Uproar over housing Bill being tabled by Johor

Uproar over housing Bill being tabled by Johor
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.

KUALA LUMPUR - 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.

The Johor Housing and Real Property Board Bill 2014, which which will be tabled tomorrow, would allow Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar to appoint committee members to the state housing board and, among other powers, decide how much they are paid and oversee the board's accounts.

Many fear such a sweeping change would open up a Pandora's box that gives the monarch even wider powers.

The Johor state housing board promotes property development, which is booming.

Lawmakers from both the Barisan Nasional and opposition Pakatan Rakyat have asked that the housing Bill be deferred so that they may study it more closely. However, Johor Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin insisted that it be tabled tomorrow.

But Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday urged Mr Khaled to ensure that the proposed property law follows the Federal Constitution and takes the interests of the people in the state into consideration.

Others who weighed in included former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

"States cannot change it (the Constitution) nor can rulers without the approval of the Federal Parliament and the Federal Government," he wrote on his blog on Friday. "If the Constitution is ignored by anyone, others will follow suit. When a precedent is established, it will become a base for other changes."

Yesterday, former New Straits Times editor-in-chief Kadir Jasin wrote in his blog: "Whatever his intentions are, he must remember that he was chosen by the people of Johor and holds their trust. He has to remember that our country is a constitutional monarchy."

Since Independence in 1957, Malaysia has been a constitutional monarchy, where the Federal Constitution is the supreme law and the ceremonial rulers do not have state administration powers. The new housing Bill could kick-start more changes, constitutional experts say.

Mr Syahredzan Johan, a constitutional lawyer, told The Sunday Times yesterday: "Any attempt by the assembly to give powers to the ruler when the Constitution itself does not give the assembly such powers, would be ultra vires to the Johor Constitution" - using a Latin legal term that means they would be beyond the scope of their powers.

Political analysts like Mr Wong Chin Huat of Penang Institute, a policy think-tank, said the Bill shows that the leadership of the Johor state government is weakening.

Other recent moves by Sultan Ibrahim include changing Johor's weekend for schools and government offices from Saturday and Sunday to Friday and Saturday.

"To drag the Sultan into the fray of administration shows that the state government under Mr Khaled is being put into question," he told The Sunday Times yesterday. "If you have a firm Menteri Besar, there is no way such a Bill could be tabled at all."


This article was first published on June 8, 2014.
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