Johor housing Bill amended after uproar over sultan's powers

Johor housing Bill amended after uproar over sultan's powers
A controversial Bill that would increase the powers of Johor's Sultan - a position that is largely ceremonial - has sparked an uproar among legal experts and politicians on both sides of the divide. This State Legislative Assembly building in Nusajaya, Gelang Patah, is where the Bill will be tabled.

Johor Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin yesterday amended a controversial housing Bill that would have given powers to the Johor sultan to intervene in housing and property matters, following an uproar from law experts, politicians and the media that it could be unconstitutional.

Datuk Khaled said in a state assembly sitting yesterday that the Johor Housing and Real Property Enactment Board Bill 2014 will be amended to include a provision that the sultan is to act on the advice of the chief minister, The Star newspaper reported.

Other clauses in the Bill, which mentioned "Raja", the Johor ruler, would be changed to "state authorities", he said.

The job of the new board is to promote property projects and build more public housing for low-wage workers.

"There will be amendments made, specifically that the role of the ruler would be on the advice of the Menteri Besar, especially on the appointment of the board members. What is most important is that the other sections (on the role of the ruler) will be deleted," he said in the state legislature, as reported by Bernama news agency.

The Bill's earlier contents raised an outcry when it was learnt that they would give Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Sultan Iskandar the power to hire and fire committee members and oversee its accounts.

Under Malaysia's constitutional monarchy, the Malay hereditary rulers in nine of the 13 states perform ceremonial functions except in matters related to Islam where they have powers of intervention. The other four Malaysian states of Penang, Malacca, Sabah and Sarawak are led by appointed governors or heads of state.

Both opposition leaders and Umno chiefs were united in opposing the original Bill.

Veteran Umno leader Tun Musa Hitam said that the issue had to be settled immediately.

"If the allegations are true, then it will affect the fundamental principles of constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy," he was quoted as saying by the New Sunday Times. "One cannot expect the people to keep quiet on the matter."

Said Mr Mohamad Sabu, deputy president of opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia: "PAS supports the constitutional role of the Malay rulers as defined by the Federal Constitution… Efforts to give Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar executive powers should never happen." Umno-owned newspaper Utusan Malaysia, in its Sunday edition, ran an editorial and reports with pleas by analysts and politicians to Mr Khaled to defer the Bill.

Writing under the pseudonym Awang Selamat, Utusan editors said it had to "play a real part" in giving constructive criticism to prevent rulers from being subjected to abuse.

Awang Selamat wrote: "Let the ruler be angry at us, as long as the voices of the people are brought before him for there is no separation between the people and the ruler."

This article was first published on June 9, 2014.
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