Barely a day after Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi unveiled his judicial and anti-corruption reforms, criticism has poured in from all fronts.
It seemed as if no one had a good word for the two Bills presented to Parliament on Wednesday to set up new committees to oversee judicial appointments and the anti-graft battle.
The Bar Council and several respected opinion leaders joined the opposition in voicing criticism. Their complaints revolve mainly around the impression that ultimate power still lies in the hands of the political Executive, with the Bills merely adding layers of expensive bureaucracy. The Prime Minister still has the final say on judicial appointments, and the Attorney-General (A-G) has legal control over corruption prosecutions.
‘The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and Judicial Appointments Commission personally presented in Parliament…both fall far short of expectations and the promise of anti-corruption and judicial reforms,’ veteran opposition leader Lim Kit Siang wrote in his blog.
Nevertheless, both Bills are expected to be passed by Parliament even with the private misgivings of Barisan Nasional (BN) MPs. BN has enough MPs to carry the Bills even if the opposition walks out.
The opposition may find it hard to vote against the Bills without being seen as anti-reform, but could abstain or walk out. Said opposition Democratic Action Party leader Lim Guan Eng: ‘We have reservations but we also recognise that these are important steps forward…but they don’t go all the way, only halfway.’
This would be of cheer to Datuk Seri Abdullah, who would be hoping for wholehearted support of the Bills to cement his legacy as a reformist before he retires next March.
His supporters say the Bills create greater transparency, with a recommendations panel for judicial appointments, and three committees with oversight of the Anti-Corruption Commission. They say while the PM decides judicial appointments, he will not be able to ignore the commission’s recommendations.
As for criticism that the power of prosecution remains with the A-G, Mr Abdullah said the A-G has delegated all powers administratively to the commission.
Nevertheless, these are unlikely to appease the critics. The Bar Council has said four out of five members of the proposed Judicial Appointments Commission will be appointed by the Prime Minister.
Deputy Premier Najib Razak, who will take over in March, has said he supports the Bills. The real difficulty will be the expectations that come with promises of reform. That burden falls on Mr Najib. ST