The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) expresses disappointment that the prime minister has appointed eight new commissioners to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) without allowing the parliamentary Select Committee for Major Public Appointments to vet them beforehand.
The prime minister followed the letter of the law but ignored the spirit and promises of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) manifesto, which clearly stated in Promise 26 that the appointment of Suhakam commissioners would be done through a parliamentary committee.
The select committee was already formed since December 2018, and it would have been the right thing to do to allow the it to vet potential candidates even if the process has not been encoded in the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 (Act 597).
To allow such a process would have shown not only the PM’s commitment to keep the promises of the manifesto but also his respect for the role of Parliament as an effective form of checks and balances on the executive, especially the office of the prime minister.
Bersih 2.0 urges the PM and the PH government to expedite without delay the necessary legislative amendments to the process by which key appointments are made so that such unbridled power that currently rest in the PM’s hands can be effectively checked to prevent abuses of power.
We propose a process that not only involve the select committen but also a nomination committee – comprising individuals who are not involved in partisan politics – to call for nominations from the public and to do the first round of vetting of potential candidates.
Shortlisted names would then be forwarded to the select committee to interview in public inquiries and further shortlisted for the PM and his cabinet to select.
For the appointment of the Suhakam commissioners, Section 5(2) of Act 597 should be amended to compel the current Selection Committee to publish the names of candidates in order for members of the public to submit comments before the interview or shortlisting. This would ensure that the candidates are of impeccable integrity.
The process should be more transparent and shortlisted candidates should go forward to the select committee. Indeed there is a need to know the composition of this selection committee and how they are appointed. The committee should be pluralistic and not dominated by civil servants.
Once again, we reiterate that current law was followed in the appointment of the Suhakam commissioners – but we have to improve the law to put in processes that recognide the important role Parliament and the public play in establishing a robust parliamentary democracy that is not dependent on the good intention and character of one man.
People are fallible and as such we need independent institutions to hold them accountable.
Bersih 2.0 steering committee