Coffee Break: Halls of power, beds of tinder

This article first appeared in Capital, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on June 24, 2019 - June 30, 2019.
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He knocks on the door lightly. A familiar, gruff voice tells him to enter.

“Good morning, YB. What can I do for you today?”

The leather chair swings around, the minister slumped comfortably in it. “Yes, well, I want you to draft a new bill for me to present in the next Parliamentary session.”

The intern gasps. The next session begins in less than a week. “What … what is the bill about, sir?”

Scratching his stubble, the minister gestures for the intern to sit. Then he turns, gazing out of the window again, trying to find some sort of scenery to ponder upon but there is only the wall of another tall government building. “I was thinking, you know, we — the leaders of the people — should be held to a higher standard of trust, integrity and fidelity. We should criminalise extramarital affairs, unnatural sex, all that. Can you do this?”

The intern opens his mouth, then closes it. Then he opens it again: “But same-sex acts are already illegal here, sir. We were reminded of that in the late 1990s.”

“Oh yes. But we should formalise some things. The bill should propose that government and public officials caught doing something like that should be put on compulsory leave until proven innocent,” replies the minister.

Taking notes furiously now, the intern nods before asking what else should be in the bill.

“We should also propose that all and any evidence of such activities concerning a public official should be submitted to the proper authorities. List down the usual agencies,” says the minister.

“Very good, sir. So, people who submit are considered whistleblowers?”

“Yes, yes. They’ll be blowing whistles. Nothing else,” the minister replies absently. “Also, add one more clause: if the video or picture evidence they submit is fuzzy, badly edited or the individuals in it are not easily identifiable, then they must be held accountable for possible slander.”

The intern stops writing, a puzzled look on his millennial face. “Slander, sir?”

The minister nods, leaning forward to look the intern directly in the eye. “If they distribute said evidence to any party other than the authorities, they should be liable for distribution of obscene materials.”

“You mean, like Section 292 of the Penal Code, sir? Where circulating anything pornographic in nature is an offence?”

The minister smiles broadly, nodding in approval. “Smart boy. But the Penal Code only jails convicted offenders for up to three years. For possible slander against public officials and disrupting the management of the country, it could be up to 30 years.”

The intern’s eyes widened. “But if they submit to the proper authorities, they will not be punished?”

The minister starts whistling a P Ramlee tune. “Sure, as long as they don’t get found possessing such content on their phones or anything. That’s punishable under the Film Censorship Act 2002, you know. Five years’ jail, I think.”

Letting out a slow sigh, the intern looks at his notes again. “So, in summary, the bill proposes law that compels people to blow whistles — and nothing else — on public officials who engage in extramarital affairs and/or unnatural sex?”

The minister nods, firmly. “Correct.”

“If they possess or distribute such evidence to anyone other than the authorities, or if the evidence is not clearly conclusive of the identities involved, these whistleblowers will get a jail term?” the intern asks.

“Yep. Can’t have slander running amok in an Islamic country.” The whistling continues.

“But how can they submit to the authorities if they cannot possess ...” the intern stops at the minister’s glare. “Very well sir. What should the bill be called?”

His boss stops humming, then frowns and smiles. “Call it the Criminally Odious, Immoral & Tantalisingly Unconscionable Sexual Acts Bill.”

“Um, sir. You realise the media will shorten that to COITUS Acts Bill?”

“Bah, whatever. Go draft it.”

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