The Pakatan Harapan ousted the BN on the strength of a promise of reform. Having formed the new government, it is clear that the ability to deliver on that promise has to be balanced against the challenge of taking the reins and steering the country back on course.
From what Dr M has been doing, it appears that his government (as small as it is) equally recognises reform as a priority. The establishment of the Council of Elders, and the Committee On Institutional Reform speaks to that.
It is imperative that Dr M and his team be given the fullest support and latitude to do what needs to be done. To the extent that there is any political infighting s the members of the Cabinet are being determined, and it appears that there may be, it would be a shame if that infighting impacted on reform efforts.
More than that, it would amount to a betrayal of the mandate given to Pakatan Harapan to reform the country. Political interests must give way to the national interest.
I am happy to note that, as quoted in Malaysiakini today, Dato’ Seri Anwar has said that the litmus test of the new administration (perhaps we should stop using the word regime) will be on how its implements the reform agenda.
I think that is a fair yardstick to apply. It implicitly recognises that the new administration must be given the time and space to do what it needs to, and that a high standard is expected.
It bears reiterating that the necessary time and space must be given to the new administration to let it see through its reform agenda.
Going by the issues that created the momentum for the ousting of the BN, the expected reforms are numerous, ranging from the electoral system to the public service and, close to my heart, the administration of justice. This will require a lot of thought and effort and, more importantly, the political will to drive reform through to completion.
Having said that, this is a process that has to be approached with a sense or urgency and novelty. Decisive steps will have to be taken. Problems need to be addressed with the best solutions, even if these involve approaches that are novel or unconventional.
For example, where the justice system is concerned, if the administration is serious about shoring up public confidence in the Judiciary it must take concrete steps to do so. This has to start by asking whether the Judiciary is made up to the best persons for the job. It may be that, without impinging on their security of tenure, measure needs to be introduced to allow for judges to be independently vetted, evaluated and reviewed for performance and suitability for office periodically by an independent judicial ethics committee. There is a Judicial Ethics Committee Act 2010 in place. It needs to be tweaked. Similarly, it may be that the Judicial Commission Appointments Act 2009 will have to be amended to make it wholly independent of the Judiciary in the manner originally proposed by the Bar. This is after all the way in which the commission operates in the UK.
Similarly, to ensure that justice is seen to be done, it may be the case that the judges of the Federal Court and the Court of Appeal be required to deliver written grounds of judgment for every appellate decision of those courts. This will make their reasoning known to litigants and the wider public, and ensure that due consideration is given to the issues that arise for determination. It will also eliminate concerns about selective decision-making.
Also, it would best for all appeals to the Federal Court to be determined by panels of at least 7 or 9 judges, each of whom write or contribute to the written decisions of the court. This is, after all, the practice of the apex courts in the USA, the UK and Australia, a practice that ensures the development of the law in a coherent manner. The Federal Court is after all the apex court tasked with supervising and developing judge made law in the public interest.
These changes are easily applied without the need for constitutional amendment. However, those seeking change will have to wrestle with entrenched ways of thinking, comfort zones, or circumstances, these obviously beneficial practices have not to date been adopted.
Dealing with an entrenched culture is going to be one of the biggest challenges to the institutional reform. It will have to be driven through unrelentingly by administrators capable of staring it down. Amongst the most important of these administrators is the Attorney General. That is why I think that the reform process can only truly start, going from theory to practice, when we have an Attorney General who understands what is needed and is not daunted by the challenge.
That is why a new Attorney General has to be appointed as quickly as possible, one who is capable of doing what it takes but who remains accountable to Parliament.