The Truth Revealed

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Justice without equality

Mariam Mokhtar | September 6, 2013
The dual system in Malaysia has not helped the rakyat as it always appears to favour the rich and well connected but rarely benefits the poor 

COMMENT
Although the circumstances are different, both Shahnaz, the ex-daughter-in-law of Sarawak’s Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, and the majority of Sarawakians have two things in common – the link with Taib and the fact that, for decades, all have suffered abuse in silence but are now fighting for justice.

Shahnaz A Majid, the former wife of Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib, used to be part of the elite circle swarming around Taib. With private jets, yachts, unlimited cash reserves and homes around the globe, Taib and his scion want for very little.

Most companies treat the people as their main resource, but Taib thinks differently. His main asset is the country of Sarawak. He treats it like his personal fiefdom, to do as he pleases. The people are only useful in that they are a source of cheap labour and votes. In certain areas, the people are a hindrance as they make valiant but futile attempts to slow Taib’s rape of the interior.

Taib has buried the last of the ancestral heartlands under several man-made lakes. Like a man possessed, he converts virgin forest, with their diversity of flora and fauna, into a mono-culture, with oil palm stretching into the horizon.

He has stripped away the country’s riches just as he has robbed the indigenous Sarawakians of their dignity and self-respect.

The treatment meted out to Shahnaz is no different. Revealing details about the breakdown in her marriage was like reliving her torment twice – once in the past and again in court. It is humiliating for her to describe the physical and mental abuse, and the display of Bekir’s infidelity, in public.

Shahnaz filed for divorce at the Kuala Lumpur Syariah High Court in February 2011. The reasons she gave were irreconcilable differences and the denial of sexual intimacy (nafkah batin) for 12 years. Apart from RM100 million in compensation, she has also sought RM300 million of the marital assets, accumulated in their 19 years of marriage.
Malaysians were given a glimpse into Bekir’s worth. In court, it was alleged that he was a director of 150 companies and had stakes in 51 companies. The equity in 21 of these companies amounted to RM1 billion.

Bekir’s salary, in the year 2000, was RM2 million. Today, he is probably earning more. His allowances for car, travel, entertainment, flights and hotel accommodation, were borne by the various companies.

The list of assets for Bekir runs like the latest government slogan – ‘endless possibilities’, his bank deposits are around US$100million. An EPF witness said that Bekir had about RM1.4 million saved in the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), more than 400,000 units in the Amanah Saham Nasional (ASN) and he had RM6 million in his current account at CIMB and over RM3 million in a fixed deposit.

System fails women and children

In an earlier testimony, Shahnaz, said that Bekir had around RM700 million deposited in banks in Luxembourg, Switzerland, Jersey and Hong Kong. She listed seven luxury cars, thousands of hectares of land in Sarawak, land in Bukit Tunku in Kuala Lumpur and shares in 15 companies including Cahaya Mata Sarawak and Sarawak Cable Bhd, to be declared as joint property.

In London, he owned a RM60 million terrace house and an Aston Martin. She said she wanted a trust fund of RM40 million so her son could continue his education.

Anyone going through the list will be disgusted at Bekir’s hoard, most of which is alleged to have been at the expense of the ordinary Sarawakian. One political pundit said, “Like father, like son. Both the financial abuse and the domestic violence.”
Sarawakians of modest means must save and scrimp to provide their children with a decent education. The most deprived, like the Penans, have few schools at their disposal. Where transport links to schools in rural areas are poor, girls, who hitch rides on timber lorries, risk being raped.

The long list of Bekir’s properties is an insult to Sarawakians. Other news sites allege that Taib’s cronies and family members obtained Native Customary Rights (NCR) land by dishonest and fraudulent means, before reselling them for millions of ringgits. Taib’s family have houses littered around the world, and yet the deprived Sarawakians have run-down shacks to call home.

There are many parallels between Shahnaz and the average Sarawakian. The circumstances may be different but both were treated shabbily – abuse, beatings, humiliation and threats.

Shahnaz may not be destitute, but like many Muslim women, she has found that getting justice in the syariah court is a battle.

Women who have experienced the syariah court system know that men will evade summonses, so they can avoid a court appearance. Court schedules are fraught with delays and postponements. The men try to avoid paying maintenance to the wives and children, and also for the child’s education.

Claims take years to settle, but the father knows that when the child reaches 18-years-old, he will no longer be responsible for the child’s education.

It is common knowledge that many Muslim women give up halfway through their syariah divorce claim because it is stressful, expensive and time-consuming. The system fails these women and their children.

Warped justice

Bekir’s infidelity and penchant for violence are well known. Will the syariah courts act against him for committing khalwat, berzina, corruption and fraud? Women of a lower social class are often targeted.
Men who are well connected are ‘untouched’. This is the warped justice and enforcement carried out by the syariah courts and the religious police of Malaysia.

If Shahnaz who has both funds and influence finds the syariah court system difficult to navigate, it must be very daunting for the average Muslim woman.

Similarly, it is the dual system of justice in Malaysia which has not helped the rakyat, including Sarawakians. The law appears to help the rich and well connected, but rarely does it appear to benefit the poor.

The average Malaysian is probably unaware of his rights, he probably cannot afford a lawyer and in most cases, succumbs to threats and intimidation.

If you disapprove of any injustice, do not keep quiet. Your silence encourages evil people like Bekir and Taib to continue plundering. When you are reluctant to criticise the inept syariah courts, the moral police and religious institutions, they neglect their responsibilities.

Approach your MP, newspaper editor, community or religious leader, or an influential celebrity. Speak up now, before you or your loved ones suffer the same fate. Who will help you then?

Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist

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