Johor sultan says passage of housing bill not a bid to meddle with state administration

KUALA LUMPUR - In his first direct comments on a controversy that has raised questions about the separation between the Malaysian royalty and public policy, the Sultan of Johor stressed that the recent passage of a hotly debated housing bill was not an attempt on his part to meddle with state administration.

In an interview with the New Straits Times (NST) published on Thursday, Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Sultan Iskandar said his priority is solely on the interests of the people, and the state government will go on roadshow to explain that he will act on the advice of the chief minister or menteri besar.

"There is no interference. I want my subjects to understand the enactment and be happy about it," he told NST. "Once they are happy, the menteri besar will present the enactment to me."

The Sultan's assurance came amid an uproar by politicians of both divides and legal experts on the Johor Housing and Real Property Board Enactment 2014, which in its original form would allow the state ruler to intervene in state administration. The Bill is to pave the way for the setting up of a housing board  to promote property development and to address housing issues in the state, including the building of more low-cost homes.

Johor's Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin earlier agreed to amend controversial sections of the Bill following pressure from lawmakers and legal experts, who say it could trigger a constitutional crisis as the role of monarchs is largely ceremonial except for matters of religion, as stated in the country's Constitution.

The amendments included a provision that the Sultan is to act on the advice of the chief minister.

On Monday, the state assembly passed the amended version of the Bill after three readings that day, with a majority vote of 38 from the ruling Barisan Nasional while opposition lawmakers voted against it.

In his interview with NST, Sultan Ibrahim dismissed rumours that he was unhappy with the changes of the bill and said he could even sign the enactment "tomorrow if my subjects are not confused and are happy".

"Stop circulating rumours that the sultan does not want to sign the enactment. The sultan wants his subjects to be happy. The enactment is for them, it is for their benefit, so it matters that they understand and are happy," he said.

yyennie@sph.com.sg