Divisive RUU355 diverts attention from critical issues

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Najib and Hadi at a rally for the Rohingya inside the Titiwangsa indoor stadium: Najib will unashamedly use Pas to corner the voters in the rural hinterlands - Photograph: themalaymailonline.com

Henry Loh reminds us that corruption and misappropriation of massive sums of money as evident in the 1MDB scandal has not yet registered any closure.

On 18 March 2015, Pas president Hadi Awang notified the Dewan Rakyat secretary of his submission of a private member’s bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jursidiction) Act 1965 or Act 355 (commonly referred to as RUU355).

Over the last two years, Pas has continued to lobby for the passage of this bill in Parliament albeit with some amendments. In December last year, the prime minister in supporting the bill announced that the federal government may take over Hadi’s bill, thereby giving it added weight.

The main aim of RUU355 is to significantly enhance the powers of the Sharia courts to impose punishments on Muslims found guilty of committing certain offences under Sharia laws. The proposed amendment is to increase the current and existing maximum limits of three years imprisonment, a RM5,000 fine and six lashes to 30 years jail, a RM100,000 fine and 100 lashes.

Note: The latest version is already considered “watered down” as the first version of the bill by Hadi had proposed that the Act be amended to allow for “any sentences in line with Islamic law requirements”. Subsequently, the revised version tabled in October 2016 proposed “any sentences except for the death penalty” (Malay Mail Online, 24 March 2017).

Proponents of this controversial bill have argued that non-Muslims should stay out of this discussion as these changes in the laws will only affect Muslims.

But at Aliran, we do not buy this argument that the proposed amendment to RUU 355 should not concern non-Muslims. Indeed, we argue that in view of our “shared humanity, the wellbeing of our Malaysian Muslim sisters and brothers is equally our concern…”

We urge all peace-loving and concerned Malaysian to read Aliran’s statement “RUU 355 and its dire implications”. Consider also the views of WH Cheng in his article where he discusses RUU 355 and asks, “Will Sharia amendments make our nation better?”.

There is no doubt that the proposed RUU355 is controversial and divisive, and if it is passed, will impact negatively on the social fabric of our multi-religious and multi-ethnic nation. As it is, discussion and debate over this matter has served the powers that be as a diversionary measure, forsaking other urgent and significant issues affecting our country. For example, our economy isn’t doing all that well, and the cost of living has risen significantly.

Corruption and misappropriation of massive sums of money as evident in the 1MDB scandal has not yet registered any closure: implicated persons have not yet been charged and brought to justice. Other countries such as Switzerland, Singapore and the US have initiated action against some of the perpetrators involved in the 1MDB scandal. But here in Malaysia we seem to be saying that all is well and good.

To be fair, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has recently initiated investigations and taken action to seize the funds and assets of some fairly high-level officials. Two cases that come to mind: the one involving senior officials from the Sabah Water Department and the investigations into the Johor executive councillor in charge of housing and local government. Both cases involved the seizure of cash and properties involving hundreds of millions.

But the question is, are we doing enough to fight corruption? Has the MACC sufficient independence to carry out its work without fear or favour? To this end, we suggest a close look at the origins and formation of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in Hong Kong, which can provide important lessons on what we require for a truly independent and fearless anti-corruption body.

Many of the major problems affecting our country – specifically in relation to the lack of good governance – may be attributed to the concentration of power in the executive branch of the government. Although in principle, our model of government has three branches – the legislative, executive and the judiciary – the current scenario in Malaysia makes it debatable whether true separation of power really exists.

To effect change with the aim of promoting separation of powers so that there will be better checks and balances in government, we need to exercise our electoral right and responsibility. Hence if you are reading this and you have not yet registered as a voter, then it is high time you do so. Remember every vote counts.

On a more positive note, we at Aliran wish to draw your attention to a recent event organised by Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM) to help promote inter-racial and inter-religious understanding among youth.

The national level football tournament was jointly coordinated by Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia (Ikram), the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH), the Tamil Foundation and the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST).

The tournament aimed to build friendship among youth from the various ethnic communities and to promote better interaction and understanding among them through the most popular game among Malaysians – football.

What was unique was that all participating football teams were required to have players from at least three ethnic groups in Malaysia and no more than six players were allowed to come from a single ethnic group (Harmony Football Cup).

Indeed all efforts to create better understanding and acceptance among people with different beliefs, faiths, religions and ethnicities should be strongly encouraged. Our country is blessed with natural resources and Malaysians overall are resilient and positive.

What we need to oppose is greed and abuse of power and root for peace, justice and solidarity.

Henry Loh
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter

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