Media Statement (2) by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Sunday, 9th November 2008: 

Zaki’s recusal from hearing Umno cases a step in the right direction to disprove doubters wrong about the suitability of his appointment as CJ

The announcement by the newly-appointed Chief Justice, Tan Sri Zaki Tun Azmi, who as a lawyer had represented Umno, that he would as far as possible avoid hearing cases involving the political party is a step in the right direction to disprove doubters wrong about his suitability as the No.1 in the judiciary.

This is however only a small beginning if Zaki is to dispel all the doubts even the most non-partisan in Malaysia entertain about his controversial appointment as Chief Justice.

Public disappointment at the appointment of Zaki as Chief Justice had been most palpable especially as the the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had promised judicial reform to top his final short-list of three reforms before stepping down from office next March – but Zaki’s appointment as Chief Justice was made in disregard of the spirit of judicial reform and there was no consultation whatsoever with the major stakeholders in the country, whether Bar Council, MPs or the civil society.

As I had said before, MPs who had grave reservations about Zaki’s fast-track appointment as Chief Justice had two options after his elevation: firstly to invoke Article 127 of the Constitution to move a substantive motion in Parliament with the support of at least one-quarter of Members of Parliament, i.e. 55 MPs to discuss Zaki’s appointment; or two, to give Zaki the opportunity to acquit himself and prove that he is capable of taking full account of the widespread reservations about his appointment to the process to restore public confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary after two decades of judicial darkness.

I belong to the latter category and I will like to see Zaki proving all the doubters of his appointment wrong.

Malaysians are hungry for a Chief Justice they can be proud of, as for two decades, the judiciary had proved to be the weakest link of the Malaysian system of governance – even weaker than Parliament.

The judiciary is the last bastion of the constitutional rights and fundamental liberties of Malaysians to protect them from the excesses and corruption of executive power but the judiciary had been an abysmal failure in this regard.

In the past two decades after the arbitrarily sacking of Tun Salleh Abas as Lord President in the 1988 “Mother of Judicial Crisis”, the country has had five heads of the judiciary.

Unfortunately, three of the five, Tun Hamid Omar, Tun Eusoff Chin and Tun Ahmad Fairuz had mired the judiciary and country even deeper in national shame and international infamy – making efforts to restore national and international confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary and return to its previous high international esteem a most Herculean one.

Two others, Tun Dzaiddin Abdullah and Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamed were basically “stop-gap” Chief Justices, who were unable to carry out any institutional reforms to restore national and international confidence in the judiciary, although the former must be credited with “stopping the rot” in the judiciary.

Can Zaki restore Malaysia to its pristine credibility, integrity and high international esteem it had enjoyed until two decades ago, painstakingly nurtured by his predecessors before 1988 including his father Tun Azmi Mohamad - despite coming to the highest judicial office in the land with very “heavy baggage” from the past? This is Zaki’s greatest challenge and test as Chief Justice.

Zaki’s interview with Bernama Chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Annuar Zaini is however a cause for concern, as in a matter of 24 hours, he seemed to have quickly backtracked from his zeal and fervour against corruption in the judiciary reflected in his speech at the panel on “Integrity, the Catalyst for Sustainable Development” at the national integrity convention in Kuching on Friday to one which is equivalent l to a denial syndrome, when he said: “From my observation, if there had been one or two corrupt judges before, now there is none.”

Let me remind Zaki of the latest survey among expatriate business executives in Asia by the Hong-Kong based Political and Economic Risks Consultancy (Perc) in September which found that Malaysia lagged behind even South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines on which Asian country has the best judicial system. Malaysia was ranked seventh while the first three places went to Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.

Another local survey last month of lawyers’ perception of the judiciary conducted by Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M) gave a grim picture of the state of public confidence in the judiciary.

According to findings of a survey of 339 lawyers conducted in March and April, the judicial process and judicial appointments are greatly subject to undue influence and judicial authorities subject to corruption and bribery.

From the survey, 91% felt that the judicial process in the superior courts (High Court, Court of Appeal and Federal Court) was subject to various levels of undue influence from the Government or others.

As to whether judicial authorities were susceptible to accepting bribes to give favourable judgments, 94% said yes.
However, only 15% thought they always took bribes.

The survey also found that 96% thought judicial appointments were subject to influence.

These surveys should banish from Zaki any denial complex about the need for a root-and-branch overhaul of the judiciary, if Malaysians are to be proud of the judiciary again as two decades ago.

Zaki should not be too quick to declare that there is no corruption in the judiciary, when he had just painted, and truly, a picture of grave corruption in the judiciary in his talk in Kuching last Friday.

* Lim Kit Siang,  DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor