Malaysiakini Letter

Water privatisation: Nazri wrong to implicate King

Gerard Lourdesamy  |  Published:  |  Modified:

I refer to the report Don't hide behind the King's name, minister told .

I think it is about time that the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohd Nazri Aziz is given a crash course on the constitution and the workings of the various institutions within our system of government.

The change of government policy regarding the formation of a select committee to study the issue of water privatisation was announced in the gracious speech read by the King during the recent state opening of the new legislative term of parliament.

Needless the say, the government has every right to change a policy. But to then explain its decision by saying that the King had requested that the select committee be dispensed with and that the privatisation policy be implemented by the end of the year tends to suggest that the constitutional monarch is now actually determining and implementing policy.

Such an improper, and not to say unconstitutional, statement coming from a minister is shocking to say the least and suggests a total and comprehensive lack of understanding of the workings of the constitution in the context of a constitutional monarchy within a parliamentary system of government.

Furthermore, the minister breached convention by implicating the King in an issue that is highly politicised and essentially a matter for the government to decide. In any event, Nazri has no business in answering the question put by the leader of the opposition as the matter clearly does not come within his purview.

He should not have confused the matter further by dragging in the King. While the gracious speech is indeed read by the King, it is not written by him nor does he determine the government's legislative programme and policies for the coming parliamentary year.

The speech is written by the prime minister in consultation with the cabinet and it is undoubtedly the work of the government and not the monarch. Even if the King had indicated to the prime minister - in private - of his desire for the water privatisation policy to be implemented without the assistance of a select committee, the prime minister would have had to first consult the cabinet.

It is also unlikely that on a matter of important national policy and one that is clearly politicised, the King would have expressed any sort of preference to the prime minister. It must be remembered that broadly under the Constitution, the King can only advise, warn and encourage the government on matters of policy but not set the agenda.

Unfortunately, Nazri misunderstood the concept but not for the first time. After all, it was this same minister who berated the doctrine of separation of powers as being unworkable in practice in any developing country. So much for being in charge of parliamentary affairs!

The odd thing with the Nazri's statement is his medieval understanding of the royal prerogative as if a request or command from the King in this day and age must be obeyed without question.

It is equally perplexing that the Barisan Nasional government which has consistently undermined the royal prerogative after successive amendments to the constitution, can be quite adapt in using the institution to defend its own mistakes and weaknesses knowing very well that the King is unable to respond to these statements openly.

It is also telling that the palace has chosen to remain quiet on the issue. The palace, through the King's private secretary, should issue a statement to correct the public misconception that could arise or has arisen as a result of the Nazri's statement.

Otherwise, people will start to question the impartiality of the monarchy and its worthiness in the context of a modern society where we have little time for history, tradition and continuity.

I sometimes get the feeling that speeches read by the King are seldom vetted by the palace after being prepared by the government or that it is actually read beforehand as is evidenced by the manner of its presentation at times.

It is no wonder that speeches that are meant to be balanced, detached and impartial come out sounding like government propaganda with heaps of self praise on the incumbent prime minister. Even if the King is merely expressing the views of the government it behooves his private office to take out personal references to ruling political incumbents or their opponents.

This present practise only sets a dangerous precedence for the institution of the monarchy. It also gives the impression that the lines between the government of the day and the monarch are clearly blurred simply because successive rulers seem to be obligated to the government for their status, position and privileges and fear losing the same if they do not seem to be compliant.

The institution of the monarchy will only remain strong and relevant if individual rulers carry out their duties with dignity, integrity, impartiality, modesty and with a firm understanding of their constitutional role and the rule of law. Otherwise, it will become irreverent and unwanted.

A monarch's duties are not just confined to attending weddings or cultural celebrations, film premiers, opening schools, hospitals and factories, attending sporting events or playing golf but more importantly it also extends to protecting, safeguarding and defending the rights of the people and their well-being.

For without the loyalty, devotion and love of their subjects, rulers become obsolete and extinct.

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