Amend constitution to curb unilateral appointments, says ex-judge

Former judge Gopal Sri Ram says there is currently nothing requiring the prime minister to consult with his Cabinet about appointments such as the MACC chief commissioner.

PETALING JAYA: A retired judge has suggested amending the Federal Constitution if the legislature wants to curtail the prime minister’s power to make unilateral appointments of key law enforcement officers.

Gopal Sri Ram said until then, the prime minister, who is the head of the executive, would not run afoul of any written law for not officially consulting his Cabinet members or a parliamentary select committee.

“For example, there must be an amendment to the constitution to state that no appointment shall take effect unless confirmed by a select committee in the Dewan Rakyat,” he told FMT.

The former Federal Court judge said this following the controversial appointment of Latheefa Koya as the new chief commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

On Wednesday, Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he had not consulted his Cabinet ministers about the appointment as he wanted to be free to make the choice without being “restricted” by their opinions.

William Leong, the chairman of the parliamentary select committee on public appointments, said he too was in the dark about the matter until the appointment was revealed through the media.

Sri Ram said a careful study of the constitution would reveal that the appointments of the auditor-general, judges to superior civil courts, and the Election Commission chairman and members must be made after consultation with the Conference of Rulers.

“However, such consultation with any other party, even for the position of the attorney-general (AG), is not provided for in the constitution,” he added.

When it comes to appointing the AG, he said, Article 145 (1) only states that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall, on the advice of the prime minister, appoint a person who is qualified to be a judge of the Federal Court.

Similarly, Section 5 of the MACC Act states that the king shall appoint the chief commissioner on the advice of the prime minister for a certain period on terms specified in the contract.

There is also no provision in the constitution and the Police Act 1967 that the prime minister must consult third parties in appointing the inspector-general of police (IGP).

Article 132 (2A) merely states that public servants who are appointed through commissions hold office at the pleasure of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

The appointment of the IGP is approved by the Police Force Commission.

Meanwhile, lawyer SN Nair said the appointments of the AG, MACC chief and IGP are key to assisting the executive arm of the government to enforce law and order.

“The Pakatan Harapan (PH) government must strive to amend the constitution by persuading the opposition to give their support as a two-thirds majority is needed in the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara,” he said.

He added that the constitution and federal laws vest too much power in the prime minister.

Nair said as promised in the PH manifesto, these powers must be divested to other institutions.

“The people voted in the new government and made them trustee for five years. As such, they must deliver on their promises,” he said.

Latheefa, a lawyer, replaced Mohd Shukri Abdull whose contract was allowed to expire ahead of its deadline on May 17, 2020.

Her critics have questioned her suitability on grounds that she was an active PKR member and has no experience in investigations and law enforcement.

Meanwhile, her supporters said Latheefa should be given the opportunity to prove herself as non-MACC officers had in the past been appointed to lead the anti-graft agency.