KUALA LUMPUR (March 7): It may not have been "morally right" for former deputy federal territories minister Edmund Santhara Kumar to stay in New Zealand during the Movement Control Order (MCO), according to former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
The imprisoned ex-PM was once again in court on Tuesday (March 7) but this time as a witness in Santhara's ongoing defamation suit against Batu Member of Parliament P Prabakaran.
Testifying as a witness for the defendant before Sessions Court judge Zulqarnain Hassan, Najib said that even if the then prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had authorised the visit, Santhara still had to ask himself if it was "morally" right to leave the rakyat at the time of the pandemic.
He added that it did not matter if the former deputy minister had a right to apply for leave as he ought to still consider the circumstances given that people were suffering.
"Whether you ought to ask permission in the first place when you know the rakyat is suffering, if I was the PM, I would have shot it down," Najib said in reply to Santhara's lawyer N Krishnan's query.
Najib also agreed with Krishnan when asked if it was the then PM's mistake for approving the leave.
Santhara, who is also former Segamat MP, had initiated legal action against Prabakaran in June 2021 over the Batu MP's comments during a press conference.
Prabakaran had issued statements, which, among others, sought the New Zealand government's help in extraditing Santhara, if the former deputy minister had broken local laws. The Batu MP had also sought an explanation over how Santhara could enter and remain in New Zealand for an extended period of time.
Najib was called as a defence witness as he had, in a Facebook posting, also demanded an explanation for Santhara's stay in New Zealand.
Santhara's visit to New Zealand during MCO caused quite a furore although he explained that he managed to get 55 days of leave from the government to visit his family there. He also said that he underwent quarantine in New Zealand on Dec 24, 2020.
It was reported that he returned to Malaysia in March 2021.
In court on Tuesday, Najib said an MP was duty-bound to air the views of the rakyat and "millions" of people also felt the same about Santhara's visit.
Najib also said it is not wrong for a leader to raise these questions about Santhara's visit as long as it was done in good faith, not a personal attack and done in the interests of the people.
Earlier during examination-in-chief by Prabakaran's counsel Dinesh Muthal, Najib, who is a former MP for Pekan, said that he had also previously cut short his holiday because of major floods in the east coast.
"When I was on holiday in Hawaii, there were major floods in the east coast. I decided to return home and cut my holiday short despite my family being rather distraught.
"I needed to be with the rakyat. I didn't even take rest. I needed to be on the ground," he said.
Later he added that as a leader and a politician, putting the rakyat above the family was a choice one had to make, otherwise one's leadership would be questioned.
He also said that he believed that for a leader, the rakyat should be placed above the family, adding that was a "truism".
While on the stand, Najib also said that he never took more than two weeks' leave while he was in office because he didn't feel it was right to take "such an extended leave".
"As a leader of the government, I should also set a good example. As PM to take a 55-day holiday, then others will also be asking for the same treatment.
"If you are elected by the people, you have to serve them.... It was a luxury [to have a holiday of] more than two weeks, let alone 55 days," he said, adding that this was a sacrifice a leader had to make.
The imprisoned former PM appeared to be in good spirits on Tuesday, cracking jokes at the onset of his testimony. He was later released from the witness stand at the conclusion of his testimony.
Also present in court was his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor. Alaistair Brandah Norman from Shafee & Co held a watching brief for Najib.
The trial continues on Wednesday with another witness.