Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Last Thursday night, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi addressing the Malaysian Bar Council dinner announced the governments’ decision to make “goodwill ex-gratia payments” to the six former judges and their families for the “pain and loss” as a result of the shameful events of 1988. The Judges are, the late Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcader and Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawanteh and their families, Tun Salleh Abbas, Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin, Tan Sri Wan Hamzah Mohamed Salleh and Datuk George Seah.

It has taken twenty years for the government to acknowledge the wrong done to the said judges. Imagine, twenty years just to get an acknowledgement ! Many still remember the events of 1988 when Dr Mahathir convened a kangaroo tribunal to try the then Lord President Tun Salleh Abbas on charges of misconduct and for questioning the constitutional amendment designed by the government of Dr Mahathir to erode the powers of the judiciary. In the end Tun Salleh Abbas was sacked. Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin, Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcader and Tan Sri Wan Hamzah was suspended while Datuk George Seah and Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawanteh were sacked by another tribunal.

While many may laud the governments’ decision, what is most regretted is the refusal of the government to acknowledge its wrong doing and unreservedly apologise to the judges and their families. Instead, the government offers ex-gratia payment, not as a sign of remorse and regret but as a recognition of the contribution by the six outstanding judges. Deputy Prime Minister Dato Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak put the position of the government clearly when he said that the the payment by the government is not tantamount to any form of apology.

If that is so, then the decent thing the judges and their families ought to do is to reject the offer of ex-gratia payment, unless of cause if the judges or their families are in dire straits and do need the money the government is throwing at their feet.

After 20 years, what is needed is for the government to unreseverdly apologise. Simple as that - apology. Prime Minister had an opportunity to put it right but as usual fluffed the opportunity. Thus, so long as the government do not apologise and so long as it is not done, there will be no closure of the ugly chapter of 1988. Dinner and ex-gratia payment is simply not enough. Dignity cannot be bought with money.
Norman Fernandez.