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Needless fuss over Johor enactment

 | June 11, 2014

In the end, all that hue and cry was really over nothing

sultan-johor-L2-940x470-650x350After a weekend of much ado, the Johor Housing and Real Property Board Bill 2014 finally became law on Monday. Considering there are only 18 opposition members in the 56-member Johor legislative assembly, this comes as no surprise because it would have been suicide for any Barisan Nasional member to oppose it.

Nevertheless, because of the preceding hue and cry—even, most surprisingly, from Umno-controlled Utusan Malaysia—ten amendments were made to the original bill. The most crucial of these is the provision that the Sultan is to act on the advice of the Menteri Besar.

And with that, all is well and fine and we can all go home and live happily ever after.

But hold on. Has not the Constitution already provided that the Sultan shall take the advice of the Menteri Besar? So what is new then? In the first place, the enactment cannot violate the Constitution; the Sultan is supposed to take the advice of the Menteri Besar even if the bill does not say so.

And the bill cannot stipulate that the Sultan need not take the advice of the Menteri Besar because any law that violates the Constitution is illegal. In fact, the Federal Constitution says that no law may be passed after Merdeka if it goes against the Constitution.

This means the bill itself and that particular amendment are both non-events. The Sultan shall at all times take the advice of the Menteri Besar, bill or no bill.

Other amendments are as follows:

1) Amendment to Clause 4 (3) Composition of the Board: changing “members of the board may be paid remuneration and allowances as determined by the Sultan” to “members of the board may be paid remuneration and allowances as determined by the state authority.”

2) Clause 12 (2) Appointment of Directors, Officers and Civil Servants: “the appointment of the directors shall have prior approval of the Sultan on the advice of the Menteri Besar,” instead of approval solely by the Sultan.

3) Clause 43 (1) Winding up and Liquidation: “the state authority may wind up or dissolve the board by publishing it in the Government Gazette,” instead of “the Sultan may wind up and dissolve the board by having the order gazetted.”

In short, the original bill said the Sultan could, in a one-man decision, appoint the board members, decide their salaries and allowances, wind up the agency, dissolve the board, and so on.

Simply put, the original proposal was to allow the Sultan to run the board as if it is a sole proprietorship. With the amendments, the state now has a say in the matter and can advise the Sultan as to what to do.

That certainly looks good on paper. But if the Sultan makes a certain decision, and this decision is not based on “advice,” who is going to be the mouse that bells the cat? Is the Menteri Besar, as the state’s CEO, going to tell the Sultan that he cannot make such a decision and any decision His Highness makes must first get the agreement or approval of the state, in this case the Menteri Besar?

On the surface it appears like the matter has been amicably resolved and Johor has successfully averted a constitutional crisis. But those who know how proud the Johor Malays are about their attachment to adat would know that all the Sultan has to do is say “Beta berkenan” and the Menteri Besar will say “Patek yang ikut perintah.”

When has any piece of paper with a few words written on it been an obstacle to a royal command in all 57 years of Merdeka? Or do you still believe in the tooth fairy?


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