The Zahid passport decision is a reminder of a two-tier legal system

Murray Hunter

The decision by the Court of Appeal to allow deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, due to his changed circumstances to have his passport permanently back in order to travel internationally for official functions, is a reminder of the two-tier legal system in Malaysia.

This is on top of the wife of jailed former prime minister Najib Razak, Rosmah Mansor obtaining approval for the release of her passport, so she can visit family in Singapore. Rosmah has been already convicted for corruption and has been sentenced to 10 years jail, and is on bail awaiting appeal.

These are decisions in corruption cases which give the wrong optics. The decisions suggest that corruption is not such a serious offense. This compares with those declared bankrupt, some for guaranteeing a relative’s loan, which went bad due to the MCOs, and may not be able to travel internationally for years to come.

This doesn’t appear to be equitable, when a loan default might be for a few thousand Ringgit, but a corruption conviction may involve millions of Ringgit.

These court rulings are indicative of a wider problem. That is the issue of equality under the law for everyone, no matter their position in society. During the Covid pandemic, we saw struggling people being given very heavy fines, some beyond their ability to pay, while VVIPs were, if shown up on the media, dished out a token fine, as an afterthought.

The legal process during the MCOs really pointed out the inequality of the system, which most have forgotten.

Malaysia is suffering ‘VVIP’ syndrome, where someone with a title, high status position, or just enormously rich, will be treated differently from the ordinary Rakyat. This is a hangover from colonial times, when there were ‘tuans’ and the ‘hamba’. This is at the heart of old colonial feudalism. This mindset is deep set within the nation’s legal system, and sense of justice.