The waltzing AG

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Laws are supposed to be interpreted by the courts, but here we have the attorney general who interprets them to justify not taking action, observes Ravinder Singh.

AG Gani Patail - Photo credit: issamichuzi.blogspot.com
AG Gani Patail – Photo credit: issamichuzi.blogspot.com

The former attorney general has called upon the sitting attorney general to charge Ibrahim Ali for flaming the fire of hatred, i.e. for the call to burn the Bibles with the word “Allah” in them.

These words were not spoken by a small child who could be excused for not knowing their implications. Many others have also called for action to be taken as the words were meant to offend members of the Christian faith and cause feelings of hatred and enmity. This is an offence under the Penal Code.

The attorney general, however, feels that words alone are not enough for an offence to have been committed, or to convince the court that a punishable offence was committed. It looks like he does not have faith in himself or in the courts. Perhaps he wants “rock solid” evidence like the mattress that was taken to court? In Ibrahim Ali’s case, he is waiting for the fait accompli to happen before moving into action.

In another case some years back, the fait accompli had happened, but the attorney general refused to move into action. That case was about a top union official taking an interest-free loan in contravention of the Trade Unions Act. Worse, the official was sitting in the union’s ExCo meeting when the loan was discussed and approved. The evidence, in the form of minutes and accounts, was all there.

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The police officers who took a statement from the complainant who had lodged a report were sure there was a good case. In fact they said the union official could be charged not only under the Penal Code for Criminal Breach of Trust for using union money in violation of the direction of law prescribing the use of Trade Union monies, but also under the Emergency Ordinance which carried a more severe penalty. But there was no prosecution.

When the complainant demanded to know why, Abdul Gani Patail himself replied on the attorney general’s letterhead stating that the RM9,000 union money said to have been misused by N Siva Subramaniam was actually an “elaun pendahuluan” (advance allowance) for “Pegawai Pinjaman Kuala Lumpur” who had been required to move from Taiping to work in Kuala Lumpur at that time.

Gani further stated that the granting of the allowance was discussed and approved by the ExCo of the Kesatuan Perkhidmatan Perguruan Kebangsaan (National Union of the Teaching Profession) and that Siva Subramaniam was entitled to the allowance as “Pegawai Pinjaman Kuala Lumpur” because he was directed to work in Kuala Lumpur from Taiping and the purpose of giving the allowance was for the need of relocating. Furthermore, Siva had already paid back the money to the union.

The attorney general’s arguments were flawed for the following reasons: Siva had been elected as Secretary General of the NUTP and as such had to move from Taiping to the NUTP headquarters in KL. As a government servant he was entitled to all transfer expenses. Allowances paid to anyone do not have to be paid back. What Siva had taken was an interest-free loan of RM9,000 repayable at RM200 per month. The loan was suddenly repaid in full (after about a year) when a complaint was lodged with the Registrar of Trade Unions. That the loan was discussed and approved by the ExCo does not make it lawful as there is no provision in the law to use union money to give loans to anyone. In fact, the ExCo itself could have been charged for an unlawful act.

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Not satisfied with the attorney general’s answers, the complainant demanded to know which provision of law supported the attorney general’s answers.

This time the head of the prosecution unit, Tun Abdul Majid Tun Hamzah replied stating that approval of the allowance was permitted under the union’s constitution which says “The funds of the Union may be expended on any or all of the following objects: The payment of salaries, allowances and expenses to officers and employees of the Union.”

Employees and officers of trade unions who are paid salaries and allowances are not required to repay them to the union! Siva was paying back the RM9,000 loan at RM200 per month. It was not an “allowance” of any kind, but a loan, a use of union money prohibited by law.

When the complainant sought further explanation on the law and the loan, he was firmly told by Tun Abdul Majid that the matter was referred to the attorney general and a decision was taken that no action would be taken against anyone, and that this decision was final.

Well, if Ibrahim Ali is “someone”, so was Siva. Siva, it seems, at the “request” of the then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir, had made the announcement that the government would go bankrupt if it implemented the circular on the payment of full pensions which had been approved by the Public Services Commission. The pensioners were left in the lurch. Ironically, the unions had been fighting for this for years, and here a unionist destroyed all that.

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Laws are supposed to be interpreted by the courts, but here we have the attorney general who interprets them to justify not taking action. Has he not usurped the powers of the courts to interpret laws?

Ravinder Singh is a former teacher and activist based in Penang.

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