Sarawak law experts call Zahid’s bluff, say state constitution silent on DCMs

KUCHING:  Amending the Sarawak Constitution to accommodate more than three deputy chief ministers is unnecessary, law experts in the Borneo state have said.

Contrary to Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s assertion yesterday, the Sarawak Constitution is silent on the position of a deputy chief minister for the state Cabinet, let alone restricting the number to only three people, two people said.

“I know the state Constitution is silent on the appointment of deputy chief minister, but it does not prevent the chief minister from appointing his deputy or deputies,” Peter John Jaban told Malay Mail Online.

The Sarawak For Sarawak (S4S) movement leader asserted that the position of a deputy chief minister was political expediency as neither the state nor the federal Constitutions explicitly provided for such roles.

“If there is any suggestion from any federal leader who talks about [amending] our state Constitution on the appointment of deputy chief minister, then that federal leader should take a look first at the Federal Constitution, whether there is any provision on the appointment of deputy prime minister,”Jaban said.

He pointed to Article 43 of the Federal Constitution which details the appointment of a prime minister and federal ministers but is mute on the position of a deputy prime minister.

Jaban, who is well-versed in both state and federal Constitutions, added no one should meddle with the existing provisions of Chapter 3 clauses 3(b) and 9(1) of the Sarawak Constitution dealing with the position of the chief minister and his Cabinet members.

He emphasised that Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem should be allowed to exercise his constitutional functions to appoint any member of the state assembly to be his deputy as well as the number.

Ahmad Zahid told reporters in Kuala Lumpur yesterday that he understood efforts were being made to amend the Sarawak Constitution to allow more than three deputy chief ministers as is the current practice.

However, he also added that he was unable to confirm the fact.

Lawyer Dominique Ng Kim Ho disagreed with Ahmad Zahid’s claim.

“There is no necessity to amend state Constitution. Let it stay silent. It does not prevent the chief minister from appointing any state assemblyman to be deputy chief minister,” he told Malay Mail Online.

“What is important is that the needs of all the communities in Sarawak are met with by the state government of the day,” he added.

Ng, a former PKR state lawmaker for Padungan, commended Adenan for fair play in protecting the interests of Sarawak’s racially diverse communities, including ethnic Chinese, over the past two years since becoming chief minister, before the recent state election.

He said he would not insist on a Chinese deputy chief minister to take care of his community.

“What Adenan has achieved and done so far has met most of the demands of the Chinese community when we did not even have a Chinese deputy chief minister.

“For example, he gave recognition to Unified Examination Certificate and more allocations for Chinese Independent Schools,” Ng said.

He related that there had been one Chinese deputy chief minister previously, but said he was little more than a figurehead who did little to enhance the welfare of the community.

Ng said if there were any amendment to the Sarawak Constitution, it should be to accommodate more than just 10 other Cabinet members, excluding Adenan.

“The Constitution should be amended to expand the number of state Cabinet ministers,” he said.

He said the existing Sarawak Constitution limits the number of Cabinet members, including its chief minister, to just 11.

In a press conference after the Sarawak ministers were sworn in, Adenan had said he hoped to expand the number of his lieutenants as there were now more responsibilities and increasing demand for government accountability from the public, in addition to the number of state constituencies from 71 to 82.

“Yes, I think the increase in the number seats justifies the increase in the number of Cabinet ministers,” Adenan told reporters then.

Only senior lawyer Baru Bian said the state Constitution empowers the chief minister to appoint members of the state assembly as deputy chief minister or deputy minister chief ministers.

“Off hand, I can’t quote the exact provision. I know there is a provision,” the Sarawak PKR chief said.

On Friday, Adenan named three people to be his deputies: PBB deputy president and Satok lawmaker Datuk Amar Abang Johari Openg, PBB senior vice president and Bukit Saban state lawmaker Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas and Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president and Baleh state lawmaker Tan Sri Dr James Masing.

Sarawak used to have three deputy chief ministers when Tun Abdul Rahman Yaakub was chief minister from 1970 to 1981. His successor Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud continued the practice until 1987.

From 1987 to 1992, Taib only appointed two deputy chief ministers, Tan Sri Wong Soon Kai and Tan Sri Alfred Jabu Numpang and from 1992 to 2011, Jabu and Tan Sri Dr George Chan.

After the defeat of Dr Chan in the 2011 state election, only Jabu remained as deputy chief minister until 2016.

Jabu, who became deputy chief minister in 1974, did not defend his Layar seat in the May 7 state election.

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