The Malaysian Bar notes that Latheefa Beebi Koya has been appointed as chief commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) with effect from 1 June 2019.
The Malaysian Bar acknowledges that since coming into power, the Pakatan Harapan government has recognised and appointed members of the Malaysian Bar to head key government institutions — the Dewan Rakyat, the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Electoral Commission, the Asian International Arbitration Centre and the Securities Commission, among others.
While Latheefa Koya has been a vocal advocate in standing up against injustice and has been actively involved in numerous public interest and human rights cases, the Malaysian Bar is concerned with the manner in which the appointment took place as well as her suitability to hold this high-profile and weighty position.
We note that the parliamentary Special Select Committee on Major Public Appointments set up by the Pakatan Harapan government in December 2018 was not involved in the process of Latheefa Koya’s appointment.
However, the Pakatan Harapan manifesto had recognised that “key national positions such as appointments to the … Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission … must be approved by a suitable parliamentary committee. This will reduce the ability of the Prime Minister to intervene in these important appointments”.
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 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 parliamentary Special Select Committee was not consulted to review the selection of the new chief commissioner of the MACC.
An obvious oversight of this nature does not reflect well on the resolve of the government in practising transparency, accountability, integrity and good governance, which are attributes that it has been championing vociferously.
The government cannot continue to say that the manifesto is not binding, as the pledges in the manifesto had been made in order to convince the rakyat to vote it into power.
This shortcoming is compounded by the fact that Latheefa Koya has long been an active member of Parti Keadilan Rakyat who has publicly taken strong stands in relation to party matters. She previously served on its central committee and reportedly held the positions of information chief and legal bureau chief, which raises the spectre of conflict of interest.
It is indisputable that the 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.
Latheefa Koya’s resignation as a party member three days ago upon being informed about her impending appointment does not significantly alter the unfavourable public perception that her appointment is clearly one of political patronage, given that PKR is a vital component of the federal government and also has representation in several state governments.
The era of political appointments should have ended the day Malaysians voted for a change of government on 9 May 2018.
The role of the chief commissioner of MACC at this juncture is crucial, as the nation moves forward in its reforms to combat the menace of corruption in line with its “National Anti-Corruption Plan 2019–2023”.
It is a well-known fact that Latheefa Koya has been a practising lawyer for the past 18 years, with no experience at all in any law enforcement agency. Notwithstanding Latheefa Koya’s strong credentials as a human rights lawyer and activist, the role is one that requires a distinct skillset, namely that of knowledge and familiarity in law enforcement and investigation.
The Malaysian Bar calls on the relevant authorities to clarify these critical matters in order to ensure public trust and confidence in the independence of the institution and therefore the value of the government’s overall effort in combating corruption.
Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor is president of the Malaysian Bar.
This piece is reproduced from here and has been edited for style only.