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Legal, but not right

  • Some of the things are perfectly legal, but they are simply not right to execute.

By Azmi Sharom

There is a line of thought that states that if our laws are good then we will not have problems like abuse of power and corruption. Unfortunately there are some things that you can't legislate for. In other words there are some things which are perfectly legal, but if they are carried out it is still not the right thing to do.

For example, in our Constitution it is stated that our freedom of expression can be curtailed if it is in the interest of public order. This means that if the government makes a law restricting our freedom of speech for that purpose, then if we take the words of the Constitution literally it should be OK.

But this means there is so much room for the abuse of power. Ideally legislators should value the freedom of expression and be especially careful before making any laws that restrict it. The same goes for the judiciary; they should be very concerned about such laws and be ready to declare them unreasonable and unconstitutional if they believe them to be.

However, this requires a certain attitude on the part of our MPs and judges, and that is something that cannot be legislated for.

The same goes for the sense of shame and impropriety.

When Donald Trump fired the head of FBI, it was something that he was legally allowed to do. Yet it was something that is simply not done because by doing so there appears to be executive interference in a law enforcement agency (one that was investigating the actions of his people) and this can be deemed as abuse of power.

Earlier presidents, even if they hated the head of FBI would simply not use this power as it is deemed inappropriate and shameful for the head of a democracy to do such things.

We can see a similar situation here in Malaysia. The recent donation of RM5 million to the MACC's Yayasan Prihatin (a body charged with the welfare of MACC staff) by the PM is not illegal; but it is still not right.

The MACC is in the process of vetting BN candidates for the coming general election. They are also involved in an ongoing investigation on the allegations of corruption against the 1MDB. The PM is intimately involved in both things.

Giving such a large donation to the Yayasan at this time smacks of impropriety and can only be done when one has no sense of shame. And this can't be legislated for.

(Azmi Sharom is a law lecturer at Universiti Malaya.)


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