Palace not behind housing Bill, says Johor Royal Court

MALAYSIA - The Johor Royal Court has dismissed talk that the palace was behind a controversial new Bill that would have granted the Sultan new powers, even as lawmakers passed a watered-down version of the legislation in response to heavy public criticism.

"The Royal Court assures (everyone) there is no cause for concern that His Royal Highness will misuse his authority. He values and places his rakyat (citizens) above all else," Royal Court council president Abdul Rahim Ramli said in a statement yesterday.

"His Royal Highness Sultan Ibrahim is a wise ruler and listens to and acts on advice and concurrence. He is very well-versed in his constitutional rights and privileges and stays above politics."

This came as the state assembly passed the Johor Housing and Real Property Board Enactment 2014 with a majority vote of 38 from the ruling Barisan Nasional while opposition lawmakers voted against it, after three hearings on the same day yesterday.

The Bill is to pave the way to set up a housing board to promote property development and address housing issues, including building more low-cost homes.

Johor Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin earlier agreed to amend controversial sections of the Bill following pressure from lawmakers and legal experts, who say it could trigger a constitutional crisis. The Bill in its original form was heavily criticised for allowing Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Sultan Iskandar to intervene in state administration. This is deemed unconstitutional as the role of monarchs is largely ceremonial except for matters of religion, as stated in the country's Constitution.

The new version, which has 10 amendments, includes a provision that the Sultan is to act on the advice of the chief minister. In addition, the term "Raja", denoting the Johor ruler, was changed to "state authorities" in several clauses. The Bill also no longer allows the Sultan to determine the housing board committee members' remuneration or allowances, nor can the state ruler oversee the accounts of the housing board.

Datuk Khaled said the state government does not have the intention to jeopardise the constitutional monarchy system. "We want to uphold it," he told local media. "We continued to table the Bill because I found that the comments and views given to us were from those who did not know what they were talking about as they had their facts confused. " But politicians have continued to voice their reservations.

Former premier Mahathir Mohamad said Datuk Khaled may still be pressured to take the palace's orders. "The rulers are to be paid handsome pensions and may not be involved in business. This was considered necessary because officers tend to defer to the wishes of rulers and would find difficulty in rejecting business propositions by them," Tun Dr Mahathir said on his blog yesterday.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Shahidan Kassim told local media: "If (the Sultan) interferes, I'm sure all problems will become worse, and the institution will be polluted."

This article was first published on June 10, 2014.
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