Najib vs Malaysia, 1Care and Defamation
Writer: Lord Bobo
Published: Fri, 03 Feb 2012
I read that the Prime Minister has threatened to unleash the forces of darkness on anyone who dares make trouble. Should I be afraid? Che Banana, via email
You must be referring to Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s statement that “when the chips are down, Rela will be with this government to defend the country,” and his warning to “not cause havoc in this country because the 2.8 million Rela members will not stand idly by and watch the country descend into chaos.” This is consistent with his rallying cry some months ago to “defend Putrajaya at all costs”.
Lord Bobo finds all of this quite puzzling. It’s as though these statements are being made against another nation with which Malaysia is at war. But no, they are being made against, and about, Malaysian citizens. His Supreme Eminenceness wonders whether the Prime Minister realises that he is – or rather, he is supposed to be – the Prime Minister for all Malaysians, not just those who vote for his party.
Lord Bobo, I’ve been hearing about “1Care” which is supposed to be some reform of Malaysia’s healthcare system. What do you think about it? Dr Quek, via email
This 1Care plan has been mentioned quite regularly in 2011 amongst those in the medical industry or policy-making circles. 1Care has been highly-praised and lauded by many as revolutionary and a vast improvement of the existing healthcare system.
The reason for this praise bewilders Lord Bobo, as there are not many details that have been made publicly available. It is officially described as a “restructured national health system that is responsive and provides choice of quality health care, ensuring universal coverage for the health care needs of the population based on the spirit of solidarity and equity.”
There are some key features which seem to have been accepted as confirmed. Firstly, the new 1Care system will be run by a national healthcare financing authority, and includes an insurance-based funding system. The system will be funded by your taxes – it is rumoured that anything between 9-10% of household incomes will be taxed towards this, and it will be compulsory.
1Care will then provide basic healthcare needs (you still have to pay for any additional services), and doctors and clinics will have to be part of the 1Care system if they want to treat patients under the 1Care scheme.
There are many, many more intricacies and resultant outcomes out of the 1Care system. In essence, the government will take over the funding of healthcare. His Supreme Eminenceness is concerned that it seems to be on the way to implementation in 2012 without all interested parties having been allowed to have an open consultation about it. How exactly is the money going to be spent?
What guarantees are there that the new system will be better than the existing one? Is the existing system really so far beyond repair that we need to introduce such a drastic change? Who loses out? Who gains?
The government has asked Malaysians not to speculate about 1Care, and reserve judgment for when the system has been given a chance to develop. This is surely not the way to go about this. The importance of this matter cannot be overstated – it is a wholesale reform of the nation’s healthcare system, and will likely be funded by 9-10% of every citizen’s income. Surely we have a right to be consulted as part of the process, instead of being told to sit down and wait quietly for the government to tell us what is best.
On a related note, Lord Bobo continues to be baffled by this fixation with “1” that the government has adopted, possibly on the advice of some overpaid PR strategist. 1Malaysia we could handle, then came BR1M, SR1M, 1Care and the like. A foreigner reading any of our English media surely cannot be faulted for wondering whether we have our own rules of grammar. But, names aside, what’s important is that all these fancy schemes and programs are planned, and implemented, with the best interests of the country in mind.
I wanna sue someone for defamation. How do I decide how much to sue for? A million bucks sounds nice. Kiasu Sue, via email
Let’s read the words of the bestest most human rightsiest judge Malaysia has ever known. This is of course the great and wonderful Justice Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, who is widely acknowledged as having made very wide pronouncements advancing the cause of human rights.
Of course, he also allowed the Bakun Dam project to tell the Orang Asli to go drown themselves. He is also the one who increased the sentence of then MP Lim Guan Eng for publishing false news – saying mangsa “dipenjarakan” rather than “ditahan” was apparently jail-worthy.
But it was in a claim for defamation against lawyer Tommy Thomas and his then firm Skrine & Co in 1998 that Justice Sri Ram really showed his human rights champion side, when he said that MBf was permitted to quantify the figure of damages they were claiming against Tommy Thomas and Skrine & Co. The late Raja Aziz Addruse acted for Skrine & Co., whilst Datuk VK Lingam acted for MBf (or at least it looked like him, sounded like him but might not have been him). Here’s what our human rights champion judge said:
“We are unable to agree with Raja Aziz’s submission that there was once a practice of quantifying general damages but that it has since fallen into disuse and that it would be quite wrong to reinstate it. In our judgment, there is no rule of practice going either way.
“We now turn to the second ground advanced by Raja Aziz. It is that the quantification of general damages in large amounts has the effect of curbing freedom of speech which is a guaranteed fundamental liberty under art 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution. Counsel has sought to argue that the restriction in favour of defamation provided in art 10(2)(a) of the supreme law will overshadow or eclipse to the point of extinction the liberty fundamentally guaranteed by art 10(1)(a) if plaintiffs are permitted to threaten defendants in defamation cases with multi-million dollar claims.
“With respect, we do not agree. [F]reedom of speech is not absolute, and we would add that the reputation of an individual or even a company is as precious as free speech itself. To the argument by counsel that the freedom to criticise which is the quintessential of human rights necessary for the development of an intellectual mind will be stemmed and gagged by a decision of this court in favour of quantification of damages, we would say this: freedom of speech does not include the right to publish lies that injure reputation.
Any decision of this court which has the effect of ensuring truth in publication, written or oral, is, in our view, to be welcomed. Parliament has by enacting s 8A of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 made it clear that there should be truth in journalism. In our judgment, courts must keep in tandem with the legislature. We do that by ensuring truth in publication at common law which will be encouraged by permitting the quantification of damages and thereby stop in their tracks would be publishers of false information.”
The amount of damages in question? RM60 million was claimed! And the libel? Well, we can’t tell you that since our courts found it was libelous, and the Selangor Times doesn’t have RM60 million in the petty cash box. But you can read the judgment and find out for yourself. Lord Bobo will give you a clue – let’s just say that allegations of judicial corruption did not first arise in 2008.
And of course, our dear Human Rights champion Sri Ram in another case very much later said that judgments for libel must be much reduced. Nowadays, you only get about RM100,000 unless you’re a Minister and the defendant has said really naughty things about you, and then when sued maintained that he was right and you were the one lying. You can of course decide to sue for RM10 million if you want to make a strong statement towards how innocent you are – or look silly, depends.
Happy suing! Malaysia Boleh Sue!