PETALING JAYA: The appointment of Latheefa Koya as the chief commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) highlights a structural weakness in our governance that makes abuses of power inevitable, says Bersih 2.0.
The electoral watchdog said that while they welcomed Latheefa’s appointment, they were troubled by the process of her appointment, as Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad admitted that he made the decision himself.
“While current laws allow the PM to advise the King to appoint whomever he wants, such almost absolute power in the hands of the PM does not bode well for our parliamentary democracy system of government," said Bersih 2.0.
It added in a statement on Wednesday (June 5) that former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak used the same power to appoint his allies into key positions in his attempt to escape the scrutiny of the 1MDB scandal and cling on to power.
Bersih 2.0 also said that Pakatan Harapan (PH) came to power on the promise of wide-ranging institutional reforms.
It added that the reforms would ensure a separation of powers that restore the dignity of Parliament, and the independence of key institutions such as MACC and the Election Commission.
Bersih 2.0 called on the government to codify the independence of these institutions into law 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 the Opposition members to lend bipartisan support so that institutional checks and balances can be established firmly,” said Bersih 2.0.
It added that unless the appointment process is institutionalised, there is a risk that all the good appointments made 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,” it said.
Bersih 2.0 said that a sound appointment process would include a nomination committee that is set up to shortlist qualified candidates which will receive nominations from all stakeholders, including the public.
It said that these should then be forwarded to a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) who will look for a candidate who can command public confidence, then recommend the chosen candidate to the Prime Minister or even directly to the King.
It added that while it may not be possible to undo key appointments that have already been installed, it urged Dr Mahathir to respect the institution of the Parliament.
Bersih 2.0 also urged Dr Mahathir to allow the PSC on Major Public Appointments to conduct a review of appointed commissioners, Chief Justice, IGP, Director-Generals and chairpersons of GLICs/GLCs.
“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 PSC and compelling reasons why a person should not be appointed, then the PM has to defend his decision,” they said.
Bersih 2.0 also called on the PSC on Major Appointments to come out with a clear scope of their mandate and their process of vetting appointments.
Latheefa's appointment – announced on June 4 –came as a surprise to many. She replaced Datuk Seri Shukri Abdull, who quit before his tenure was to have ended in 2020.
She has resigned as a PKR member and as the executive director of Lawyers For Liberty.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said it was his personal decision to appoint Latheefa to the post, and that he did not consult the Cabinet on the matter.
Many, including the Malaysian Bar, have questioned the manner in which Latheefa was appointed and her suitability to hold the position.