The time for consultation is over

Zaid Ibrahim, TMI

The Government’s decision to withdraw the Conversion Bill is welcomed. Although the Deputy Prime Minister was quick to add the decision to withdraw had been made “for now”, implying that it could reintroduce the Bill in the near future, let’s hope the Government will let the lessons from this experience guide its actions from this point forward.

The first lesson is this: the Cabinet must never again succumb to outside pressure when formulating laws and policies. When the Law Reform Act (Marriage and Divorce) 1976, Administration of Islamic Law Act (Federal Territories 1993) and Islamic Family Law Act 1984 (collectively the Bills) were introduced in 2009, they were withdrawn purportedly because the Conference of Rulers had objected to certain parts of the Bills pertaining to the religious conversion of a minor. The Government had tabled the Bills as a comprehensive solution to the issues of custody and religious conversions after conflicts arose between Muslim and non-Muslim parents.

These Bills had taken years to be formulated and the Attorney-General’s Chambers had been diligent and meticulous in making sure all relevant stakeholders, including the muftis and religious councils, had been consulted. So it came as a surprise when the Bills were withdrawn at the behest of Conference of Rulers. Had the Government stood firm, as it should have, then we wouldn’t have to endure the fracas of recent days. The three Bills need to be reintroduced and the question of consulting with other stakeholders, as the DPM alluded to, is no longer necessary. These Bills have had their fair share of being the subject of consultation. How many years must we deliberate over a policy just because a segment of society is not happy with it?