Johor Sultan sets Wednesdays aside for briefings on state affairs

Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar with Johor state officials, including Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin, at the first of the Wednesday meetings he has ordered to discuss affairs of the state.
Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar with Johor state officials, including Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin, at the first of the Wednesday meetings he has ordered to discuss affairs of the state.PHOTO: JOHOR ROYAL PRESS OFFICE

JOHOR BARU • Johor's Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar has set aside Wednesdays as an "Open Day" for officials to brief him on developments in the state, an unusual step by a member of Malaysia's royalty, which mainly serve a ceremonial role.

A post on the ruler's Facebook page said the move will "ensure development projects by the Johor state government and its agencies truly benefit the people".

Sultan Ibrahim yesterday met several top state officials in the first of such meetings, which included Johor Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin.

The meeting was held at an office located within the grounds of Istana Bukit Pelangi in Johor Baru.

Sultan Ibrahim, 58, also met the state's Council of Royal Court president Abdul Rahim Ramli, Islamic Council adviser Noh Gadut, Mayor A. Rahim Nin and Public Works Department director Mohd Salleh Abu Bakar.

The post on the ruler's Facebook page said: "At these meetings, Sultan Ibrahim will go through various documents and/or presentations given to him, especially those relating to development programmes and initiatives for the people."

The post included several pictures of the meeting.

The ruler's move could prove controversial if it is interpreted as meddling by Malaysian royalty in executive and political affairs.

Nine of Malaysia's 13 states have Malay hereditary rulers who serve as titular heads of state and take turns every five years to reign as the Malaysian king. The nine rulers are also heads of Islam in their respective states.

In 2014, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and others spoke out when the Johor Sultan tried to make changes to state housing rules that would empower the ruler to appoint four members to the state housing board.

The Johor Housing and Real Property Board Bill 2014 would have allowed Sultan Ibrahim to appoint the committee members, decide how much they are paid as well as oversee the board's accounts, among other powers.

Tun Dr Mahathir, who was then a supporter of the government led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, had written on his blog that he feared that if the Bill were to be passed, the Johor menteri besar would be pressured to take the palace's orders on housing matters.

"The rulers are to be paid handsome pensions and may not be involved in business. This was considered necessary because officers tend to defer to the wishes of rulers and would find difficulty in rejecting business propositions by them," Dr Mahathir had written. He is now an opposition leader.

A watered-down version of the Bill was later passed by the Johor state assembly. It said the Sultan would act on the advice of the menteri besar and every reference to the ruler in the Bill was changed to the words "the authorities".

Malaysia's federal Cabinet and the 13 state Cabinets have their weekly meetings on Wednesdays.

The prime minister also meets the Malaysian king on Wednesdays to update him on national issues, including what the federal Cabinet has discussed.

Of the nine Malay rulers, Sultan Ibrahim is the most vocal, often issuing statements and comments on political affairs in the country.

Malaysia has strict lese majeste laws, with the police often detaining citizens who post what are regarded as offensive comments against royalty.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2017, with the headline 'Johor Sultan sets Wednesdays aside for briefings on state affairs'. Print Edition | Subscribe