The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) welcomes the appointment of Latheefa Koya as the new chief commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
Over the years Latheefa has proven herself to be a highly principled, courageous and straight-talking human rights defender and lawyer. Such qualities are needed to helm the MACC and deal with the scourge of corruption in this country.
Nonetheless, Bersih 2.0 is troubled by the process by which she was appointed as it highlights a structural weakness in our governance, making abuses of power inevitable.
By Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s own admission, he did not even consult his cabinet, let alone Parliament, on Latheefa’s appointment as he did not want the opinions of his ministers to restrict his choice.
He added that he normally makes the decision himself because he doesn’t have to ask the cabinet as to who he approves.
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While current laws allow the PM to advise the king to appoint whosoever he wants, such almost absolute power in the hands of the PM does not bode well for our parliamentary democracy.
Former Prime Minister Najib Razak used the same power to appoint his allies into key positions in his attempt to escape scrutiny of the 1MDB scandal and cling on to power.
Pakatan Harapan (PH) came to power on the promise of wide-ranging institutional reforms so that there is a separation of powers – which restores the dignity of Parliament and the independence of key institutions like the MACC, the Electoral Commission, the Judicial Appointments Commission, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, the National Water Services Commission and government-linked investment companies.
Bersih 2.0 calls on the PH government to codify into law the independence of these institutions without delay, preferably at the next sitting of the Dewan Rakyat in July.
If a two-thirds majority in the house is required to effect constitutional amendments, we call on opposition members to lend bipartisan support so that institutional checks and balances can be firmly established.
Unless the appointment process is institutionalised, there is a risk that all the good appointments so far could be undone in a day if the next PM so wishes.
As a country, we cannot hope for and depend on the good intentions and graces of the PM but we need strong and independent institutions and processes to hold the PM and all public officials accountable.
A sound appointment process would include a nomination committee, which receives nominations from all stakeholders (including the public). Such a committee should be set up to shortlist qualified candidates. These should then be forwarded to a parliamentary select committee, which would look for a candidate who can command public confidence and then recommend the chosen candidate to the PM or even directly to the king.
While it may not be possible to undo key appointments that have already been installed, Bersih 2.0 urges the PM to respect the institution of Parliament and allow the Major Public Appointments Select Committee to conduct a review of appointed commissioners, the chief Justice, the inspector-general of police, director-generals and chairpersons of government-linked companies and government-linked companies.
The reviews would ratify the PM’s appointment and gives greater recognition and some form of legitimacy to the appointees, especially for someone like Latheefa Koya, who has a political background.
But if there are strong objections from the select committee and compelling reasons why a person should not be appointed, then the PM has to defend his decision.
Bersih 2.0 also calls on the Major Appointments Select Committee to come out with a clear scope of its mandate and process of vetting appointments. These should be made public and stakeholders consulted, especially civil society, before they are finalised.
Once again, Bersih 2.0 lauds the appointment of Latheefa Koya but urges the PM to expedite the legal amendments necessary to institutionalise and democratise the process of major appointments, including to the Electoral Commission, in future, make key public institutions independent and empower them so that they can serve as effective checks and balances.
If this could be achieved before Dr Mahathir Mohamad steps down, it would be one of his most important and enduring legacies to this nation.
Satukan tenaga, Malaysia baru!
Bersih 2.0 steering committee