KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s admission that he did not consult the Cabinet before appointing a new anti-corruption chief has raised eyebrows, with the civil society noting on Thursday (Jun 6) that the move went against institutional reforms promised by the government.
In a surprise announcement on Tuesday, Ms Latheefa Beebi Koya, 46, a lawyer and member of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), was named the new chief commissioner of the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
Commenting on her appointment on Wednesday, Dr Mahathir said: "I didn’t have to ask the Cabinet; I asked other people who know about the character of this person and there was no need for the Cabinet to decide, (because) if the Cabinet makes a decision it restricts me."
"So in this I was free to evaluate whoever was proposed and I picked.”
Describing Ms Latheefa as a “very strict” person, he said the country needed somebody with a “strong character” to be the MACC top gun.
While lauding Ms Latheefa’s qualifications, civil society group Bersih 2.0 said on Thursday it was troubled by the process of her appointment. This highlighted a structural weakness in governance, which made power of abuse inevitable, it said.
It noted that former prime minister Najib Razak had used the same power to appoint his allies into key positions to escape the scrutiny of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.
“PH (Pakatan Harapan) came to power on the promise of wide-ranging institutional reforms so that there is a separation of powers that restore the dignity of Parliament and the independence of key institutions like MACC, Election Commission, Judicial Appointments Commission, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, National Water Services Commission, and government-linked corporations," Bersih 2.0 said in a statement.
PH won the last general election on an anti-corruption platform, campaigning hard on the allegations of fraud and misconduct in state sovereign fund 1MDB.
In pledging clean governance, it has asked all ministers, deputy ministers, lawmakers and political secretaries to declare their wealth to the MACC.
PH had also promised in its election manifesto that key appointments to the MACC must be approved by a parliamentary committee.
However, Mr William Leong, a member of parliament who heads the parliamentary special select committee on public appointments, said the committee was not consulted on Ms Latheefa’s appointment to replace Mr Mohd Shukri Abdull.
Mr Mohd Shukri had quit before his tenure was to end in 2020.
Ms Latheefa’s appointment would affect public trust and perception of MACC’s independence, Mr Leong added.
“This perception will persist even if she had resigned as a member of PKR to take up the appointment,” he was quoted as saying by MalayMail.
Ms Latheefa has since announced that she had quit PKR to take up the MACC role. Lawyers for Liberty, which she was serving as the executive director, also appointed a successor.
BAR ASSOCIATION CRITICISES MOVE FOR LACKING TRANSPARENCY
Meanwhile, Malaysian Bar president Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor said the oversight – of not engaging the parliamentary select committee on Ms Latheefa’s appointment – did not reflect well on the government’s resolve in practising transparency, accountability, integrity and good governance.
“While the parliamentary special select committee has no force of law, its establishment was an important step to ensure that appointments of such key government positions would be transparent, and to serve as a check and balance on the Executive branch, in line with the promises made in the election manifesto.
“There is therefore no justification that the committee was not consulted to review the selection of the new chief commissioner of the MACC,” he said.
Ms Latheefa’s previous positions as PKR’s information chief and legal bureau chief also raised the spectre of conflict of interest, Mr Abdul Fareed noted.
“It is indisputable that MACC must have autonomy and independence from the Executive in order for it to do its job effectively as an agency to combat corruption, free from any undue influence,” he said.