Friday 26 August 2011

Wage law amendment solely to 'benefit Zaki'

The recent amendment to the Judges Remuneration Act 1971, which was bulldozed through Parliament, was for the benefit of outgoing Chief Justice Zaki Azmi, insists veteran politician Karpal Singh.

The Bukit Gelugor MP and DAP chairperson said he had raised the matter during parliamentary debates supported by the other opposition MPs.

"NONEYes, I did raise the issue before in Parliament, before the amendment was passed. However, this is the BN Parliament we are talking about... they refused to consider the vehement opposition to the bill," Karpal (left) said.

"Clearly, the law was amended to benefit Zaki. He has been parachuted to the job by the Executive. I do not know whether this is what we call 'payback' for his services to Umno."

The amendment to Section 9 of the Act, titled "Special provision for Chief Justice, President and Chief Judge", states that notwithstanding anything in the Act but subject to Section 8, a person holding the office of Chief Justice, President or Chief Judge shall be entitled to maximum pension if he has held either office or all the offices for a period in the aggregate of not less than three years.

Prior to the amendment, the Lord President, or CJ, must have have been a judge for not less than 10 years prior to retirement to benefit from full pension.

Teluk Intan MP M Manogaran said the amendment was a mockery for the position of the Chief Justice and Zaki, whom he classified as only a "Grade C" judge. This amendment, he said, was a present for the judge who retires next month.

"I remember Opposition MPs debated on it heavily but yet it was bulldozed through. That is why we want a Select Committee be formed for issues such as this, and to include the Judiciary. This is embarrasing."

NONEZaki, (right) known as an Umno lawyer, was appointed directly to the nation's highest court, the Federal Court, on Sept 5, 2007. He was made President of the Court of Appeal on Dec 11, 2007, and promoted Federal Court Chief Justice on Oct 18, 2008.

He is scheduled to retire next month,when he turns 66.

Karpal had previously raised the issue of Zaki allegedly bribing court officials when he was a lawyer, following a speech the latter made in Sarawak, and had called for disciplinary action against him.

In the past, judges ascended through long service, with many starting off as magistrates and moving up as sessions court judges and then on to the High Court, Court of Appeal and Federal Court.

Zaki and former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram are the exceptions. Gopal, a practising senior lawyer, was appointed straight to the Court of Appeal.

Bad news for other judges
While it may be good news for Zaki, who is considered an outsider among the judicial fraternity, other judges will not get to enjoy full pension unless they have served 18 years.

The 2011 amendment raised the 15 years' of service for full pension for judges to 18 years, putting the others in a fix. This is especially so for judges who may already have served 15 years and nearing retirement.

They will only get pro-rated pensions.

"This also brings to light the government's interference with the Judiciary in the appointment of judges for the top posts, as they may now come not from the bench and, in the end, receive full pension," Karpal said.

Manogaran concurred that the amendment was seen as taking away something from judicial officers who had risen from the ranks to benefit those placed into top posts in the Judiciary by the Executive.

Zaki, the Teluk Intan MP added, had not made any landmark or introduced significant changes during his short service.

"What we hear are complaints about the fast track system. And yet, despite this, he will receive full pension for being on the bench for just four years," said Manogaran.

Karpal went on further, describing this latest development as very unfortunate and disturbing.

The legal fraternity has also complained that the amendment is directed at benefiting judges appointed to the top posts by the government. They want the Judiciary to be returned to what was before - an independent arm, seperate from Parliament and the Executive.

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