The government’s focus on whether to charge Lingam or not feels like a red herring. After all, the Royal Commission of Inquiry clearly found ethical and criminal misbehaviour by some of Malaysia’s top judges, businesspeople and politicians.
While it is certainly legitimate to press for Lingam’s prosecution, looking at the big picture, he is just another individual who tried to influence the judicial appointment process.
The more important issue is this: Lingam succeeded.
Hence, the question the government should ask is this — how could the judicial appointment process be so corrupted that a few individuals could determine the appointments of judges?
Instead of harping on the identity of mysterious key witnesses, shouldn’t the focus be on assessing how one of the pillars of government was so easily compromised? Or has the standard of accountability in Malaysia sunk so low that judges jockeying for promotions by hobnobbing with politicians and businesspeople aren’t really worthy of scrutiny or comment?
Essential reading for those with ambitions to control the judiciary
Most importantly, who’s focusing on making sure that this debacle never occurs again? Does the government believe that the setting up of a Judicial Appointments Commission is going to suddenly make all the dodgy wheeling and dealing within the judiciary go away? Or does it think that this miserable state of affairs was all due to one solitary lawyer with a phenomenal little black book?
The government’s response to this expose of judicial corruption seriously calls into question its sincerity in tackling corruption.
First, there’s the assertion by the Attorney-General (AG)’s Chambers and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission that there’s insufficient evidence and no specific law to even charge Lingam. This is despite a 191-page royal commission report specifically spelling out the serious misconduct on the part of Lingam, several judges and politicians and the laws that could be invoked to charge them. Other than Lingam, there wasn’t even talk of whether anyone else would be charged.
Secondly, the tenor of the statements issued by government ministers in relation to this issue has been lukewarm at best and deliberately evasive, at worst.
In Parliament, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz was clearly trying to juggle away how Lingam’s actions undermined judicial integrity and was “morally wrong”, but was somehow legally right.
Even Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin weighed in. Muhyiddin defended the AG’s conclusion of “no case” against Lingam, saying there was a strong basis for the conclusion and that the government stood by it.
These statements are not indicative of a government that says eliminating corruption is one of its Key Result Areas.
Najib Razak has not spoken up about the issueIf that was really the case, where are the indignant statements condemning the blatant attempts at interference within the judiciary? Where are the outraged remarks about declining judicial integrity? Where are the pledges to get to the bottom of the matter and make sure those responsible for corruption are charged? Where are the promises that there will be a systematic review of judicial structures to ensure that there can be no more future tampering of judicial appointments?
If indeed the government is so committed to tackling corruption, why hasn’t Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak spoken up about this instead of letting his underlings do the talking?
A bad precedent
If no action is finally taken on those implicated in the Lingam video clip, it will set a bad precedent for the fight against corruption.
Trying an individual and finding him or her guilty of a crime does two things. It punishes the individual involved and acts as a deterrent for others thinking of committing the same crime.
The royal commission findings fingered high ranking individuals involved in improper conduct which the commission said could only have been “self-serving”. That constitutes corruption.
Screencap of Lingam video (source: Youtube)
Letting Lingam and his cohort, including in the judiciary, go scot-free sends a strong message that corruption is tolerated in this country, especially corruption among the powerful. Nabbing any number of Barisan Nasional (BN) or Pakatan Rakyat (PR) members of Parliament or aides won’t be able to counter that. Neither will the setting up of special corruption courts, as proposed by the government, if the integrity of the judges who sit in those courts can so easily be called into question.
It is not possible that Lingam managed to inadvertently corrupt the highest-ranking judges in the country. Someone or more than someone must have been responsible for giving him access so that he could systematically work his way through the system. It’s obviously not just about Lingam because he could not have acted alone without collusion from within political and judicial circles. In fact, he may be the least of the culprits.
Until those responsible for misbehaving and corrupting the judiciary’s integrity are named by the government and held responsible for their actions, the damage done will not be repaired.
For certain, the government is smart enough to know this. Which is why its kid glove treatment over the whole affair raises questions: What is the government afraid of? Or more pertinently, whom, among themselves, are they trying to protect?
The Nut Graph needs your support