    DiaperHead, your are right. I never sit for SPM or the STPM.

    I had SC and HSC.

  11. #11 by undergrad2 on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 9:18 am

    Then you must be in your 60s.

  12. #12 by ktteokt on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 9:21 am

    “Justice seems to be the last thing on AAB’s mind.” – ckm.

    I don’t think justice ever crossed his mind right from the first day he held office. And just imagine the first day he “ascended his throne”, people called him “justice pao”. What an insult to a great historical Chinese judge in the Sung Dynasty. Had Justice Pao been around, he would have been executed with the “Tiger Head Guillotine”, a special device for decapitating government officials who have committed crimes.

  13. #13 by grace on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 9:48 am

    I wonder this Zaki fellow has muka tebal or not?
    A normal person with conscience would not have acceoted the post as judge already. He had such a bad record. How is he going to preach moral to others?
    He definitelycannot reprimand an accused of destroying evidence.
    The accused will turn around and quote him for setting a precedent. Hoi, Malu la. Better resign from the post!

    Oh Yes, how can our infamous former CJ and the pariah get away? They have committed untold sin against many innocents. Pak Lah cakap so much about justice to all. Sudah 3 bulan since thae tape was released, still nothing solid done. Pak Lah is really Pak Lambat!!!

  14. #14 by cheng on soo on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 10:35 am

    This zaki name not on their website as on 10-12-2007, http://www.kehakiman.gov.my.

  15. #15 by Jong on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 10:54 am

    Good piece, astute observation from afar!

    The snub by the King and his brother rulers for former Chief Justice Ahmad Feiruz, refusing to entertain the extension of his tenure, was truly a big step in the right direction to save the Judiciary from further rot.

    As for that despicable, nauseating scumbag Nazri, how could the BN/UMNO leadership have allowed this barking mad dog continue to shoot filth in the air and antagonising everyone unless they CONDONE it?

  16. #16 by g2geetoo on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 11:08 am

    ……………but then the rulers cannot protest the appointments wihout any reasons at all. The Rulers must speak out as to why they cannot accept the appointment. Isn’t there a place for the rulers to make statements.

    By keeping quiet and not able to defend themselves, the rulers will be sitting ducks too! I still believe that whatever that has been propagated by some blogs to get the rakyat to go against the present govt. is merely a motive to promote their own politcal popularity.

    But then Badawi’s tolerance is severly being tested right now! This power struggle in Umno is not doing any good to the well being of Malaysia. Maybe, we need PAS and PKR to make Umno not so relevant in Malaysia politics. So send a message in the ballot box, enough is enough!

    Vote for the opposition since Umno disregard the safety of all Malaysians due to their own internal politicking!

  17. #17 by oknyua on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 11:35 am

    Undergrad2, no, ha ha… My state was not under the SPM or STPM (lucky?) until much later. In my first year at the University, I struggled with BM, learning such words as “buku, bangungan” etc. I was often scolded for not speaking/writing BM. I was given the option to answer my papers in English.

    I am telling you this because right from then, the selection was based on “unseen” creteria. I was offered a pure science course as against my first choice of Medic and Social Science. Since I was a farmer’s son, and I was doing farming up to HSC, I had NO choice at all.

    My request for a scholarship was declined again and again (tell me special privilege for Bumiputera?). When I graduated, I was applied to join the gov’t, again declined. (Now they asked the stupid question why none Malays don’t want to join the civil service?). When I consider the money I spent sending my children overseas today, I get very angry. What was RM16,000 for a local University then? I fought hard and wrote protests in the papers. Scholarships were given to children of political leaders instead of deserving students. I named these students and their parents. Man, if Anwar Ibrahim was a student leader, so was I. But instead of religion and politics, I spoke hard against discrimination especially highlighting the rural poor.

    As a student I was called up by the Deputy Education Minister, twice. I was given a student loan of RM12,000 – mind boggling sum. That’s the amount many of us earn in a month now.

    So DiaperHead, at least you know where I came from. I obtained an MBA-equivalent from Singapore, just a useless paper as I am in business now.

  18. #18 by Jong on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 11:41 am

    oknyua Says:
    Today at 11: 35.48 (3 minutes ago)

    Hey oknyua, wrong thread lah!

  19. #19 by cheng on soo on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 11:52 am

    oknyua, hey, don’t say MBA is useless, like that, many youngster who want to study may give up, no good la! U can say this to certain youngster but not here la!

  20. #20 by k1980 on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 1:21 pm

    Why wasn’t this rabble-rouser of a half-breed thambi arrested for protesting and demonstrating in the streets of KL?

  21. #21 by grace on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 2:30 pm

    Dear Mr. Lim,

    I believe my comments were rather nasty and was made out of frustration that such an appointment could be effected.



  22. #22 by kritikus on Tuesday, 11 December 2007 - 8:03 pm

    It is a pity to see this country going down the drain and going to the dogs. Only divine intervention can save this country by ridding the arrongant, selfish, cruel and self-centred rascals from the face of this earth.

    This country is definitely heading for irreversible calamaties, catastrophies and shocking disasters which will put this country 50 years back.

    When the innocent, poor, destitute and the marginalised communities are suppressed, victimised and pushed to the wall, the country and its leaders are only inviting serios divine disastrous intervention.


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