Hue and cry but reforms will fly

DEC 15 - All said and done, and battle lines drawn, both benches of the Dewan Rakyat are expected to approve the two reform Bills to strengthen the fight against corruption and structure judicial appointments as both laws are improvements to the current situation.

Opposition and government lawmakers still have reservations about the two bills - the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) - saying it is less than ideal and concentrates powers in the hands of the executive.

But Parliamentary Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has given conditional support to the MACC Bill while DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng has said the party agreed in principle but wanted some amendments. Pakatan Rakyat leaders also said they will propose amendments in the committee stage of the debate.

It is not hard to see why they are in agreement or want to push the bills through.

"Anything is better than the status quo and the opposition knows that," a government lawmaker told The Malaysian Insider in Parliament today.

Another one chipped in, "Its either these laws or another four years of the same," in an allusion to the current lethargic Anti-Corruption Agency and a suspect judiciary that is seen to be biased towards the executive.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had also met Barisan Nasional lawmakers in Parliament this morning and told them to back the two reform Bills introduced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi last week in a move to fulfill his long-standing reform promises.

As it is, the ruling Barisan Nasional has 137 lawmakers, more than a simple majority, to approve both bills but had wanted Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers to support it if some lawmakers abstained for various reasons.

Anwar, who made his parliamentary comeback in late August, said he welcomed the initiative to fight corruption but expressed some reservations as the MACC does not hold any prosecution power and wanted clearer provisions to protect whistleblowers.

The MACC is modelled on Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption, a highly-respected watchdog and role model for the region, and is expected to replace the ACA once the bill is passed into law early next year.

Anwar told Parliament that the issue at stake is the integrity, authority, and qualification of the Attorney General (AG) and the judiciary, claiming the AG held too much power, to the point that he could decide if a case would be taken to court or simply closed.

DAP's Lim Guan Eng, who is also Penang chief minister, also said last week, "We have reservations about the MACC Bill, but we also recognise that there are important steps forward... but it doesn't go all the way, only halfway."

His father, veteran DAP leader Lim Kit Siang, has tabled five amendments for the MACC Bill that will be discussed at the committee stage of the debate.

The Ipoh Timur MP had also asked for the debate for the JAC Bill o be postponed for further study and greater consensus, noting that the legal fraternity and both the Sabah and Sarawak governments have not weighed in on the matter particularly the constituonality of a panel recommending judicial appointments.

And while calling both bills watered-down, the DAP strongman did not say he will oppose the bills but wanted more parliamentary oversight for the MACC and less executive power for judicial appointments.

All in all, Abdullah's promised reforms have left the opposition dissatisfied and the backbenchers upset. Despite the hue and cry, the reforms will fly even if at a snail's pace.

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