Social activist Irene Fernandez, who was my wife’s childhood teacher while schooling in Sg Petani, was acquitted by the High court after one of the longest trials in Malaysian History.
This acquittal should be welcomed by all in the civil society, as her case has been viewed as a case of persecution rather than anything else.
The worrying thing about this acquittal is however the ground on which she was acquitted. It was not by facts but rather by trial materials being “incomprehensible” as a result of ‘systemic errors”.
Malaysiakini reported this:
On Aug 5, the case was brought to a standstill when Fernandez was told a computer virus had wiped out a portion of a specific volume of notes required for the trial.
Two months later, Fernandez’s lawyer M Puravalen said that the 8,988 pages of handwritten and typed notes amounting to a total of eight volumes of documents were “incomprehensible”.
Judge Mohamad Apandi had subsequently set today to hear arguments on the issue.
Fernandez’s 13-year ordeal began in 1995 when she exposed the poor conditions at immigration detention centres in a memorandum entitled ‘Abuse, Torture and Dehumanised Conditions of Migrant Workers in Detention Centres’.
She alleged incidences of torture as well as deaths of illegal immigrants who were detained in the camps.
Fernandez was arrested and charged a year later under Section 8A (1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984
I doubt her case is an isolated one. If her case notes are incomprehensible, it is logical to assume that there are many other cases wit the same problems.
What happens if the accused in another case is, unlike this iron lady, really guilty? What happens if a real criminal is acquitted because a clerical mistake making trial notes ‘incomprehensible”? What happens if a serial killer is let off because of this technical point and starts killing again?
How low has our judiciary sunk?
This, in my opinion, is part of the bigger syndrome of loss of excellence. Because of this syndrome, people tend to have “tidak apa” ( “couldn’t care less” type of) attitude.
I suspect many in the service has this type of routine: Come in at 8am. Punch his or her card, then goes out for breakfast or a cup of coffee. Then moves about making small talks and gossips, with frequent tea breaks thrown in; take a leisurely lunch break, and maybe ask for time off to go to banks or attend to personal business.
with so much of distraction , there is little wonders that they are mistakes and errors in his or her work. When an error occurs, there would be no shame of not doing a job well. Afterall, everyone else does it.
When the peer group is like that, the whole service would have no more drive for excellence. The head will try to cover the mistake of his or her staffs. You scratch my back, i will scratch yours. In the end, it does not matter whether a job is well done, as long as one gets a fat checque at the end of the month.
This is the whole syndrome that is affectig many of the civil servants, police , schools/universities and judicairy. Productivity is low. Mistakes are common. A culture of “couldn’t-care-less-ness” slowly evolves.
To counter this culture is an uphill task. Perhaps a start must be made at the education system. Adopt meritocracy and slowly introduce meritocratic principles into police, civil service and judiciary, as well as fair competition in business fields.
There must also be more accountability of civil servants to their mistakes. Rules must be changed so that perpetual error-makers must be sacked. Others must be retrained and mindsets changed. There must also be a system where promotion and salary increment is tied to performance, and not to how many times a person goes for his tea break.
Tough times need tough measures. Are we game enough for this change to bring back excellence?