FMT Interview with Edmund Bon: (II) Taking the Constitution to the Rakyat

In this second part of his interview with Free Malaysia Today, LoyarBurokker Edmund Bon speaks to Teoh El Sen about the PerlembagaanKu/MyConstitution campaign that is bringing the Constitution to the rakyat – something the Government should have done.

Taking the constitution to the rakyat

Thu, 12 Aug 2010
By Teoh El Sen

Edmund Bon

Edmund Bon

FMT INTERVIEW KUALA LUMPUR: Since it was launched in July last year, the first-of-its-kind national campaign to bring the Federal Constitution to the people has “taken on a life of its own”. These were the words of Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan about the MyConstitution campaign and Edmund Bon couldn’t agree more.

Bon, the lawyer-activist who heads the constitutional law committee in the Bar Council and the campaign, said he never expected it to become “so big”. “We started with over 100 members; we now have 200 in just two terms. It was a correct decision to open the Committee to non-lawyers,” Bon said. He said the amazing thing about the project was that in spite of differences in ideology and opinion, everyone seems to agree that the people have to be educated on the Federal Constitution.

“Surprisingly, everyone, liberal or conservative, is committed to the same aim of bringing the constitution to the people.” “People may hold different views, but at the end of the day, we can still sit down and say: ‘Let’s do this together’. It’s something that is quite fantastic and invigorating,” Bon said.

In a recent interview with FMT, Bon speaks on how the campaign has gone so far and what he hoped to achieve. Below are excepts:

FMT: One year has passed since the campaign, can you tell us what have you achieved?

Edmund Bon: Since July 2009 till now, it’s been a year! We have launched five phases…

I think we have created greater public awareness of the Constitution. I don’t mean the elite, the people in power who are purposely manipulating the constitution. Our campaign has reached out to a lot of ordinary people through workshops. I believe a lot of people now have a basic knowledge of what the Constitution says.

What are you doing to bring the constitution to more people?

The response has been very positive with the English and BM speaking Malaysians because we have published our booklets in both these languages. We are quite certain that people in the cities are well-versed in the constitution and our campaign merely strengthens their knowledge. But we have to reach the rural areas and that is very important. We are planning to translate our booklets into Mandarin and Tamil. We currently don’t have enough funds for that.

committee’s co-deputy chairpersons Mahaletchumi Balakrishnan and Syahredzan Johan, with an uncut copy of the first Rakyat Guide.

ConstiLC Co-Deputy Chairpersons Mahaletchumi Balakrishnan & Syahredzan Johan with an uncut copy of RG1.

(Source: Talking heads to blaze the way – the Star)

Currently who funds this project?

The Bar Council, and at different stages whoever wants to partner with us. So far, the federal government, and the state governments of Kedah, Selangor, Sarawak have supported us.

What is the ideal vision you have about the outcome of this campaign?

We hope that by the time we launch all nine phases, we will be able to see changes in the way things are being discussed and expressed, especially in the media. So that immediately we can see a situation when people in power say something which is clearly against the Constitution, the rakyat are able to say: “Don’t lie to me, don’t fool me.”

What do you mean by that?

Okay, this is just an anecdotal example and it made its rounds as a joke; not based on research. But in Sibu, we had a very strong team who had been working very work to enlighten the people on the Constitution led by a member Adrian Chew.

Sibu is quite an urbanised area and in the May (parliamentary by-election), everyone thought that the Barisan Nasional would win. Our team members had been doing a marvellous job on the MyConstitution campaign… they were not telling the people who to vote for or who to support but informing them of their Constitutional rights.

It was jokingly said this was probably the reason people voted against what they did not like. But of course we can’t take credit, or else the DAP will get angry with us (laughs)?? I guess you can’t take take the Sibu people as fools and in a way they told off those in power by saying “you are taking us for a ride.”

We are ‘non-political’ but I think our MyConstitution education campaign gave people the courage to vote when we tell them the constitution is the supreme law of the land.

Do you think the BN government is fearful of what you could achieve with the MyConstitution campaign?

Many in the BN government are supportive, like Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Abdul Aziz and Koh Tsu Koon and Deputy Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Liew Vui Keong. I believe they know we need such awareness (of our Constitutional rights) after 50 years without a formalised education on the constitution.

Of course, there are some other ministers who are fearful I guess. We have approached a number of ministers’. For example, we have written to the Higher Education Minister (Mohamed Khaled Nordin) but he didn’t reply. When our president Ragunath (Kesavan) met with Najib (Tun Razak), he said the prime minister expressed support. But we have not got any funding from him (Najib) directly though.

I am not really bothered whether it is supported by the government or opposition. Even if we don’t have the money, we will go ahead and bring it to the people. However I think this is something everyone supports regardless of political ideology.

How does this campaign relate to the law and legal industry?

Many lawyers themselves have not even read the Constitution, I don’t blame them. Because it is a document that is very legalistic and very hard to read. With our campaign, we are hoping to educate lawyers too.

Why is the Bar Council taking this up?

We are doing this because under the Legal Profession Act, lawyers must uphold justice without fear or favour, and also to educate and assist the public, especially the poor. So in a way we are ‘legally bound’ to do it. This is something the Goverment is supposed to do. But never mind, let us do it.

What are the most frequently asked questions by the people on the ground?

It depends on the particular issue at the moment, the week or the day. For instance, when we were in Perak, everyone was asking questions about the powers of the Election Commission, the speaker and rulers (in the wake of the Perak constitutional crisis). So the issue was all about the separation of powers…

The constitutional law committee is the biggest committee in the Bar Council – with more than 200 members. How did this happen?

The formation of the constitutional law committee represented a great achievement for the Bar Council. In 2009, we set up the committee on the suggestion of a former council member Roger Tan. The unique thing about this committee is that it is not meant for lawyers only as the constitution is meant to be understood by the 28 million rakyat. The Bar Council agreed to allow anyone who is keen to give their views and share their expertise to join the committee. Even journalists and activists can be members. You don’t need to be a lawyer or a council member. We have students as young as 16 years old, social activists, academics, law lecturers, and local councillors, among others. So this is really something by the Bar Council.

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11 Responses to FMT Interview with Edmund Bon: (II) Taking the Constitution to the Rakyat

  1. skeptical

    "Many lawyers themselves have not even read the Constitution, I don’t blame them. Because it is a document that is very legalistic and very hard to read. "

    Wait….what???!!!

  2. Pingback: FMT Interview with Edmund Bon: (III) Clean up the judiciary first | LoyarBurok

  3. Wave33

    Hai… TOKZ,

    Damn good conclusion. So… have you found the Pondok Polis in Jalan Tun Razak or not? Sana ada banyak ILLEGAL STREET DEMOS. Tiap-tiap bulan ada.

  4. Janetlee

    Meanwhile……

    I am indeed humbled by your efforts for bringing the Federal Constitution to the people .. it is with more knowledge of our Constitution that the Rakyat would be aware of knowing their Rights guaranteed by our Constitution.. and when the Rakyat becomes more educated of their rights, they would make conscious efforts to elect appropriate MPs into Govt to voice their concerns for the benefit of 28 Million that includes the Orang Asli folks in the Western and Eastern Peninsular of Malaysia…

    Though many folks are still unaware of the many problems in the Federal Constitution caused after the 600 amendments or more after Tunku’s era…I believe, it is timely to put things in perspective for the benefit of ALL 28 million folks and reinstate the beauty of our former Constitution as if when it was first created during Tunku Abdul Rahman’s era… that is before it was watered down by over 600 amendments to it. As a result, the current state of affairs…. further confusion, and unnecessary misunderstanding amongst the Rakyat… when there isn’t any issue at all, … if only, they knew their Constitution.

    It is no doubt that the Federal Constitution is a ‘living’ document comprising the hopes and dreams of the RAKYAT to live in harmony, peace and compassion, it is my hope that those who knows or want to know Article 4(1), for a start, to catch up on your guaranteed rights under our Federal Constitution.. I would recommend you start with something easier to read for ease of understanding of our Constitution by checking our Rakyat Guides (RG) in Bahasa, English, Mandarin & Tamil.
    (RG in different languages were done purposely for the benefit of 28 Million folks.. its meant for you.. )

    The constitutional law committee in the Bar Council and the campaign, and its 200 members have, during these two terms, done more than anyone could have done in their lifetime. These good folks have given up their time,in their working hours, not only for the Rakyat but also worked very hard to educate the Younger folks to love their country and the Constitution.

    Many thanks to the Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan for your support in this wonderful task… Awareness Campaign of MyConstituion/PerlembagaanKu… for the betterment of the nation at large.

    I believe CONGRATULATIONS are in order…

  5. Janetlee

    Dear TOKZ,

    I guess you don’t know Article 4(1) of the Malaysian Federal Constitution…
    I rest my case….

  6. TOKZ

    Wah!!!

    This Janetlee talking like a LAWYER man.

    Another FRUSTRATED LAWYER??? Hahahahahaha…seems like it

  7. TOKZ

    Let me give you an EXAMPLE:

    Pakcik A & Makcik A frequently advice his son(ABC) to become a LAWYER when ABC grow-up. So, ABC work his ASS OFF during his University days just to become a LAWYER. ABC spent more time than any SCIENTIST on books & ABC worked HARDER than any BUFFALOES on the paddy field.

    Pakcik A works his ASS off just to supprt his son on the tuition fees, while, Makcik A sells her PUSSY in brothels just to earn extra income to support the dreams of her son.

    ABC studied VERY HARD & eventually graduated to become a LAWYER. ABC then spread his wings to become a LAWYER only to find out the country's Economy is in BAD SHAPE. There's NO case to fight for, there's no AGREEMENTS to work on & there's no S&P to attend to. What make it worse is that there's NO MONEY to bring home.

    Next come month end when ABC starts to calculate his salary & his take home pay only to realize it's as much as any SECOND HAND CAR SALESMEN GAJI !!!!

    If you are ABC, will you be MAD & FRUSTRATED after going thru' so much HARD WORK but only to get so LITTLE in the end???

    So, what's NEXT for ABC??? Well, ABC then bring his FRUSTRATION & ANGER to the STREETS via PERHIMPUNAN HARAM just to release his STRESS by blaming the Government.

    Macam budak kecil menangis pasal bapak tak beli gula-gula untuk dia, bukan???

  8. denisse chen

    notoriously famous? more of like making a sohai out of himself.

    everyone is frustrated with the economy not lawyers alone.

    clearly this form of frustration applies to TOKZ as well judging from the way he wrote the emotional and impulsive comments. only frust people will write in such a manner.

  9. Janetlee

    Dear TOKZ,

    Noted your comments herein.

    Have you read Article 4(1) of the Malaysian Federal Constitution yet?

  10. TOKZ

    OK, OK, OK…To make it simpler, here we go:

    1) Why LAWYERS participate in ILLEGAL STREET DEMOS?
    ANSWER: Becos’ they are FRUSTRATED.

    2) What causes these FRUSTRATIONS?
    ANSWER: Bad econmony is the cause. There’s no longer any AGREEMENTS to work on & thus this means “BOH LUI” (no $$$)

    3) So, what does LAWYERS do since they are so FREE & FRUSTRATED?
    ANSWER: They bring their ANGER & FRUSTRATIONS to the STREETS via ILLEGAL STREET DEMOS.

    4) Is it CORRECT to say these LAWYERS are risking their lives for u & justice?
    ANSWER: Only a WANKER will say LAWYERS risk their lives for us. They are risking their lives for themselves & their financial welfare. Get it???

    Do you now understand???

  11. TOKZ

    Aiyoh!!!

    Haven’t you fellas had ENOUGH of this name EDMUND BON, EDMUND BONG, EGGMUNG BONK or EDMUND BONKERS???

    I seriously think you fellas are getting FOOLISHLY FOOLED by these BAR COUNCIL issues???

    OK, here we go…..

    What’s the BIG DEAL over the “BAR COUNCIL”??? I see it as a USELESS COUNCIL instead.

    Of late, many LAWYERS are getting more BIADAP. I don’t know whether is it due to the recent ECONOMY SLOWDOWN or what. These LAWYERS seems to be getting more involved in POLITICS & STREET DEMOS. Ever wondered why???

    Imagine if the country’s economy is GOOD…”Do you think these silly LAWYERS will be so free to get involved in POLITICS or STREET DEMOS???”. Come on!!! These LAWYERS will be BUSY enough doing AGREEMENTS alone.

    Becos’ the economy is BAD & LAWYERS are facing difficulties making ends meet; this is how “FRUSTRATION” creeps into a LAWYERS life. Next, these IDIOTIC LAWYERS bring their FRUSTRATIONS to the STREETS by participating in ILLEGAL GATHERINGS.

    LATHEEFA LOYA is one LAWYER who suit the above description PERFECTLY. Next is this WANKER called EDMUND BON.