by Wan Saiful Wan Jan. First published in The Star 13 October 2015

By any count, the statement issued by the Conference of Rulers on 6 October 2015 was a major landmark. It is very rare for the Rulers to collectively issue a statement in that tone. Reading the text, it was clear that the Rulers carefully considered what they wanted to say.

The statement starts with the Rulers expressing grave concern about what they have heard from the rakyat regarding the credibility and the integrity of the government. The Rulers qualify that they have been requested to help solve the problems besetting the country today.

The second paragraph goes straight to the issue of 1MDB. The Rulers urge the government to complete the investigation into 1MDB as quickly as possible, and that any wrongdoings must be sternly punished.

The third paragraph demands the government to be transparent with the findings of the investigation. In the fourth paragraph the Rulers express concern that if the issue is not dealt with properly and quickly, then there will be negative implications to the country.

The fifth paragraph reminds Malaysia’s leaders to always respect the rule of law and the supremacy of the Constitution. In this paragraph the Rulers spoke of the need for credibility and integrity of our key institutions. The Rulers named the police force, the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission, Bank Negara, Attorney General’s Chamber, and the judiciary as institutions that must show credibility. In this paragraph the Rulers also remind our leaders to always put the country above and beyond their personal interest.

The sixth and last paragraph is a stern warning to those who play up racial and religious sentiments. The Rulers specifically mentioned politicians and NGOs in this paragraph, and telling them not to sensationalise racial and religious issues in order to gain support.

I find it really interesting that the Rulers highlighted the fact that some people are stoking racial and religious sentiments in a statement that is mainly about 1MDB. Once question that crossed my mind is, are the Rulers implying that some people are playing up these sentiments to divert attention from 1MDB?

I looked for the official English version of the statement but could not find one. That is why I feel it is important to summarise the content of the statement. For some reason most mainstream media are eerily quiet and not giving this landmark statement from the Rulers the coverage that it deserves.

To be clear, I am usually apprehensive when our Rulers issue statements that can be construed as delving into the day to day running of the country. This is because we follow a constitutional monarchy system, which means the administration is left to our elected politicians. The Rulers are expected to stay away from day to day politics and from making statements that can be construed as political in nature.

Thus this statement raises a dilemma in me. Part of me remains worried about the potential constitutional precedence set by the action of the Rulers. But I also understand why the statement was issued and I cannot avoid but to welcome it this time.

The problems besetting us show no sign of receding and the causes of the problem are still where they are. Many people I met over the last few weeks have started saying how hopeless they feel because they cannot see a solution. To that end, despite sharing some of my concerns, they too welcome the Rulers’ intervention.

Over the weekend, we also see how some politicians have picked up on parts of the Rulers’ statement. Some say that they support the statement and they too want to see a quick resolution to the 1MDB saga. Others cleverly try to dismiss the significance of this statement, claiming that actually there is nothing to be worried about. Regardless, the fact that the statement is being debated shows that it has indeed hit some raw nerve.

Some politicians chose to select sections of the statement to focus on. I am delighted that the MCA Youth Chief Chong Sin Woon picked up on the need to make the MACC more independent in his fiery speech at the MCA Youth Annual Meeting over the weekend. At a time when we only hear lame excuses from most politicians, Chong’s demands can only be welcomed.

Among others, Chong wanted the MACC be made responsible to the parliament and the firing of senior officials should be firstly approved by parliament too.

This is a good idea and it echoes the proposals that we have submitted to the MACC back in July. If the MCA is really interested in how best to reform the MACC, I humbly suggest that they do not have to start from the beginning. Together with other partners we have done the homework for them and we would be most happy to brief them on this matter.

Having said that, no matter what we want to do in the long run, the issues raised by the Rulers in their statement must be given due attention first. It is astonishing that we have come a stage where the Rulers feel they have to intervene in order to get things moving.

Many are already tired listening to all the excuses and non-answers. And, just like the Rulers, many are demanding that those in political power put the country above and beyond their personal interests.

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Wan Saiful Wan Jan is the chief executive of IDEAS

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