Friday, November 07, 2008

DEWAN DISPATCHES: If you have to sock Salleh Abas, sock it straight in his face and sock it fast

DEWAN DISPATCHES: If you have to sock Salleh Abas, sock it straight in his face and sock it fast

by: Azmi Anshar
DEWAN RAKYAT Nov 3, 2008

In his twilight years, Tun Salleh Abas remains a disputatious figure, just as disputatious as a certain ex-Prime Minister who was perceived, rightly or wrongly, to have been instrumental in the ex-Lord President’s sensational 1988 impeachment for a slew of transgressions from insulting the then King to predilection in his rulings over the fractious Umno infighting. He can’t seem to get away from stirring up one controversial happenstance to another. What do these people in their 80s have in their DNA that makes the nation tremble out of hyperventilation or loathing to their outbursts?

Even when he was content staying home tending to his garden, another controversy was brewed in his name and for all his unwitting karma, he was shoved into the eye of another intriguing political hurricane that was tied to his 1988 sacking, a dinner the ex-Minister in charge of judicial affairs Datuk Zaid Ibrahim initiated as a form of apology for being raked in the coals and the “compensation”, called “ex-gratia” payments to Salleh and five Supreme Court judges also sacked.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Abd Aziz could not make good his promise last week to reveal to the House the actual amount of ex-gratia paid to the judges. Was it RM4 million for a certain judge as claimed by Wee Choo Keong (PKR-Wangsa Maju)?

While Nazri may have been sincere in wanting to reveal the figures, the bureaucrat or bureaucracy that was supposed to supply him with the information appeared to have screeched to a grinding halt and failed to do the task, embarrassing the Minister when he admitted that the figures could not be forthcoming and had to take a lot of stick from the Opposition MPs.

This wasn’t surprising. Zaid had made a deal with the judges that the figure would remain private and confidential, citing security reasons from the families of the judges. But the combined weight of Wee, Salahuddin Ayub (Pas-Kubang Kerian) and Mahfuz Omar (Pas-Pokok Sena) goaded Nazri to no end, demanding that he reveal the amount, even when he did not have the official figures

Wee sense an opportunity to torment Nazri with the kind of self-righteousness that only a political animal could possess, insinuating that as minister, he had no good reasons not to know the amount. Nazri was not about to be steamrolled into giving an answer he did not possess in good stead, lambasting back the trio of attackers and shifting the problem back to Zaid. But he did promise to “look for” the figures.

Then, in the past fortnight, Salleh lobbed another judicial grenade, practically accusing the Bar Council of playing double standards in not approving his application to be a consultant for his old law firm when a precedent had been made in granting retired Court of Appeal Judge Datuk K. C. Vohrah the same courtesy.

Salleh was quoted expressing his displeasure in the blog of Ahirudin Attan aka Rocky Bru. For three years he had egged the Bar Council to give him a straight answer but the responses seemed to dither from one legal rejoinder to another. But the crunch recently came when the Bar simply told the ex-Lord President to file for a new application, compelling him to lash out in disgust.

Ahirudin wrote some telling comments that made the Bar looked like dithering dolts, especially the part about how Salleh “felt cheated, betrayed even.”

“The Bar had no qualms about using the Lord President's name and person to champion its cause, but was not willing to help him in a matter that it has discretion to,” Ahirudin wrote.

Senior lawyer Robert Lazar went ballistic over Rocky’s remarks, writing, among others, this very revealing line: “…it was not Tun Salleh's personality that drove the Bar in 1988. If Rocky really wants to know, the Tun never really endeared himself as a friend of the Bar pre-1988 and neither did many of his actions and judgements. But it was the seat of justice and the institution that was attacked and it was that that the Bar rose to defend…”

Lazar’s retort was indeed very revealing, the operative words being “never really endeared as a friend of the Bar pre-1988.” It is understandable if lawyers are upset over the rulings Salleh wrote during his tenure as Lord President. A judge, understandably too, has to go either way in making a ruling, right or wrong, plaintiff or defendant, and the loser would have plenty to gripe about, be it Government or Opposition. And that’s fine. But to “endear as a friend to the Bar”? How should Salleh endear himself to the Bar as a friend? Play golf with lawyers? Lunch or dinner together? Go for holidays together? Rule everything in favour of the lawyers of the Bar?

Salleh endured plenty of flak for his simple application to be consultant for his law firm. He didn’t deserve the cloying manner in which he was treated. It’s fine if the Bar felt strongly against giving him that exemption, even if the council had to backpedal to declare that the exemption given earlier to Vohrah was a mistake. But say it straight and say it fast. Don’t string him along as if he was a puppet.

The Bar Council may be correct in its interpretation of the rules that bar senior judges from practising, given the unfair psychological advantage these judges may possess if they were to plead cases before their former brother or sister judges still sitting on the bench, but that is not the point. It was the Bar’s dithering and vacillation that was condescending to Salleh.

If you have to sock it to the man, sock it hard in his face. Salleh would have greatly appreciated the blunt rejection, rather than being forced to play along with the inane correspondences all these years. He deserves at least that little respect.