It is the institution that matters

I HAVE nothing against Latheefa Koya. In fact, I have a lot of respect for her as a lawyer, human rights activist and politician. She has made her name as someone who speaks her mind.

She is courageous and uncompromising. She has been a vocal advocate in standing up against all forms of injustice. She co-founded Lawyers for Liberty (LFL), a human rights lawyers organisation. She reminds us of our conscience and responsibility when our nation faces trying times.

I would fully support her appointment as the new chief commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) had she not been an active member of a political party. I believe she would have been the right choice for the job.

We are well aware of her position on fighting corruption and I respect her for that. But this is about the MACC – the very institution that we must protect at all costs from any perception of interference, political or otherwise. It is not about her.

It is also about Pakatan Harapan’s election promise to ensure the independence of the MACC.

The last thing we want is to have someone at the helm of the MACC who has long been a member of a political party (in this case, Parti Keadilan Rakyat or PKR) and was once part of the party’s central committee.

Although it has been reported that she had resigned from all her party posts prior to the appointment, there is always a lingering doubt about her affiliation to certain individuals within the political construct.

Conspiracy theories abound too. In Malaysia, such speculation has become a national obsession.

We have seen how the MACC has “suffered” over the course of its long and challenging existence since its days as Badan Pencegah Rasuah (BPR).

As recent as 2015, when the 1MDB scandal was at a critical point, the MACC was in the eye of the storm. I was there as chairman of the Consultative and Prevention Panel (better known by its Malay acronym, PPPR), which was one of the independent external oversight panels monitoring the commission.

At the time, two MACC officers, Datuk Bahri Mohammad Zin and Datuk Rohaizad Yaakub, were transferred out, allegedly as the result of their investigation into SRC International Sdn Bhd, a 1MDB subsidiary.

My panel members believed that the transfer was meant to intimidate MACC officers. We stood firm on the belief that the MACC should be allowed “to execute its duties unhindered and fulfil its obligations as required by MACC Act 2009 in an independent and professional manner”.

My statement on behalf of the panel also reiterated our concern at the time that “the current atmosphere of distrust and cynicism by the public could be dispelled by allowing the MACC to perform its duties without fear or favour”.

Even Tan Sri Abu Zahar Ujang, chairman of the Special Committee on Corruption (SCC), a bi-partisan committee set up by the Parliament to oversee MACC operations, supported our position.

Let us not forget that the chief commissioner at the time (Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamad) and two of his senior officers, Datuk Seri Shukri Abdull and Datuk Seri Azam Baki, went through a tough time during that period.

The investigators were investigated. The special task force set up to investigate the 1MDB allegations was a charade.

But the people were behind the MACC. I have never seen such an outpouring of support for the commission. We were overwhelmed. Thanks to public pressure, the two officers who were to be transferred out were reinstated.

But the bitter aftertaste lingered. Abu Kassim was replaced. Shukri was marginalised. He later spoke openly about what happened during those dark days. It was indeed a year of living dangerously for MACC officers.

We have seen it all. Let us learn from the past. We want to ensure that the MACC is not politicised in any way, never again.

We want it to do its job as is expected of the commission, with the highest degree of integrity and professionalism. Set up under an Act of Parliament, the MACC should be answerable only to the people.

We need someone like Latheefa to head the MACC. But sadly, over the course of her political activities, she has been making statements that could easily be used against her when she holds that position.

It is not about those controversial statements of hers, but the perception that she might not be fair and just in carrying out her duties. For a person in that position, perception is everything. In Malaysia, an appointment of such a controversial figure to such a critical position certainly raises eyebrows

With her appointment, Latheefa has a lot to prove. Despite my concerns, I wish her the best of luck.

Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, editor and for some years, chairman of a media company, and is passionate about all things literature and the arts. The views expressed here are entirely his own.


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