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Govt broke its word to judges, says Zaid

KUALA LUMPUR, 10 Nov 2008: The government has broken its word by revealing the amount of the ex-gratia payment for six former judges, said former de factor law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.

Zaid said he had advised Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to pay the former judges to show the government’s support for the integrity and independence of the judiciary.

He said it was also Abdullah’s wish to show kindness to the judges, and the government agreed to their request not to disclose the amount paid.

The judges are former Lord President Tun Salleh Abas, the late Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawanteh, Tan Sri George Edward Seah Kim Seng, Tan Sri Wan Hamzah Mohd Salleh, the late Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdolcadeer, and Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin.

“It was a legitimate request because the judges never asked for this money and did not want the polemics to follow and distract the good intention of this act that such a disclosure would inevitably bring.

“It is regrettable that we are not able to keep our word to these judges. Does this mean that the word of a government minister cannot now be taken seriously?” Zaid told a press conference in his office here today.

On 6 Nov, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz told the Dewan Rakyat that the government paid RM10.5million to the six former judges, who were either sacked or suspended during the 1988 judicial crisis.

As for the quantum of payment, Zaid said he had derived it based on what other responsible governments had paid in cases of miscarriage of justice.

He added that it was difficult to compare the cases as “no responsible government anywhere in the world sacked their top judges in one swoop as we did.”

Zaid, who reiterated that the judges were sacked and not asked to take early retirement as explained by Nazri, said the disclosure of the quantum would also invite the public to ask more questions about the necessity of the payment.

He said the sacking of the judges was a travesty of justice, a violation of the independence of the judiciary, and a miscarriage of justice of the gravest kind.

“You can pay the pension to show your humanitarian side, but the pension does not detract from the fact that the judges were sacked. These judges are honourable men.

“If payment of pension is proof of non-dismissal, then the government can ask any judge to go on early retirement so long as some pensions are paid.

“How would this fit in the notion of an independent judiciary unless we do not recognise this concept?” he said at the press conference.

Zaid also called for all parties not to politicise the issue and let the judges “retire in peace”.

When contacted, Salleh, who received RM5 million in ex-gratia payment, told The Nut Graph that he would be issuing a statement on the matter soon.

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