Tommy Thomas ignites a firestorm of criticism

TAN Sri Tommy Thomas (pic) is no stranger to controversy.

He probably knew the memoir of his time in one of the most powerful posts in government would bring on more controversy.

The former Attorney General’s (AG) book - “My Story: Justice in the Wilderness” -has triggered a firestorm of reactions. There have been police reports, potential law suits, condemnation and criticism.

Those who have lashed out include no less than two former prime ministers, an ex-AG and Thomas’ former colleagues in the AG chambers.

The Razak brothers are also said to be considering legal options over a chapter which they say casts aspersions on their late father Tun Abdul Razak Hussein.

Anonymous letters have also appeared overnight to challenge Thomas’ scathing account of what he encountered in the AG’s office.

These are not the usual poison pen letters but seemed like the work of legal officers upset over what was written about them.

Some say the controversy will rocket the book to the top of the bestsellers list but there will be more brickbats in the coming days.

“Things are going to get more complex. It’s going to be open season now, ” said lawyer and columnist Ivanpal S, Grewal.

Among the more rational-minded, the book is an insider’s account of what went on in the short-lived Pakatan Harapan government. It is a rare glimpse into the functioning and decision-making of an exhilarating juncture in our political history.

A memoir, said writer and culture activist Eddin Khoo, is essentially a single person’s perspective of events or experiences.

“We have to understand that this is about one man’s story to explain the decisions he made and defend his actions. He has every right to do it and it’s up to us to call him out on it, ” said Khoo.

What has not changed is the Malay sentiment surrounding Thomas - the outcry over his appointment back in 2018 and the commotion over the book has come largely from the Malays.

The book will rightly and wrongly deepen the distrust that many Malays have about him and Pakatan.

And yet, it is an immensely absorbing and readable book by a man who is well-read, with a flair for words and who holds strong opinions on politics and government.

The question being asked is why Thomas was in such a hurry to publish his side of the story - the book was written within about 10 months.

There is also the question about its impact on the actors and parties who were part of the story.

“This is not like in America where you are out of office today and on CNN the next day, spilling the beans, ” said political commentator Khaw Veon Szu.

Public office is like living on top of a hill where one’s enemies can take aim and Thomas, a brilliant civil litigator, had to endure pot-shots throughout his time at the top.

It dented his image that he was mocked for his lack of fluency in Bahasa Malaysia, criticised for being out of his depth in criminal prosecution and even labelled the “worst ever AG”.

Khaw said the perception is that the book is to salvage a blemished reputation and to explain that he tried his best.

The civil service world is an entirely different culture from the elite bubble that Thomas came from.

“He could not command the chamber which is important in order to push for reform. He was a complete outsider with no experience in prosecution work, ” said Khaw, who is also a lawyer.

Like his Pakatan colleagues, Thomas was under pressure to deliver and that caused friction and problems.

“It is a rather provocative book, a big critique of Mahathir and his (Pakatan) government. It’s part of Tommy’s character to expose things.

“But it’s quite tragic that it has sparked all this anti-Indian tirade on social media, ” said former MP Tawfik Ismail who has known Thomas since the 1960s.

More people, said Tawfik, should write about their experiences in public office.

But was it a book written without fear or favour?

Not exactly, said Ivanpal, who noted that Thomas chickened out of explaining his decision to drop the corruption charges against Lim Guan Eng.

"It was Thomas’ first big decision as AG but the matter was mentioned in one brief paragraph in the book where Thomas shrugged it off as a decision made by his subordinate Hanafiah Zakaria. That was a letdown, ” said Ivanpal.

In doing so, the ex-AG had allowed a dangerous precedent to be set for future governments, that it is alright to have a Cabinet minister who is being tried for corruption in court to be acquitted suddenly midway through the trial.

For Khoo, the main takeaway from the book was that Thomas, who lobbied hard for the position, came in with big dreams and plans for law reform.

“He believed in Pakatan’s reform promises only to discover that Pakatan was half hearted about it.

“There was so much noise about reforms, but so few real reformists. Pakatan recapitulated to reality, there was no boldness of thinking or conviction to push it through, ” said Khoo

One of Khoo’s big disappointments were the younger leaders in the Pakatan administration, who he said became “subservient” after the coalition came to power.

“What happened to their ideas and ideals? They were so good at messaging but they lost that skill within a year, ” said Khoo.

He added that Thomas struggled in a highly political environment with the then-opposition waging an all-out war on one side while there was internal sabotage going on within Pakatan.

The uproar over the book has led to speculation that it may be banned by the Home Ministry, and while the ex-AG may have crossed the red line, does that warrant a ban?

Thomas has the right to air his opinions and those who are out there have the right to disagree with him or resort to legal action.

But to ban a book in this age and time? Absolutely not.

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Tommy Thomas , Memoir , Book ban , Criticism


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