Yang Amat Berhormat Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia;
Dato' Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor, President of the Malaysian Bar
Mr Shyam Divan, Vice President, LAWASIA;
Dato' Cyrus Das, Chairman of the LAWASIA Constitutional & Rule of Law Committee;
Honourable Judges of the Federal Court, Court of Appeal and High Courts;
The Honourable Tan Sri Tommy Thomas, Attorney General of Malaysia;
Your Excellencies from the diplomatic corp;
Distinguished speakers and guests;
Ladies and gentlemen;
A very good morning to all of you and welcome to the inaugural LAWASIA Constitutional & Rule of Law Conference. To our international participants, a very warm 'selamat datang ke Malaysia'.
It is an honour for LAWASIA to hold this event in Malaysia.
LAWASIA, established in 1966, is the Law Association for Asia and the Pacific, and it is an international association of lawyers, judges, jurists and law organisations, including the Malaysian Bar.
There has always been a special nexus between LAWASIA and Malaysia as there have been several firsts for LAWASIA in Malaysia. When LAWASIA held its inaugural biennial conference in 1968, it was in Kuala Lumpur. When the biennial conference became an annual conference in 2008, the inaugural annual conference was again in Kuala Lumpur.
We are therefore very pleased and honoured to notch up another first for LAWASIA in Malaysia by this inaugural Constitutional and Rule of Law conference with the theme 'Constitutional Government: The Importance of Constitutional Structures & Institutions'.
In terms of constitutional structures and separation of powers, it may interest you to know that the person who proposed the need for the formation of a regional law organisation at the meeting of the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, later known as UN ESCAP, in Kabul in 1966 was Sir John Kerr from Australia, who became the 1st President of LAWASIA, and later the Governor General of Australia. Sir John Kerr was at the center of the most significant constitutional crisis in Australia to date. In 1975, Sir John Kerr as Governor General dismissed the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and his government, when the latter sought to call for a half Senate election, and commissioned the leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser, as caretaker Prime Minister. This event is a case study in constitutionalism and the powers of a constitutional Head of State for Commonwealth jurisdictions (Commonwealth being a misnomer if I have ever heard one).
The theme is apt and current not only for Malaysia, but for many other jurisdictions within the United Nations ESCAP region.
We have the events in the Republic of Maldives which bear an eerie resemblance to our experience in Malaysia. There was a State owned company set up to manage foreign investments into Maldives' tourism sector. The Auditor General discovered and reported massive corruption involving the company, in particular that a large sum of money was transferred into the private bank account of the then President of the Maldives. The Auditor General was removed. Members of the Opposition sought to move a motion of censure and no confidence against the President in the Peoples' Majlis. The Speaker refused to table it, and opposition members were removed from the Majlis and arrested. Lawyers who protested were likewise arrested and suspended from practice. The Bar was de–registered. The Chief Justice was removed, arrested and charged with terrorism offences. Then came the historic elections in September of last year where the Opposition won, and the process of righting wrongs and institutional reforms got underway.
Sri Lanka underwent a constitutional crisis late last year when the President of Sri Lanka purported to remove the Prime Minister and appointed another member of parliament to replace him resulting in two concurrent Prime Ministers. The Speaker of parliament convened parliament for a determination in the house as to who commands the support of the majority. The President prorogued parliament and subsequently purported to dissolve parliament. The constitutionality of the proclamation of dissolution of parliament by the President was challenged in court and heard by a full bench of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. The Supreme Court unanimously held that the proclamation of dissolution was illegal, unconstitutional and void.
Then we have Hong Kong. What started out as a protest against the extradition bill evolved quickly into massive outpouring of the people with regards to how they view their present circumstances and their future. In addition to issues concerning poor present living conditions, rising costs of living, increasing social and economic gap, and decreasing prospects for upward mobility, there are demands for universal suffrage –which although not expressed by protestors in constitutional terms would entail constitutional changes to the Basic Law.
We are also witnessing on–going protests in Indonesia against legislation deemed oppressive, invasive of individual liberties and privacy as well as the seeping of religious law into the civil penal code.
Myanmar is presently undertaking a review of its constitution and looking at constitutional reforms; and
Nepal has just marked its fourth anniversary on 20th September of the promulgation of its new constitution which has shifted Nepal from a unitary system to a federal democratic system.
Just last week the full bench of 11 justices of the United Kingdom Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the advice by the Prime Minister to Her Majesty the Queen to prorogue parliament, and consequently the prorogation of parliament was justiciable, and was unlawful and invalid.
And then there is of course Malaysia. The 14th General Elections brought in a new government for the first time in our 61 years as a nation. The new government was elected on a tidal wave of discontent, riding on promises of and hopes for substantive reforms. As part of the promised reforms agenda, the new government quickly established the Council of Eminent Persons, and in particular the Institutional Reform Committee, to commence public consultations and make recommendations for improvements and reforms.
When we speak of the reform agenda relating to constitutional structures and institutions, for example, parliament and the judiciary, we should bear in mind that institutions are not about particular persons, it has to be about institutional independence, excellence and resilience in the face of challenges and pressure. We saw for example the precepts of the rule of law and justice which underpins our constitution being jeopardised by corruption partly because of institutional weaknesses.
It has been about 1 ½ years since the 14th General Elections when many Malaysians saw hope and celebrated new beginnings. Where there is hope, there are expectations. And where there is hope and expectations, there will be impatience and disappointments. On the issue of the pace of reforms and patience, permit me to quote from Shakespeare's Othello (Act 2 Scene 3):
"How poor are they that have not patience,
What wound did ever heal but by degrees?
Thou know'st we work by wit and not by witchcraft,
And wit depends on dilatory time"
Ladies and gentlemen, many of the issues pertaining to the events mentioned would be canvassed and discussed in earnest in the various sessions of the conference. We are very fortunate to have distinguished and eminent speakers to address us, and we look forward to hearing from all of them. A conference of this nature would not be possible without the efforts and support of many. In this regard, I would like to thank the Malaysian Bar and LexisNexis for being supporting organisations and sponsors; Omesti Group for being a generous sponsor; and to Dato Dr. Cyrus Das, Steven Thiru, Gaythri Raman, Abdul Rashid, Syahredzan Johan, Lim Wei Jiet, Mark Goh, Catherine Eu and the organising committee of the conference for their hard work and dedication. There are too many names for me to acknowledge individually. The other committee members' names are listed in the conference pack.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a privilege and honour for me to now introduce to you our Keynote speaker, a task which is both a pleasure and yet redundant, that is, to introduce a man who really does not need any introduction.
Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed was the 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia, serving from 1981 to 2003. Tun Dr. Mahathir came out of retirement after 15 years in response to the call of the nation and is presently the 7th Prime Minister.
I am informed that upon becoming the 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun had then unseated a monarch –– I am of course referring to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as the oldest serving world leader. Her Majesty is 285 days younger than Tun.
Tun Dr. Mahathir is credited with transforming Malaysia from a largely agrarian and mining economy into a manufacturing and industrialised economy during his first stint as Prime Minister. Vision 2020 was introduced by Tun Dr. Mahathir in tabling the Sixth Malaysia Plan in 1991, setting out a vision for the nation to achieve by the year 2020 self–sufficient industrialised nation status, economic prosperity, social well–being, self–confidence as a nation and as a people living in a society that is democratic, liberal, tolerant, economically just and equitable, and made up of one 'Bangsa Malaysia'.
The Washington Post (2003) wrote of Tun Dr Mahathir –– "...he has become the most dominant figure in his country's history and has sought to propel Malaysia into the ranks of the developed world through the sheer force of his will." The Times publication described Tun Dr. Mahathir in 2006 as "a towering presence in South East Asia, the man who more than anyone else shaped the modern Malaysia." Tun however retired 17 years before the deadline for realisation of Vision 2020. But now he is back, and with that it is reported that there will be a Shared Prosperity Vision 2030, to be launched this Saturday, which seeks to re–structure the economy, address inequalities between income groups, and targets to create more equitable living standards for all Malaysians.
He is a respected, albeit controversial, voice on the international stage. Recently speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, he called for governments to adhere to multilateralism and respect international laws, as well as advocated for reforms of the international body.
Tun Dr. Mahathir is famous for his strong work ethic, single mindedness, sharp wit and no–nonsense manner. In a recent interview, Tun was asked "What is the one thing you have always lived by?" –– his answer was "Working. I love to work.", and to the question "What is your most overused word?" –– his answer was "Work!". The next question "What is the quality you most like in a person" –– his answer "Honesty"; and to the question "What is the trait you most deplore in others?" he answered "I dislike people who do not work hard." To the last question "Things you can't live without" –– Tun's answer was "Food. I can't live without food. And I cannot be idle. I need to do something and keep myself occupied."
Would it thus surprise you to learn that one of Tun's favorite songs is "My Way", and he sings it very well too.
Whether you be a supporter and admirer or a detractor and critic, Tun Dr. Mahathir has rightly earned the title of "Malaysia's Father of Modernisation". There is no doubt that a substantial part of the development and history of modern Malaysia can been told through the story of Tun Mahathir's life.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed to deliver his Keynote Address.
4th October 2019