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Protect whistleblowers to strengthen governance and accountability

Whistleblowers are special people in our midst and we should both value and respect such individuals and support their cause

Former Justice Hamid Sultan Abu Backer - FILE PHOTO: WWW.KEHAKIMAN.GOV.MY

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In his address at the presentation of the annual Five Petal Gold Ethics Award by the Business Ethics Institute of Malaysia (BEIM), Prof Hamid Sultan Abu Backer, a retired Court of Appeals judge, made several pertinent points that underscore the call by the new ‘unity government’ for greater governance and accountability.

He stressed that intellectual honesty is the anchor for ethics, and this includes justice, transparency, good governance, fairness and accountability.

Cowardice, conspiracy, cunningness and jealousy, on the other hand, are the hallmarks and qualities of unethical individuals.

“Any country which rides on oppressive laws with the support of the judiciary in its interpretation to prevent disclosures which will benefit the country, rule of law and its people, is bound to fail not only in economic terms but also in relation to moral and ethical behaviour,” he said.

“An institution or corporate organisation which takes action against ethical disclosures must be severely condemned by all right-thinking members of society. Organisations which are involved in promoting ethics must be supported by the government and its agencies?”

BEIM stands in need of such support.

Speaking on a personal note, he shared that he retired from the judiciary with an extremely unpleasant taste as he felt abused for standing up for the right values within his ‘oath of office’ as a judge.

“It is therefore amazing that BEIM invited me when despite all my multiple qualifications, contribution, writings on law and books, the Judges Ethics Committee suspended me for writing a judgment relating to the rule of law and ethics and also for filing an ethical affidavit in court disclosing judicial misconduct relating to cases involving Anwar Ibrahim and Karpal Singh.”

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Amazing that this has happened in Malaysia!

The Pakatan Harapan government, then led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, decided to call for a royal commission of inquiry but this was rescinded when “judges past and present” met the PM and did not want such a commission, as stated by former attorney general Tommy Thomas in his recent book.

This is justice and fairness denied even to an appeals court judge. How do we rationalise such compromises! This pandemic of corruption needs the vaccine of transparency in our country.

“Is this the right approach and is this fair to those who seek justice like me?” the retired judge said. A senior appeals court judge who perhaps was the most educationally qualified member of the judiciary then and who decided for the sake of justice to be a whistleblower has paid a heavy price.

It takes both moral courage and convictions to take a stand and to pay a price. The present minister of economics can well attest to this reality.

When the judiciary itself was not open to inspection and scrutiny, it says a lot about where we are today. Where is its code of transparency? Here in this case, the victim was an appeals court judge, eminently qualified and respected.

Yesterday’s victims are eminently qualified to make a difference and one hopes that the present rhetoric of the ‘unity government’ will result in some specific actions. Hold a royal commission of inquiry, and if the judge is found guilty than he needs to face the consequences, or alternatively this would send a clear message to the judiciary about what is expected of and from them as guardians  of justice and fairness for the people.

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“It is not too late to call for an RCI as promised and formulate actions, relief and reformative measures,” the retired judge stressed. He supported the initiative of the ‘unity government’ to promote institutional reforms and to check oppressive laws.

He also called on the government to compensate an earlier judicial whistleblower, former Justice Syed Ahmad Idid, a most patriotic and able judge, for his convictions and for standing up for justice. Lim Kit Siang, has on an earlier occasion, also made such an appeal. That was an opportunity well missed to make a difference within the judiciary.

“A country which does not protect and reward whistleblowers in full will be manuring the growth of corrupt and unethical persons,” he highlighted. The systemic nature of corruption in Malaysia attests to this reality.

“Without whistleblowers, corrupt and unethical institutions and persons will prosper not in arithmetical but geometrical progression. There is a need thus to protect well-minded, qualified and respected whistleblowers.”

With corruption being so systemic, you can only prosecute with the help of whistleblowers for the nature of corruption is dark, subtle and ingenious.

This is why whistle blowers are feared the world over. So many whistleblowers have exposed illegal activities that have harmed many.

Good people can either remain silent and condone the wrong happening before their eyes or stand up and be counted. The sad reality is that those who do so pay a heavy personal price.

Just consider what silence has cost our nation in relation to highly publicised cases involving top politicians in the country. Good people, by their silence, have condoned what has happened.

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Whistleblowers are special people in our midst and we should both value and respect such individuals and support their cause.

Where corruption is widespread, it is very challenging to be an ethical person. Money power, contacts, the old boy’s club mentality, titles and whom you know can make a difference to silence the whistleblower’s cause, and this is a sad reality in Malaysia. Can we make a difference?

The elites protect themselves and the rot continues. Never underestimate the dark forces – especially those who have lost power, money and positions, be they politicians or individuals in the civil service – as they react to increasing strict rules of governance and compliance.

As Roberta Manchu, Nobel laureate said: “Without strong watchdog Institutions, impunity becomes the very foundation upon which systems of corruption are built and if impunity is not demolished all efforts to bring an end to corruption are in vain.”

In conclusion, the retired judge congratulated the 18 award winners and was happy to present these awards to the companies that wanted to stamp themselves as ethical companies.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Jean Pala
Jean Pala
11 Jan 2023 2.13pm

Pretty much related to whistleblowing is the Official Secrets Act (OSA), which hides the deals that former govts made with cronies on national projects eg PLUS. the rakyat have a right to know how our money is being spent, and not hide the fact that citizens are burdened with payment to selective companies with major national projects.

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