BFM’s The Bigger Picture is running a 9 parter on MyConstitution and its 9 phases, every Wednesday at 3.00p.m. The first segment featuring MyConsti and Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee Chairperson, Edmund Bon was aired on 7 September. A transcription of Edmund’s interview has been made available by LoyarBurok here. You can also listen to Edmund’s spirited responses on and also Part 2 with Deputy Co-Chair, Maha Balakrishnan on BFM’s website.
9 parter with MyConsti, Wednesdays 3.00p.m.
Presenter: Meera Sivasothy
BFM: Welcome, Edmund.
Edmund: Good afternoon. Thank u for having us.
BFM: No worries at all. So why has the Bar Council decided to come up with the campaign?
Edmund: In 2009 a lot of issues pertaining to the Constitution exploded. There was the Perak Crisis, there was the crisis about the appointment of the Menteri Besar in Terengganu, there were a lot of issues coming up and playing about on the internet. People who were asking questions about the Constitution. The Bar Council received many questions. By a master stroke we decided to sit down, lets talk about forming this committee, a Constitutional law committee.
We called for a meeting and opened it to the public in July 2009. We saw 80 over people coming – academicians, students, journalists, lawyers, activists, NGO, professors, everyone! We were very surprised with the response. We sat down, brainstormed – and asked, what do we want to do? And there was one unanimous voice and that voice was: We need to educate the people on their Constitution. Their Constitution that governs them, that gives them rights.
We decided in July 2009 that to run this campaign. It would be a 2 year campaign – to educate Malaysians. To make the Constitution simple, easy to understand, yet applicable to daily lives Where ppl can use and see how relevant Constitutional rights are to them
BFM: So it’s been one year already?
Edmund: Yes, we end the campaign in March 2011.
BFM: How are your doing so far?
Edmund: The response has been overwhelming. We are really, really tired but we still want to go on. We have 200 members on the committee – that’s not enough – our aim is to educate 28 million Malaysians. We have a very strong presence on the internet. People even see MyConstitution as an institution now. If you go to Twitter, people asking MyConsti about their rights – how to deal with certain problems.
BFM: I can see your Twitter following, it’s huge! It’s just going on and on since 2 0’clock, fantastic.
Edmund: Yeah, I think the people see how relevant the Constitution is to them today. For over 50 years we have not seen formalised education on the Constitution. That is quite amazing – amazing in a sense that it’s not been done by the Government. We have urged the Government to actually come and support us – they have supported us in different ways but to formalise education on the Constitution is something that we will be pushing after March 2011. We see people speak about the RukunNegara – “Keluhuran Perlembagaan” – but kids don’t understand what it means. What does it mean – Supremacy of the Constitution?
BFM: What is the difference between the Rukun Negara (and the Constitution?)
Edmund: There really is no difference. The Rukun Negara are just moral aspirations. It’s been transplated in the Federal Constitution and if there are issues which violate those aspirations in the Constitution, then you can bring it to court. You cannot enforce the Rukun Negara in court but you can enforce these aspirations which have been put in the Constitution like rights – where if they are violated you can take it to court. Really that is the difference.
BFM: What is this campaign about?
Edmund: This campaign really is about educating Malaysians about the Constitution. To make it simple. I know I will be chided for this – Air Asia says “Now everyone can fly”, LoyarBurok says “Now everyone can write”, so MyConstitution says “Now everybody can be a Constitutionalist”
Basicly because it is the Supreme Law of the Land, the most important document in Malaysia. Without this document we don’t have this country. We need our 28 milion Malaysians to know what it contains and how to use it. Because the document is so difficult, even lawyers are afraid of the document and of even opening the document.
We have made it really, really simple – simple in a sense that we’ve made the language very easy to understand, very interesting. We’ve come up with workshops which are catered specifically deal with and teach Constitutional rights, and we’ve been able to summarised the Constitution into 9 phases. If you are able to follow the campaign from phase 1 to phase 9, you’ll probably know 90% of the Constitution.
BFM: We’ll cover the 9 areas over 9 shows – this is our first one – every week on Wednesday at 3’oclock. What about the Constitution do you feel that Malaysians don’t really understand?
Edmund: People speak about Constitution in terms of “Malay rights”, “affirmative action” but people don’t see that it actually deals with our everyday lives. For example if we are going to go home to Perak for the Raya holidays and we work in Selangor, we are allowed to do so by the Constitution. The Constitution allows us to move from one state to another because there is the right to Freedom of Movement. Today we are speaking because there is Freedom Of Speech. Tomorrow we may be assembling in a church because there is Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Assembly. So these things deal with our everyday lives. And Malaysians need to know if there are people who would like to violate those rights or are violating those rights – we need to stand up. Stand up and be counted, and say: look, you can’t push us around.
BFM: What should we understand about the Constitution – immediately, right now?
Edmund: Firstly, the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land. So there is nobody that is above the Constitution. No Tan Sri, Tun, Datuk, nor Datin Sri is above the Constitution. The Constitution is the highest law of the land – meaning that any other law or any Government or Executive action that violates the Constitution must be struck down and can be ignored. People say a Tun cannot be charged in court. That is utter nonsense. A tun is just a title. Everyone, even a Tun is equal before the law and the Supreme Law of the Land is the Constitution.
We need to remember that in our first segment. If there are any issues pertaining to a violation of Constitutional rights and we have to go back to the Constitution and let’s see what the Constitution provides – remembering that on the 31st August 1957, Tunku Abdul Rahman when he proclaimed independence, said that we are a free nation, a nation based on principles of liberty, justice – the Constitution must be read in that light. That is something we need to take away today and realise that the Constitution is so important that if you only want to read one piece of law, one piece of legislation,that is the only document that you need to read.
BFM: Based on your one year of campaigning and working on MyConsti, how do Malaysians perceive the Constitution?
Edmund: I think Malaysians see the Constitution as something which politicians use all the time. Not realising, not understanding whether these politicians are accurate in their description or explanation of the Constitution. And that is something very worrying and so we need to roll that back. We need this campaign to actually teach and guide Malaysians, (and say) that: I can hold the booklet, I can hold the Constitution in my hands and if the politician or if the media is spinning the Constitution in a way that is unwarranted, I can say look this booklet says what you’re saying is wrong. I can say our booklets are drafted by our 200 member committee, we have a select team, and then it goes through professors like Shad Saleem Faruqi and Aziz Bari. It then passes through different stages with different academics and experts looking at it. So if they say that this booklet is accurate then no one else that can say otherwise I think.
BFM: So if there is anyone who would like to find out more about their rights, about the Constitution, where should they go?
Edmund: We have a very active website, it’s perlembagaanku.com. We are very active on Twitter, as you have noticed, we are very active on Facebook, we also have a YouTube page. So all the information is there
We are a bunch of volunteers. In the first year we had 100 over volunteers. This year we have 200 volunteers and there are many volunteers who wanted to join us but we couldn’t because Bar Council rules says we need to close our membership at a certain time. We finish in March 2011. We will open up membership and hopefully we will be able to grow our committee.
BFM: We were going to go into the Constitutional Institutions but Edmund says it’s better for us to keep that for next week. Maybe we’ll go into the phases of how you’re actually going to roll out this whole MyConsti campaign.
Edmund: Thanks Meera. We have 9 phases as I mentioned. So the first phase launched was on the (1) Supremacy of the Constitution, as I said just now the Federal Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It was launched by the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk V.K. Liew.
We had the second phase, which is the one we are going to discuss next week, the one on on Constitutional Institutions and (2) Separation of Powers – why is it important to have Parliament, Judiciary and the Executive being independent.
Then we had the third one, the (3) Federal and State Relations booklet which was launched by the Tan Sri Khalid of the Selangor state government, about powers of the federal government and state government. I think we’ve read about it in the papers about issues like water and all, and that is a really interesting segment.
We had the fourth phase which was launched by the Speaker of Parliament on (4) Parliament. Parliament of course we know makes laws.
The fifth phase is on the (5) Executive. Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon launched that. The Executive is the one that administers laws.
We have the sixth and very exciting phase on the (6) Judiary, which we plan to launch in Bangsar at 3p.m. on 16 September. We’re going to try and have a street party with other NGOs, other groups. 16 September is of course Malaysia Day.
Then the seventh phase, (7) Sabah and Sarawak will be launched in Sabah on the 18th of September. That will be something really interesting because, Sabah and Sarawak, some people see them as part of the 13 states, some people see them as actually 2 other states – so 3 states in Malaysia. 1963 is something that people always forget. We only think about Malayan independence,we don’t remember about Sabah and Sarawak.
BFM: Well that view has to be put to rest after Malaysia Day being a holiday.
Edmund: Yes! The eighth phase if the one on (8) Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. That one I think a lot of people will be waiting for, eyeing for the booklet.
BFM: Oh yeah…
Edmund: You can put the booklet in your pocket if the police arrest you next time. I think that is something that’s going to be quite exciting.
The ninth phase will be on (9) Elections and Democracy. So we’re going to try and do a concert for that. Elections and Democracy we all know is something that is so relevant to our lives; why is it important to cast your vote, why is it important to register, and what are true principles of democracy.
BFM: Next Thursday, 16th of September in Bangsar – gives us a bit more details on where is it being held.
Edmund: It will be on Jalan Bangkung, from 3.00p.m. to 10p.m. (MalaysiaKu), our slot for MyConstitution will be at 3.00p.m. There will be a street party, speakers, performances. That information will be on the MyConsti website and Facebook page.
BFM: So what can we look forward to? Is everybody invited?
Edmund: Yes, it’s open to the public. It’s a celebration for everyone. There’ll be speakers, performances, food and drink… I think… of course, haha!
On 4 September we’ll be continuing with our programme Memperkasakan Masyarakat Orang Asli. We’ll be going to the Orang Asli kampung in Tapah to do our MyConsti workshop with them. The Orang Asli have been neglected for so long that it’s important that we actually turun padang and assist them and tell them that they are also Malaysians, that they also have rights the their land.
BFM: How do you communicate with them? I know some of them can speak Malay.
Edmund: Many of them can in fact speak Malay, so we communicate using the Malay language. We also have our partners who work with the kampungs. For this Tapah leg we’re working with the Perak Legal Aid Centre with Augustine Anthony and Ram assisting us.
BFM: Next week 3.oop.m. we will be discussing the Constitutional Institutions. Just for our benefit, what are the 3 Constitutional Institutions?
Edmund: Parliament/Legislature – that makes laws. Executive/Government – administers laws. Judiciary and the Courts – interpret the laws and interpret whether Government and Parliament are doing things which are right or wrong.
BFM: And when you say Separation of Powers?
Edmund: Separation of Powers meaning that each institution must be independent. Each institution cannot have more power than the others. For example, the Judiciary must be able to say, look Parliament you’re wrong, this law is unconstitutional or Executive you are wrong, this action that you are doing is unconstitutional and we will strike it down.
BFM: Which is not the case at the moment?
Edmund: It is the case at the moment… in certain circumstances. There are of course arguments to amendments to the Constitution in 1988 and how that has affected the peoples’ lives and we’ll explain that next week.
LB: This is not a verbatim transcription. It has been edited for language and clarity.
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