THE shockwaves over the appointment of former PKR politician Latheefa Koya (pic) as the new head of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) have yet to subside. It was a thunderbolt that nobody, not even Cabinet members, saw coming.
Her friends in the civil rights movement have lauded the move as one that will “send shivers down the spines of crooks” but the opinion out there has ranged largely from scepticism to disbelief.
When news of her appointment broke on the eve of Hari Raya, some thought it was fake news.
Farhash Waja Salvador, her PKR friend and Perak PKR chairman, was one of those who thought it was a hoax and had called a friend in the Prime Minister’s Office for confirmation.
Latheefa, known as Lat to her friends, has suddenly been propelled from lawyer and activist to one of the highest jobs as well as to being one of the most powerful women in the country.
But many are still trying to figure out why and how she was picked for the job.
Even Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who declared that it was solely his decision, seemed to struggle to explain the choice apart from saying that she has “the right qualities”.
He did not elaborate but those who know her could guess what the Prime Minister meant.
“She’s the kind of person who cannot be bought. You won’t get anyone else like her. She is fearless and fierce, so much so she sometimes frightens me,” said policy analyst Yin Shao Loong who got to know her during the reformasi protests.
She has championed a dizzying string of issues from defending the homeless and those arrested for their political activities to taking the MACC to court several years ago – now that is fearless for you.
“It’s one of the toughest jobs in the country and also a dangerous one because you have to go after powerful people. But she has the credentials to go after the corrupt and she is committed to justice,” said Yin.
Latheefa’s daring in calling out those in power has won her many admirers but her detractors see her as a loose cannon.
But why so much furore over her appointment?
At one level, the apprehension about Latheefa has to do with her lack of administrative experience and doubts about whether she will be able to handle a body as complex and entrenched as the MACC.
It is like someone who is used to a swimming pool now having to swim in the open sea.
They are concerned that she may end up like Attorney General Tommy Thomas, but at least she speaks Bahasa Malaysia.
At another level are concerns that this is a political appointment which goes against Pakatan Harapan’s election manifesto.
“It’s really awkward, all that haste and secrecy. That’s why you don’t see much reaction from Pakatan leaders,” said Unisel vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Redzuan Othman.
Latheefa’s past involvement in PKR politics also raises concerns about her independence.
She was closely associated with what the PKR crowd called the “Azmin cartel” during the PKR election. She was very critical of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail for their involvement in the polls and had launched broadsides against them.
“I’ve nothing personal against Latheefa. She is a competent lawyer but she was in a camp against our president and that worries me,” said Farhash.
There is little doubt she will be firing on all cylinders against Barisan Nasional wrong-doers but can she be professional if there is a report against, say, Datuk Seri Azmin Ali?
Politicians have been among the biggest crooks in the country and PAS vice-president Datuk Iskandar Samad put it in a nutshell when he said that an agency that will be investigating politicians should not be led by a politician.
Conspiracy theories have also been swirling. The fact that outgoing MACC chief Datuk Seri Mohd Shukri Abdull is exiting a year before his contract ends has added to the conspiracy stories.
Mohd Shukri had told Bernama chairman Datuk Seri Azman Ujang when they met at a buka puasa event that he had told the Prime Minister from day one that he would stay for only a year.
He had initially refused to take the job, pleading that he was 58 and ripe for retirement but age is not the best of excuses to use with Dr Mahathir who refused to take no for an answer.
But no matter what Shukri may say, people out there imagine he was pressured to go.
Latheefa’s stormy ties with Anwar have naturally led to speculation that she is there to make things difficult for the prime minister-in-waiting.
There has been a deafening silence from Anwar as well as his Deputy Prime Minister wife and that speaks volumes.
Anwar’s social media has been full of everything but anything to do with Latheefa.
Anwar, who had just returned from the umrah when it happened, appears to have reined in his party from criticising the appointment.
He does not want debate over the appointment to affect his ties with Dr Mahathir. He had also been kept in the dark even though he had met the Prime Minister shortly before leaving for Mecca.
It is the Prime Minister’s prerogative and besides, it is a fait accompli and nothing that anyone says is going to undo it.
Latheefa is not a conventional woman and her combative political style was unusual even by the standards of PKR politics.
She is used to doing the shooting but the last few days has found her at the receiving end of criticism and attacks.
Some say MACC may never be the same again with her at the top.
It is not going to be easy, though, and she will have to climb the proverbial mountain in order to bring change to the system and prove her critics wrong.