KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 11 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi presented his long-awaited reforms to Parliament yesterday when he tabled two Bills to set up new bodies to oversee judicial appointments and fight corruption. But even as he sought to convince critics that these measures will restore confidence in Malaysia's battered law enforcement system, the Bills were being buffeted by criticism.
Some opposition MPs described the Bills as hype and half-measures that will not make a substantial difference.
Even some Barisan Nasional MPs have privately expressed misgivings about the Bills, which they see as too mild to change the people's poor perception of the government, while raising their expectations sky-high.
An Umno MP told The Straits Times that he did not see how these Bills would change public perception about corruption, or raise confidence in the judiciary.
“Confidence can so easily be restored by simply appointing highly respected people to top posts in the judiciary and civil service. What can these Bills do?” he said. To him, the Bills are an attempt to seek a compromise that will please neither the reformists nor those in the BN.
But Abdullah was unfazed.
“It will give a level of confidence in these institutions, higher than before, and negative perceptions will hopefully be reduced as much as possible,” he said.
The two Bills tabled yesterday were to set up a Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and a Judicial Appointments Commission.
A third Bill — to set up a public complaints mechanism on enforcement agencies such as the police force — is scheduled to be tabled early next year.
The three measures were a key part of Abdullah's 2004 general election promises that led to the BN's landslide majority. But his efforts ran out of steam, and voters punished him for it in March.
Abdullah was forced to take early retirement, but delayed it from December to March next year to enable him to get the reforms going.
The Anti-Corruption Commission will replace the Anti-Corruption Agency, which has been criticised as being toothless. It will be overseen by an advisory board and a committee of seven senators or MPs who will present an annual report to Parliament. A third committee will handle complaints against the commission.
While the Attorney-General's consent is still required for prosecutions, Abdullah said an administrative arrangement has been made to delegate these powers to the commission itself.
Opposition Democratic Action Party MP Liew Chin Tong described the Bill as “all hype that looks more like the same thing”. He said a truly independent commission would have staff separate from the general civil service, and independent funding.
He also said the oversight committee comprising MPs should be set up under parliamentary rules to reflect the strength of the respective political parties in the House.
“It seems to be just another statutory board arrangement. Will MPs debate its report? If not, what's the use?” he said.
The Bill on the Judicial Appointments Commission also did not escape criticism. It proposes setting up a nine-man panel to make recommendations for appointments of judges to the High Court and above.
Under the current system, the sole prerogative lies with the PM on the recommendation of the Chief Justice. But the government came under pressure to create a more transparent process after an official inquiry earlier this year showed that a prominent lawyer had brokered the appointment of certain top judges in 2002.
The commission, which will include four “eminent persons”, will recommend names but the PM has the final say. This was a compromise, after Umno objected to a whittling down of the PM's powers.
Abdullah said it would not pose a problem as the PM would not carelessly disregard the commission's recommendations. He described the two Bills as “an approach that can be accepted by all”, and has called for the support of all MPs, including the opposition. BN has enough MPs to get both Bills passed even without the opposition's support. — The Straits Times