Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong, Lim Kit Siang, in the debate on the 1993 Constitution Amendment Bill on its return to the Dewan Rakyat on Monday, 8th March 1993
Call on the Government to present an annual plan as to how the $1 billion that would be saved from the withdrawal of perks to Rulers not laid down by law would directly benefit the 300,000 hard-core poor in the country
When the 1993 Constitution Amendment Bill to remove the Rulers’ immunity was presented to Parliament at its special sitting in January, the DAP made clear that we fully support the following three principles on the question of royal wrongdoing:
Firstly, that no Ruler is above the law and is at liberty to commit criminal or civil wrongdoing. Secondly, every individual aggrieved by any royal wrongdoing should be able to seek redress and secure justice. Thirdly, that the Government is duty-bound to uphold the rule of law and give protection to life and property of every individual in the country.
However, although the DAP supported the principles and provisions in the 1993 Constitution Amendment Bill, we abstained during voting because the Bill had not complied with the fundamental constitutional requirement of getting the consent of the Conference of Rulers.
As the Constitution has made it very clear that the consent of the Conference of Rulers is necessary for the 1993 Constitution Amendment Bill to become valid law, DAP had suggested that the Government and the Rulers return to the discussion table to reach an accord on such a constitutional amendment on the removal of the Rulers’ immunity.
Another reason why the DAP MPs cast the abstention vote on the 1993 Constitution Amendment Bill on January 19 is because we do not want to establish a precedent whereby other ‘entrenched clauses’
in the Constitution, like the constitutional guarantees for mother-tongue languages in Article 152 and citizenship rights under Part III, could also be undermined in the future.
It is most unfortunate that the DAP’s stand was irresponsibly distorted by Barisan Nasional leaders, whether from UMNO, MCA or Gerakan, who accused the DAP of being a ‘royalist’ party and of wanting to defend the Rulers’ immunity to assault and kill the ordinary citizens in the country.
This is all the more irresponsible when they know that there is completely no basis for such allegations, as the DAP had spoken up against royal wrongdoings at a time when it was dangerous for anyone to do so, and when Barisan Nasional leaders had kept completely silent and condoned such royal wrongs.
Furthermore, in my speech on January 18, I made it clear that the Rulers must heed the democratic wishes of the people that no Ruler is above the law to commit criminal or civil wrongdoing, and if the present Constitution proved to be unworkable to fulfil the wishes of the people to remove the Rulers’ immunity, the country would then have to deal with another scenario such as a constitutional revolution to remove the Rulers’ immunity.
However, before the Government and Parliament set out on such a direction, all efforts to work the existing Constitution must be exhausted first.
It would be remembered that at that time, the Government was even arguing that consent of the Conference of Rulers was not needed for the 1993 Constitution Amendment Bill.
The DAP’s position that the consent of the Conference of Rulers is a necessary pre-condition before the 1993 Constitution Amendment Bill could become valid law has now been vindicated, or there would be no need for the Joint Statement of the Rulers and the Government on February 11 on the consent of the Conference of Rulers to the 1993 Constitution Amendment Bill with modifications.
There are grounds to criticise the amendments to the amendments to the Constitution, as in requiring the consent of the Attorney-General before any civil proceedings against the Rulers could be instituted and the provision of a free pardon to a Ruler who would otherwise have to step down as Ruler on being sentenced to imprisonment on conviction of a criminal offence.
The DAP, however, is prepared to vote in support of the 1993 Constitution Amendment Bill to remove the Ruler’s immunity as it has received the consent of the Conference of Rulers.
Parliament has to accept that the consent of Conference of Rulers had been given unless the Sultan of Kelantan can get another four Rulers to agree that the 161st Conference of Rulers was invalid, null and void
The Sultan of Kelantan has questioned the validity and legality of the 161st Conference of Rulers on February 11 and the Joint Statement made in the name of the Rulers and the Government of the same day.
He claimed that the 161st Conference of Rulers which gave consent to the Constitutional amendments with changes was invalid, null and void because it was improperly held without notice and that the Rulers were misled into giving their consent.
Only the Rulers know whether there is basis in the charges of the Sultan of Kelantan, and the fact that six Rulers had to meet urgently in Istana Johor in Kuala Lumpur on February 15 to ask the Attorney-General, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman, to further clarify the modifications to the Constitution Amendment Bill when they had only agreed to it five days earlier raises many questions.
However, as these matters are exclusively within the purview of the Rulers, they would have to be sorted out by the Conference of Rulers itself, and unless the Sultan of Kelantan could get another four Rulers to agree with him that the 161st Conference of Rulers was invalid, null and void, we have to accept that the consent of the Conference of Rulers to the 1993 Constitution Amendment Bill had been given.
The 1993 Constitution Amendment Bill to remove the Rulers’ immunity should be an important landmark in the democratisation process in the country.
One important reason why this bill had raised controversy is whether it would lead the country towards greater democracy, more respect for human rights and social equity and justice.
One question that is forefront in the minds of Malaysian is whether the removal of the Rulers’ immunity will only result in the greater immunity of the political leadership in government.
The answer that all political leaders in government are accountable to the people and under the law is no answer, especially when the principle and practice of accountability of political leaders in government are observed more in the breach in Malaysia – as illustrated by the various scandals like the MAIKA Telekom shares hijacking scandal and the breakdown of social and economic infrastructures in the country like the national energy crisis.
Another question in the people’s mind is whether the removal of the Rulers’ immunity will accrue to the economic and financial advantages of UMNO cliques and leaders in the competition far money-making opportunities?
It is also being asked how the 1993 Constitution Amendment Bill could lead to a greater democratisation in Malaysia when repres¬sive and draconian laws like the Internal Security Act, Official Secrets Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act continue to deny Malaysians their fundamental human rights and liberties?
Will the constitution amendment bill lead to greater social equity and justice in Malaysia?
The Deputy Prime Minister, Ghafar Baba, has announced that the government decision to withdraw all privileges, allocations and other entitlements to the Rulers other than those provided for by law remains unchanged and will not be affected by the outcome of the 161st Conference of Rulers.
It has been reported that the Government would save $1 billion a year from the withdrawal of all privileges, allocations and other entitlements to the Rulers other than those provided for by law.
Utusan Malaysia dated 6th February 1993, under the headline: “Tarik balik kemudahan raja – Jimat RM 1 billion” reported:
“Kuala Lumpur 5 Feb. – Wang rakyat sebanyak RM1 billion akan dapat diselamatkan setahun dengan langkah kerajaan menarik balik semua kemudahan dan keistimewaan yang berkaitan dengan raja-raja Melayu yang tidak termasuk di dalam perlembagaan.
“Penyiasatan Utusan mendapat bahawa 20 peratus peruntukan yang bakal diselamatkan itu datangnya daripada kos membina dan membaikpulih istana-istana di seluruh negara serta penyenggaraannya, 15 peratus lagi kos langsung yang melibatkan adat istiadat dan majlis tidak rasmi, 10 peratus lagi membabitkan perbelanjaan tambahan kepada raja-raja.”
This Utusan Malaysia report concluded with the following:
“Bagaimanapun seorang bekas pegawai tinggi kerajaan yang juga seorang akauntan terkenal apabila diminta pendapatnya mengenai anggaran Utusan hanya menjawab: ‘Terlalu konservatif’.
“Beliau mencadangkan dibuat satu kajian menyeluruh kas sebenar”.
The Deputy Prime Minister has said that there is no justification for such extravagant expenditures by the Rulers when there are 300,000 hard-care poor in the country awaiting to be looked after.
DAP fully agrees with this statement and calls on the Government to present an annual plan as to how the RM1 billion that would be saved every year from the withdrawal of perks to Rulers not laid down in the law would be used to directly benefit the 300,000 hard-core poor in the country.
In fact, the government should be able to immediately abolish hard-core poverty of these 300,000 with annual RM1 billion saved from the withdrawal of perks to Rulers not laid down in the law.
Let the 1993 Constitution Amendment Bill be a catalyst to greater democratisation and greater respect for human rights, social equity and economic justice for all Malaysians.
As we have promised in the special sitting of January Parliament, the DAP will new vote in support of the 1993 Constitution Amendment Bill as the vital constitutional condition requiring the consent of the Conference of Rulers has been fulfilled.