Give the public full disclosure

Former premier Muhyiddin Yassin was charged with four counts of abuse of power and two money laundering charges involving RM232.5 million at the Sessions Court in Kuala Lumpur today. He pleaded not guilty and has claimed trial.

If based on the investigations by the Malaysian Ant-Corruption Commission (MACC), there are grounds for his arrest and charges in court, of course, he must face the full force of the law. Since Muhyiddin has claimed trial, he now has the chance to prove his innocence.

Muhyiddin’s arrest, however, overshadows another equally important case — Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail’s overruling of the Registrar of Societies’ (ROS) decision that Umno’s decision to prevent election for the top two positions was invalid. An ROS letter to that effect was widely shared online although, in a later letter to Umno, ROS did a U-turn and gave Umno the green light for a no-contest for the top two positions.

This was followed by a statement by Saifuddin that he had invoked Section 70 of the Societies Act to prevent Umno from being deregistered over its no-contest decision for its top two posts.

Section 70 states that “the Minister may at his discretion in writing exempt any society registered under this Act from all or any of the provisions of this Act”. Saifuddin said, specifically, he had exempted Umno from compliance with Section 13(1)(c)(iv) which empowers the Registrar of Societies to deregister a party for contravening its rules.

According to media reports, ROS’ second letter sought for the party to take “corrective actions”. Umno now won’t need to take corrective action because, by the stroke of a pen invoking ministerial privilege, Saifuddin saved it from being barred.

Now, why would the Home Minister do such a thing? ROS did its job. If it didn’t do its job rightly, Saifuddin could have invoked Section 70 and directed it to correct where it had erred. But, he didn’t do that.

Instead, the Home Minister invoked ministerial privilege not just to overrule ROS’s decision but to interfere in the internal politics of a political party that is a partner in the coalition government. Isn’t this abuse of authority?

He interfered in the politics of another political party by using his authority in government. What justification can he have to invoke ministerial privilege using his position in government to play politics involving another party?

When the issue was brought up in Parliament, he said his rationale for the decision was a secret and could not be divulged. This is not a government matter that needs to be protected as a “secret”. This is clearly a case of a government minister using his powers to interfere in the politics of another political party.

This is unacceptable and Saifuddin can not hide behind the Official Secrets Act (OSA) or the explanation that it is a “secret”. It is a political issue that the government should not be interfering with.

Unfortunately, a precedent was set in invoking the OSA in not giving full disclosure when Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform), Azalina Othman Said, said in an earlier report, that the terms of settlement of the civil suit by former attorney general Apandi Ali against former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the government are classified as confidential under the OSA.

The plaintiff and the Attorney-General’s Chambers had agreed when the case was ongoing to keep the settlement confidential. Shouldn’t that have been sufficient? Why put it under the OSA unless there were concerns that it could be made public at a later date?

The case involved a financial settlement by the government using taxpayers’ money. Taxpayers have the right to know how the government was using their money. Putting the case under OSA seems to suggest that the government has something to hide. This is not good governance.

Likewise with the current case involving Saifuddin’s exemption. Both of these cases involve Umno. Apandi was the AG who had said that former prime minister and Umno president Najib Razak was not implicated in the 1MDB scandal.

Why is there a need to keep the rationale for keeping these two cases involving Umno a “secret”? And, this is only happening now under the unity government led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

If Saifuddin did not invoke the ministerial privilege, Umno would have had to take corrective action, and, if it didn’t, ROS would have the authority to deregister it. If Umno was deregistered, it would no longer be in the ruling government.

Whether Saifuddin acted on advice or at his own discretion is another question that begs an answer. This and other questions should be asked in Parliament and MPs, especially those in Umno who disagree with the no-contest decision, should not relent until the home minister gives full disclosure.

Saifuddin has told his opponents to take the issue to court as he would answer all questions then. Well, then, perhaps the courts should decide whether the Home Minister can invoke Section 70 to interfere in the internal politics of a political party that ROS has reason to believe has contravened its own rules.

What is baffling is that even if Umno was deregistered and left the unity government, Anwar’s 146-seat majority will be reduced by only 26 seats and he would still have a majority of 120 seats.

So, it is difficult to understand why Anwar’s government is willing to use government authority to interfere in the internal politics of a partner party unless there is a hidden agenda that the parties involved do not want the public to become aware of.

It would be timely now for the Anwar-led Pakatan Harapan (PH) government and Umno to reveal the entire list of conditions that Umno wanted PH to accept before it agreed to join the unity government. It would clear all doubts the public would have as to the reason why Anwar wants Umno to remain in his government at the risk of compromising its ministers.


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