Why set up tribunal when EC members have resigned, asks lawyer

Election Commission chairman Azhar Harun with former deputy chairman Othman Mahmood (second left) and other EC board members on Sept 28 last year. Othman and five others resigned from the commission shortly after. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A lawyer has questioned the need for a tribunal to inquire into alleged misconduct by former Election Commission (EC) members as all of them have resigned from office.

R Kengadharan said the Federal Constitution allows for a tribunal only if those hauled up – judges, the auditor-general or EC members – still hold their positions.

He gave the example of former lord president Mohamed Salleh Abas and the five Supreme Court judges who were suspended from office in 1988 and asked to appear before two separate tribunals over allegations of judicial misconduct.

“Is such a tribunal consistent with the spirit of the constitution?” he asked, adding that it would be a waste of public funds as the proceedings could be subject to legal challenge.

He added that the tribunal would be unable to investigate and make recommendations to the king if its formation was in violation of the law.

“The affected persons may have a cause of action against the government, such as for further embarrassment despite them having vacated their office,” he said.

This follows Attorney-General Tommy Thomas’ announcement yesterday that a tribunal comprising five retired Federal Court judges would assemble in the Klang courthouse on Monday “to deliberate on matters pursuant to their mandate by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong”.

Thomas said serious allegations of misconduct had been levelled against the EC “for its role in the preparation and conduct of the 14th general election, prior to and on polling day”.

The tribunal, to be chaired by former High Court judge Steven Shim, also includes Zaleha Zahari, Suriyadi Halim Omar, Jeffrey Tan Kok Wha and Dr Prasad Sandosham Abraham.

It will examine the conduct of former EC members Othman Mahmood, Md Yusop Mansor, Abdul Aziz Khalidin, Sulaiman Narawi, Bala Singam Karupiah and Leo Chong Cheong.

Former EC chairman Hashim Abdullah, who left office on July 1 last year, will not need to appear before the tribunal.

It was reported on Oct 17 that the government had begun setting up the tribunal. A day later, five of the EC members announced their resignation while the sixth resigned on Nov 27.

Their resignations took effect from Jan 1 this year.

Thomas had said that the tribunal would have a free hand to decide on all matters pertaining to the EC members, and in making its recommendation to the king despite their resignation from office.