Get your words right, Zaid tells ministers

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PETALING JAYA: DAP’s Zaid Ibrahim today took several ministers to task over their use of terms such as “unconstitutional”, urging them to use words correctly to describe the ideas or messages they wished to convey.

“Ministers must certainly not embarrass Malaysians by using terms or expressions in ways that even a rudimentary education will not permit,” he said in a blog post.

“Using the right word and expression will go a long way for Barisan Nasional leaders to have a chance in the coming general election, but it’s just a basic standard of competence that we should all expect of our government.”

He trained his guns on Tourism and Culture Minister Mohamed Nazri Aziz, who said earlier this month that prohibiting Muslim staff from wearing headscarves at work was unconstitutional.

According to Zaid, the proper word was “illegal”, provided that Malaysia has a law that gives an employee the right to wear the tudung regardless of the employer’s view and any condition of service.

“As far as I know, we do not have such a law, so it’s not correct to say that it’s ‘illegal’ (let alone ‘unconstitutional’) for a business not to allow an employee to wear the tudung.”

He said perhaps the only way to go about the issue was for Parliament to enact a law making it mandatory for all Muslim women to wear the tudung.

“This, however, might be even more of a problem for Nazri because Rosmah Mansor might not be in favour of it,” he added.

Zaid also slammed Deputy Minister Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, who stirred controversy by saying atheism in Malaysia was unconstitutional.

“You don’t ascribe ‘constitutionality’ to a belief system or personal conduct. When you drive on the wrong side of the road, for example, you don’t say that it’s ‘unconstitutional’. You say it’s ‘illegal’ because traffic laws make such conduct illegal.

“Belief and conduct can be legal or illegal depending on the laws we have enacted.

“If Asyraf wants to send an atheist to jail, Parliament must first enact a law prescribing that a person commits an offence if he or she does not believe in God. In Malaysia, it is not – and has never been – an offence for anyone to believe in a hundred Gods or no God at all,” he said.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said also came under fire for using the word “unconstitutional” when withdrawing Section 88A from the Law Reform (Marriage & Divorce) (Amendment) bill which was passed in August.

The section had stated that if a parent converts to Islam, the religion of the children remains the same unless both parents agree to the conversion of their children.

Zaid said when a bill is presented in Parliament, everything contained in it must be checked by the attorney-general, otherwise it cannot be submitted to Parliament in the first place.

“If the government wants to withdraw a bill or a specific provision at the last minute, then Azalina just had to say that the government was not yet ready to turn it into law.”

The former de facto law minister added that it was up to the court to decide whether a law was constitutional or not, not a minister, speaker or the attorney-general.

“Just because a provision appears to go against a certain article of the constitution (or just because it seems to be contrary to a decision of the Federal Court) doesn’t make it unconstitutional.

“If passed by Parliament that day, Section 88A would have become valid law. It’s misleading for a law minister and a senior minister to describe a provision as ‘unconstitutional’ when the court has made no such declaration,” he said.

Zaid said ministers were supposed to represent the best that a country had to offer when it came to managing national affairs.

“When ministers speak, the world ought to listen. Malaysians want to be proud of their leaders, if only the leaders would let them.”