- 5 February 2021
The deluge of pompous outrage and ruffled feathers on display this week from amongst the cream of the KL establishment, accustomed as they are to flattery and fawning, has been quite something.
The cause? A memoir by the ex-AG giving his perspective on a life spent trying to serve justice in the country.
In quintessential Malaysian style, many of the unhappy individuals who felt their sense of superiority impugned by its pages were off to the police station within hours, much the way form five complains to teacher.
Others have been waiving civil threats about, trading in tens of millions naturally, given the high value of the reputation of Datuks and the like (particularly from UMNO).
By the close of the week a police spokesmen confirmed to journalists the receipt of no less than seven ‘criminal complaints’ saying the force had referred two of them to Mr Thomas’s successor, who himself has reason resent the widespread criticism that he has failed to fill those shoes over the past few months.
The Home Ministry, headed by the multiple turncoat and political jumping frog, Hamzah Zainuddin, has meanwhile leaked to enquiring journalists there is a prospect the book will be banned …. for reasons as yet unclear, but in BN/PN Malaysia it could be anything.
As books responded by flying off the shelves (of course) others have wondered how so many of these injured folk managed to get through the weighty tomb so swiftly?
Sarawak Report itself adopted the principle of omitting an index in circumstances such as these, which it is suspected might deter many who are less diligent readers than they are complainers from getting round to it. Perhaps Thomas should have followed suit.
The point being, how many of these folk actually stopped to think before they drew loud attention to the perceived insults in a book, which is itself written calmly, dispassionately and with a clear sincerity of opinion on events taken part in? Opinions which any writer has a right to hold.
Or is it that these elite fellows are simply so used to abusing wealth and power that they intend to do Thomas damage whether or not they have a leg to stand on?
Particularly intriguing has been the tetchy complaint from descendants of Tun Abdul Razak, claiming the family honour has been besmirched by Thomas’s historical assessment of his role in the tragic events of 1969.
Given it is firmly established that you can’t libel the dead, and no one has done more to damage the Razak name than the present generation the less said the better. But no, Najib himself has promised libel action (this time on Monday).
Perhaps, given Malaysia’s raft of woolly laws against ‘inciting’ disharmony, the establishment plans to accuse the author of making them so angry by failing to flatter their perceived good image of themselves that it threatens the peace? Nothing would surprise, that’s for certain.
Meanwhile, outside in the wider democratic world (which Malaysia is supposed to be part of) bookshelves are groaning with this sort of book, rarely provoking much comment or legal backlash. Celebrities, politicians, senior diplomats and others draw a line underneath their careers by laying out their experiences and generally seeking to justify why they may have acted as they did.
These are rarely the last word on any issue, but they provide a useful insight. Those who might be annoyed know better than to bark.
Recently, the former National Security Advisor to the US government (there could hardly be a more sensitive role) wrote about “The Room Where It Happened” and was none too flattering about President Donald Trump. Trump retaliated calling him an “incompetent whacko” and the world first laughed and then moved on.
In Malaysia the insulted president would doubtless have filed a police report claiming anything during a period in public office should not be written about. He would probably also have darkly hinted that popular peace had been disturbed, thanks to the denigration of his superior self. He would have then rushed off to a libel lawyer to complain that his excellent superior talents had insufficiently extolled, so he must be compensated at least RM100 million.
This after all is what has been going on within hours of Justice In the Wilderness hitting the bookshelves, wasting the time of police and legal officers during a period of lockdown challenges and all the rest. And, thanks to the identity of those protesting, it seems such antics are being treated seriously.
The key ground on which those with injured pride are plainly hoping to devise a criminal case against this dignified legal figure for not flattering them is breach of official secrecy.
A plainly livid Dr Mahathir, fuming that Thomas spilt the beans over his political manoeuvrings as he sought to go back on his election promise on transition, has been circulating a document pointing out the law denies any official the right to divulge any information obtained during his course of work via the exercise of legal rights of enquiry.
Ex-AG Apandi Ali, who issued his own statement waving papers outside the police station has threatened a similar approach.
Fair enough. Except, for those who have read the book it is clear that the AG has not divulged material gained in such a way, but rather deals by and large in facts that everyone already knows about, giving his own perspective and explaining why he took the positions that he did.
There is nothing, for example, that Thomas writes about Apandi’s lamentable conduct in his role that the world has not already read about either thanks to the media or a dozen court cases. He just adds his insights.
Likewise, Dr Mahathir may not like Thomas having divulged he told him that he was sacking him and Guan Eng to get the support of Hadi Awang for his Unity Government or that the old man had claimed he had the support of all 222 MPs. But this was not information that Thomas obtained through the execution of legal powers – Dr M volunteered the information.
More to the point, it was politics not official business of the state and people have a right to know. This gets to the heart of the problem with so many of the complaints against this book.
The memoir covers a period of many years, including some of the sensitive issues that confronted him in office. The ex-AG handles them in a steady compassionate tone, as he seeks to explain his decisions and why he thought them right. For example, the Fireman Muhammad Adib tragedy, a case that so many unscrupulous entities have sought to use to fire up hatred.
Thomas lays out his judgement of the evidence and why his department determined misadventure – none of which information is remotely secret. The cases on which he reflects, such as this one, were public not secret or official information.
Likewise, Najib and the Altantuya case. Everyone is aware of the accusations made by the ex-PM’s bodyguards who have now come out to testify they murdered the translator on Najib’s orders. It has all been released through recent court hearings and media reports. There is nothing secret. Thomas is reflecting on open information.
Meanwhile, it is notable that unlike certain individuals who are complaining and threatening the ex AG, Tommy Thomas does not indulge in Facebook or Social Media to rant daily against those he disagrees with over this matter or that.
He has instead taken his time to lay out his considered assessment of Malaysia’s halting progress towards a just society over his own lifetime. One thing for sure is that by seeking to hound and silence sincere and careful criticism and a factual narrative, Malaysia’s establishment is showing itself to be everything its most severe critics accuse them of.
They would do better to read the book through properly and do it the justice of a proper considered response.