The second week of November 2019 will probably be remembered as a major milestone week in Malaysian history. A former head of the government is told in no uncertain terms that he has a case to answer by a High Court. It is not a committal to stand trial but one to answer serious charges. This was a leader who placed great store on the famous Blue Ocean strategy to uplift the country from its status as a middle income country.
The head of the legal team defending Dato’ Sri Najib Abdul Razak, Malaysia’s former prime minister, has stated that both he and his client were in shock that the High Court judge hearing Najib’s SRC case had ruled that Najib had to defend himself as there was a prima facie case to answer. Apparently Najib had expected to be acquitted without his defence being called according to his lead counsel.
It is a well known fact that Najib’s favourite number is 11. This number 11 has been his good luck charm through his fabled life as a young parliamentarian, deputy minister, a Menteri Besar, cabinet minister, deputy prime minister and prime minister. His predecessor favoured the number 13. Najib’s private vehicles and his house in Taman Duta all bear the number 11. Given his outward favourable disposition to this number he would have anticipated that November 11 (double eleven) would be particularly auspicious and he would walk out of court a free man in respect of the SRC case. The shock he has apparently felt is strong, somewhat surreal.
Beyond the shock, it is time to take stock of what has transpired both in Najib’s life and the pivotal significance of the prime minister’s office in the nation’s history. The High Court judge who heard the case was very professional, polite, extremely proper, some would say even somewhat protocol conscious in his approach to Najib’s tardiness and transgressions at court hearings.
Najib’s tactics to delay the trial and his other antics must have exasperated the prosecution but the Judge was more focused on the facts of the hearing proper than on an errant accused. Najib did not seem to not only not know court etiquette but seemed clueless on the seriousness of the charges he was facing. He seemed untutored in the travails of illegal and unethical conduct. It would seem his counsel had failed to advise him adequately.
His leading lawyer’s boastful bravado that Najib would be exonerated when the case comes to its conclusion after 2023 when it has gone through various higher court hearings suggests that there is going to be a long haul. But it also betrayed a blasé and besieged belief and assumption that his client’s prospects are suspect as the judge who is hearing this case may not be overruled. Who is his counsel to make such an audacious and contemptuous assertion at this early stage of the court process?
Is he trying to tell the public in an indirect way that his client’s chances are somewhat decided?
Najib’s cases and the hearings involved are an extremely grave matter for the nation.The judges hearing these matters are under greater-than- normal scrutiny and pressure to perform their duties in accordance with established procedures and the law in an impartial, unbiased and fair manner. In the dock is the country’s once most powerful public office holder who has had at his disposal the entire range of support from the best legal, financial, security and administrative expertise. Added to that he had been the principal advisor to the Paramount Ruler of the country ( His Majesty the Yang dipertuan Agong) on almost all pronouncements emanating from that highest office. A prime minister of Malaysia having these seemingly unfettered powers, influence, access and authority must as a God-fearing individual feel humbled by these accourements of power.
It would seem that not only Najib but the entire government and governance system of our sovereign, independent and democratic polity is currently on trial.
It is important to also recognise that anyone advising the prime minister must be truthful, knowledgeable and equipped with the courage and conscience to do her/his best given the almost untrammelled power, influence and authority that lies in that office.
A simple requirement that government regulations stipulate is that anyone handling official information must have security clearance. The police vetting process is robust and thorough and only they can be entrusted with this responsibility. It would be helpful to the police if they are informed beforehand of the responsibilities that the person who is being vetted is going to have. These procedures have been in place since the colonial days. These vetting procedures must be extended now to cover not only the country’s civil service but all GLCs and GLICs as they account for more than 50 percent of the equity in the country. We cannot afford another Jho Low. Let us also look at the credentials of these private legal practitioners who are involved in these high profile cases too.
With all these procedures, provisions and police protection and support to carry out his duties the prime minister is well equipped to carry out his duties in accordance with the law, the legislature’s stipulations and resources, both material and non material, available in the country.
The scope for trespass or more seriously treason by a prime minister is very limited as that office is well secured from any untoward or unseemly influence.
It would appear that in the instant cases involving Najib all these well thought out, tried and tested inbuilt safeguards to protect the prime minister from any kind of wrongdoing and misdemeanour were thrown out and Najib seems to have embarked on a dangerous road craftily and cunningly paved for personal gratification and political greatness. There is no humility in the man, it would appear.
Now, it is only fair that we get to hear Najib’s side of the real story, if there is one, not from Facebook or the front pages of our newspapers but from the Court Room.
Dato’ M Santhananaban
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of The Independent Singapore. /TISG