Mahathir S Procedural Mistake Latheefa S Challenge




QUESTION TIME | There are two questions over Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s unilateral appointment of human rights advocate and lawyer Latheefa Koya as the Chief Commissioner of the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission or MACC. First, did Mahathir follow due process in appointing Latheefa? Second, is Latheefa the right person for the job
Almost everyone now agrees that Mahathir had the right to make the appointment. (However, there is a persuasive dissenting view, which says the cabinet is the authority to decide this.) Which is not saying much because the previous prime minister, Najib Abdul Razak, exercised that same right when he dismissed key MACC officials investigating him, exemplifying the need for greater accountability and governance
While Mahathir may have the legal right, as prime minister, to make this appointment, the Harapan manifesto specifically promised a reference to a Parliamentary Select Committee. Also, considering that Mahathir comes from a party which held just 13 parliamentary seats after GE14, he should have, at least, consulted his partners and taken into account their views
At his own admission, he did not, a blunt and dangerous admission that he can exercise his prime ministerial prerogative at any time to the full extent of the law
What were Mahathir’s motives - was it to get the best possible person for the job? Why make the announcement on the eve of Hari Raya? And why choose a politician, and one who has made very serious allegations against Anwar Ibrahim (below) while she was a member of PKR
Let’s look at these accusations she levelled. In reply to PKR members who had called for disciplinary action against her for making allegations against Anwar Ibrahim for cronyism and nepotism in the party, she said: “Using disciplinary complaints to try to silence me is a contemptible Umno-style tactic. The matters I raised are not just party matters. It is about concerns of cronyism and nepotism in the biggest party in the Federal Government of this country. Thus, it is (a matter) of grave public interest.”Latheefa is entitled to her views, and she has some basis to say those things. Anwar does need to be mindful that he has family members in key positions and that his appointments should reflect broad support for the leaders from the grassroots
The question is whether this had any part in Mahathir’s choice and whether Latheefa was chosen because she was considered to be anti-Anwar. It is hard to believe that Mahathir would have chosen Latheefa merely on that basis
So why then did he choose Latheefa? Mahathir himself remains reticent and cryptic, offering no new insights and explanations. When he was asked, he admitted he made the call himself as he was a fan of the experienced lawyer’s straightforward character. Asked if it was his intention to surprise everyone with the news, Mahathir agreed. “Sometimes that happens. For example, when DAP proposed me as prime minister, that was a surprise to me even. Sometimes we get surprises, lah.”All we can gather from Mahathir himself is that he is a fan of Latheefa’s straightforward character. That can’t be the only reason for the appointment of the chief commissioner. He keeps his reasons close to his chest
But surely, Mahathir must have seen possible inherent conflicts in the appointment of a politician to the post when there are others who could have been appointed instead, including two names submitted by the previous chief commissioner Mohd Shukri Abdull
If Mahathir felt that Latheefa had exceptional qualities for the appointment, he could have at least consulted with his Cabinet colleagues and coalition members and taken into account their views before making a final decision. What’s wrong with that, especially when he became prime minister with support from his partners
Without doubt, his lack of consultation was a mistake and totally not in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Harapan coalition. How many more such moves will he make before the exasperation of his partners reaches a breaking point and tears the country apart again
Which brings us to the next question: is Latheefa competent, able and not conflicted in her appointment as chief commissioner? We don’t know about her competency, and she has no known proven experience against fighting corruption and in corporate matters. And there are issues of conflict as we saw
All she brings with her is her avowed idealism, her defence of politicians involved in sedition cases and her strong stance against corruption and cronyism as reflected in her statements against Anwar Ibrahim, accusing him of practising cronyism and patronage in making political appointments
But is not Mahathir doing the same in Latheefa’s appointment? Is he not listening only to his cronies and the undisclosed people whom he talked to, instead of getting some hard input from his cabinet colleagues and his coalition partners? Wasn’t Latheefa’s appointment a form of cronyism in the same way as Anwar’s appointment of people he trusted to political posts
Should Latheefa, therefore, have declined the post as a mark of protest against the procedure through which she was appointed? As DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang (above) said: “I am sure that if Latheefa had not been the person involved in the present controversy, she would be in the very forefront of the ruckus criticising any appointment of the MACC chief in a similar fashion as her present appointment.”It’s too late for all of that now. Mahathir is sticking to his guns and Latheefa has reported to work. Considering her status as a human rights lawyer and one who has no qualms about speaking up against injustice anywhere, and who showed that by defending an array of Harapan members, she will be no lightweight
Mahathir’s procedural mistakes and prime ministerial prerogative have given Latheefa the job uncontested and the execution challenge that comes with it. Her own judgment of the situation is that she can do it. Otherwise, it would be reasonable to assume she would not have accepted the job, given the type of person she is. She has enough honesty to know herself best
It will be tough. Latheefa needs to be scrupulously professional, ruthlessly efficient without conflict and recusing herself where there is, and unquestionably independent at all times. That means not doing anyone’s bidding, even Mahathir’s.Otherwise, any inherent wisdom seen in her appointment now will crumble to sand. If she sticks with it and shows courage, determination and ability in execution, the nation will benefit beyond measure, especially with an attorney-general who will be prepared to prosecute without fear or favour too
Good luck Latheefa, and all the best
P GUNASEGARAM is convinced that corruption - not religion, not race, not royalty - is at the heart of Malaysia’s problems. E-mail: [email protected] - Mkini

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