Down2Earth - Looking for that reset button

THE Immigration Department's arbitrary decision to bar Malaysian citizens from leaving the country without giving any reason is not as shocking as the response given by Deputy Home Minister Datuk Seri Nur Jazlan Mohamed.

It is not so much as what was said but who said it.

"We have the power to bar anybody from leaving the country. I don't need to answer the press. It's the power given to the Immigration; we don't need to explain why," Nur Jazlan was quoted as telling reporters outside the Dewan Rakyat on May 16.

He was of course responding to questions on Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah not being allowed to leave the country the previous night.

Maria was on her way to Seoul, South Korea, to receive the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights on behalf of Bersih 2.0, the pressure group calling for electoral reforms.

Much has been debated this past week on a citizen's right to travel freely, although Nur Jazlan believes that a passport which enables a citizen to travel is a privilege not a right.

While that discussion continues, one wonders if Nur Jazlan truly believes what he said outside Parliament about not needing to explain why one can be prevented from leaving the country.

Nur Jazlan was seen as one of the few progressive voices in the ruling party. Nur Jazlan was also considered a reformist as his statements at times earned him the ire of his colleagues and elders, who begrudgingly acknowledged that his views resonate with the general population.

Nur Jazlan, as head of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), had demanded transparency and accountability, hence many were surprised and disappointed that the son of the late former information minister and Umno secretary-general had lowered his standards for the Immigration Department in Maria Chin's case.

This has compounded the dismay felt earlier by many when he was promoted to deputy minister while the PAC under his leadership was still deliberating and hearing evidence over the alleged shenanigans involving the 1Malaysia Development Board (1MDB).

This promotion had put him on the defensive following accusations of tampering with 1MDB investigations.

In the days to come following the Maria Chin incident, Nur Jazlan said those who insult and disparage the government could be prevented from travelling abroad. He also said those who posed a national security threat could also be barred from leaving the country.

In Maria Chin's case he also went on to advise those vocal against the government to check their travel status before making overseas travel plans.

Nur Jazlan also said one could resort to legal redress if one was unhappy with this arbitrary discretion of the Immigration Department and to a larger extent the Home Ministry in issuing travel bans on citizens critical of the government.

As a learned politician and lawmaker, was Nur Jazlan hinting that a judicial review application against such indiscriminate powers without accountability could be successful?

After all, one must be able to tell the difference between insulting the country and criticising the government. They are not the same.

In March last year, I sat down with Nur Jazlan for an interview. The discussion mostly centred on 1MDB and the Auditor-General's Report.

We also spoke about his refreshing positions on transparency and accountability, and the encouraging stand on accepting diverse views.

He even acknowledged that his party needs to "set the reset button" if it wants to stay relevant and continue to earn the people's trust in governing the country.

One year on, it may seem that the much regarded Nur Jazlan is himself in need of a reboot.

Perhaps his active participation in the plummeting of his own popularity is part of a bigger picture that is lost on those of us who feel we are losing an ally in the push for a government that is more in touch with the people's expectations.

Terence says from a reformer, Nur Jazlan now looks like a transformer. But he is hopeful that there's more than meets the eye here. Feedback: letters@thesundaily.com