KUALA LUMPUR, 25 Nov 2009: Barisan Nasional (BN) parties want the Registrar of Societies (ROS) to stay out of their internal party matters.
Representatives from the MCA, Gerakan and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) told a forum yesterday that the ROS should just focus on its administrative role of registering societies.
“There is nothing in the Societies Act 1966 to say that the ROS can invalidate an EGM (extraordinary general assembly) or reinstate someone in a political party. The home minister himself has said that,” said Gerakan legal bureau chief Andy Ong.
Leong Ong was speaking at a forum at the Bar Council organised by the Kuala Lumpur Bar Young Lawyers Committee.
Co-panelist Datuk Leong Tang Chong said he disagreed with the ROS’s 3 Nov 2009 declaration that Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek was still the MCA deputy president, despite Chua having been suspended by the party’s central committee.
“The ROS’s first reply to Chua [in response to his request for clarification of his party position] was actually correct,” Leong said. “It said the registrar has no jurisdiction to decide on this matter. That was correct in law.”
However, the ROS subsequently turned around and declared that there was actually no vacancy in the deputy president’s post.
Leong, who was recently sacked as MCA legal bureau chief, said he told the deputy registrar that the second decision was “shocking and unbelievable” because it was not the registrar’s duty to interpret the party’s constitution.
“There is no jurisdiction for ROS to interpret our constitution, it is very clear,” Leong said.
PPP deputy secretary-general Simon Sabapathy said dragging in the ROS to resolve party disputes contravened the Societies Act and the party constitution.
“The PPP constitution says everything must be dealt with within the party. The decision of the (party) supreme council is final and conclusive,” he added.
Former PPP supreme council member Datuk T Murugiah has appealed the ROS decision that upheld Datuk M Kayveas as the rightful PPP president. Murugiah is also appealing against the ROS declaration that invalidated the May 2009 EGM, in which he was elected president.
He has given the ROS until early December to reply to his appeal, failing which he says he will seek redress in court.
Following the ROS decision on Chua, suspended Gerakan vice-president Huan Cheng Guan is also considering asking the registrar to determine his party status.
Huan was suspended in June 2009 for three years for publicly attacking the party and its leadership.
“The ROS is not supposed to adjudicate who is the president or vice-president, or what’s in the constitution [of a party]. If there’s any dispute, parties should just refer the matter to court,” forum panelist Edmund Bon, a lawyer, said.
Amend Societies Act?
Although they disagreed with the ROS’s recent interpretation of the Societies Act which governs its power, the BN panelists, however, avoided supporting amendments to the law.
When asked whether the Societies Act should be amended to temper the wide powers it confers and the problems it has caused so far, Leong said: “If the leaders of the political parties do not refer their matters to the ROS, then there’s no chance for the ROS to interfere. [In the MCA's case], the leaders themselves referred the matter to ROS. And the ROS itself should see that they shouldn’t interfere.”
Ong said there was enough case law that set out ROS’s jurisdiction, and would not commit to supporting any amendment to the Act.
Simon said any amendments to the Societies Act would have to be discussed by the party supreme council.
“If there are real errors or significant mistakes, of course it is everyone’s duty to correct them. As of now, I don’t foresee any changes to the law,” he said.
The Societies Act grants wide discretionary powers to the ROS and home minister. Under the Act, the minister has absolute discretion to declare any society unlawful in the interests of security, public order and morality.
“Only now your parties are making a hue and cry about the ROS. Where were you when PSM (Parti Sosialis Malaysia) was fighting to be registered for over 10 years?” lawyer Syahredzan Johan asked the BN panelists from the floor.
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