Just before Chinese New Year, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said that the status of Sabah and Sarawak as regions rather than states must be referred to the rulers before the issue is submitted to the Cabinet for consideration.
Speaking to reporters after chairing a Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) meeting, he said, “We need to respect the process.” However, he gave no explanation as to whether this process was spelt out in the federal constitution.
The people have a right to know if the decision he has made to refer a government matter such as the MA63 to the rulers before they are discussed by the Cabinet and then Parliament, is within the ambit of the federal constitution.
In the parliamentary democracy that Malaysia practises, the prime minister is the head of government and is first and foremost accountable to Parliament and presents all matters of government such as amendments to the federal constitution to Parliament first. When Parliament approves the amendments, they are then sent to the king who knows what he should do and what he need not do as according to the constitution.
If Anwar is departing from the usual procedure, he needs to explain on what constitutional grounds he has made the decision. In the absence of a reason for such a decision, it appears as if he is deferring to the rulers and seeking their approval/input before sending the amendments to Parliament. If this is the correct procedure, he needs to back it according to the constitution on the advice of the Attorney-General (A-G).
The A-G’s advice should also come under the scrutiny of his peers to ascertain if he has interpreted the constitution correctly. If he hasn’t, then he should be removed and replaced with an A-G who has a better and fuller grasp of the constitution.
The people have a right to know if the prime minister is making decisions according to the constitution and if he is getting the correct advice on an important issue such as referring government matters to the rulers first when the latter are not supposed to interfere with government matters.
Likewise with Anwar’s decision to include Members of Parliament facing court charges in the Cabinet. It will have a bearing on court decisions as clearly seen as Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has filed an application in the High Court to have his passport returned permanently.
The passport was previously surrendered to the court as an additional bail condition after he was charged with 47 charges of corruption, criminal breach of trust and money laundering involving Akalbudi Foundation funds. Zahid’s reason is to carry out his duties as the DPM.
Whether the court will reverse its decision is yet to be seen but it puts the court in an awkward position and begs the question as to whether Anwar’s decision places added pressure on the court to revisit its decision. Shouldn’t a prime minister’s responsibility include refraining from adding pressure on the courts?
Anwar may have other reasons for making the decisions he is making which the people don’t need to know. The people only need to know if he is acting according to the constitution and the accepted conventions of parliamentary democracy. That remains invisible, especially in the above decisions.