To provide a platform for interactive and intellectual discourse on national issues and civil liberties, the National Young Lawyers Committee (“NYLC”) revitalised its Siri Pemikiran Kritis (“SPK”) recently. The latest programme held under the SPK banner was a forum on the proposed race relations law (“proposed law”), held on 31 Mar 2012 at the Raja Aziz Addruse Auditorium, Bar Council at 10:00 am.
The proposed law was earmarked to be tabled in Parliament in March this year, as announced by Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, in December 2011. It was explained at the forum that the proposed law would be modelled after the United Kingdom’s Race Relations Act 1976 (“RRA”), and that there were unfavourable public sentiment that such an adoption had been made without adequate consultation from the relevant parties and stakeholders.
After the introduction, the President of the Malaysian Bar, Lim Chee Wee, was invited to give a welcome speech in which he addressed the audience on the issues pertaining to the proposed law. He spoke, in particular, on how the proposed law conflicts with article 153 of the Federal Constitution. Lim Chee Wee then proceeded to invite the guest of honour, Senator Gan Ping Sieu, to give his opening speech.
The Senator extended his gratitude to NYLC for inviting him to officiate the first SPK forum for 2012, and emphasised the need for the establishment of a commission similar to SUHAKAM (the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia), to oversee the implementation of the proposed law. He further stressed the importance of educating the public on issues concerning race relations. The Senator, in typical poise and eloquence, finished his speech by officially launching the forum.
Before beginning the forum proper, Ambiga Sreenevasan provided an overview of how the forum would be conducted: each speaker would be given ten minutes to speak about their stand on the proposed law and their approach to it. The forum would then carry on in a talk-show format à la Oprah Winfrey.
Taking the cue, each of the speakers began expressing their views on the topic, with Dr Azmi Sharom starting the ball rolling by accentuating that proper justification must be provided before enacting any laws, so as to ensure that the laws passed are legitimate and proportionate to the needs of society. Syahredzan Johan, who is the Chairperson of Bar Council’s Constitutional Law Committee, then made clear that Malaysians should focus on their similarities rather than differences. With specific reference to Malaysian society, he further asserted that “acceptance” is one of the underlying factors that helps eliminate inequality. Faisal Moideen spoke next — taking a historical approach, he pointed out the distinguishing factors in the history and background of the United Kingdom that led to the establishment of the RRA, in comparison with the nature and structure of the Malaysian context, including its history, laws and society. He maintained that due to these differences, there is a “problem and solution” mismatch.
After the panellists had delivered their standpoint, the talk-show format of the forum commenced at 11:35 am, with Ambiga Sreenevasan assuming an assertive, yet calm and casual manner as she posed various questions to the respective speakers based on their earlier comments and views. This segment of the forum placed particular emphasis on the underlying principles of article 153 of the Federal Constitution. The audience were evidently totally immersed in the discussion; judging from their motionlessness, the panel had their complete attention.
When it was time for the question-and-answer session, the audience took the opportunity to put forward a stream of queries and comments, further enlivening the discussion with a variety of colourful remarks and arguments for and against the RRA. The panellists took each question in stride, and injected fresh humour to some of the questions posited.
The general conclusion drawn at the forum was that while the idea of the proposed law has been mainly accepted, sufficient research, studies and public feedback should be conducted to ensure that the enactment and execution of the law are justified and proportionate to the needs of the society. The proposed law must be clear whether it is enabling or restrictive, and above all, the Malaysian public, who will be affected the most, must be consulted before the law is passed.
NYLC is proud that the first SPK session in 2012 was a resounding success, with many in the audience commenting that it was enlightening to listen to the views conveyed by the speakers, and that they are game for another session of SPK. Naturally, NYLC is delighted at the feedback and will consider holding another forum in May, perhaps on the complex concept of elections.
NYLC takes this occasion to express its appreciation to the panel of brilliant speakers, the wonderfully proficient moderator, Lim Chee Wee, Senator Gan Ping Sieu, the marvellous audience, and members of the press who attended the event. We look forward to seeing you in more of our upcoming SPK sessions!
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Click on the links below to view the videos on the forum.