Appointment of Suhakam commissioners against spirit of PH manifesto, says Bersih

PETALING JAYA: Electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 today criticised the recent appointment of eight new commissioners to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) which it said had been done without going through the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) for Major Public Appointments.

In a statement, it said Promise 26 of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) manifesto clearly states that the appointment of Suhakam commissioners will be done through a parliamentary committee.

“The PSC on Major Public Appointments had been formed since December 2018, and it would have been the right thing to do to allow 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 the PM’s commitment not only to keep the promises of the manifesto but also his respect for the role of the Parliament as an effective check and balance to the executive, especially to the office of the prime minister,” it said.

As things stood, it added, the prime minister had “followed the letter of the law but ignored the spirit and promises of the PH manifesto”.

Suhakam had been without commissioners since its chairman, Razali Ismail, resigned on April 16, almost two weeks before the end of his term on April 27.

The government yesterday announced former diplomat Othman Hashim as the new chairman. It also announced retired Court of Appeal judge Mohd Hishamudin Yunus and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia economist Madeline Berma as new commissioners, along with former commissioners Mah Weng Kwai, Godfrey Gregory Joitol, Nik Salida Suhaila Nik Salleh, Jerald Joseph and Lok Yim Pheng who were reappointed.

This came two days after Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Liew Vui Keong said a list of the proposed commissioners had been submitted to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad a week ago.

Bersih urged Mahathir and the PH government to expedite the necessary legislative amendments to the appointment process to check any abuse of the power which currently rests with the prime minister.

It proposed a nomination committee comprising individuals who are not involved in partisan politics to call for nominations from the public and conduct the first round of vetting.

“Shortlisted names would then be forwarded to the PSC to interview in public inquiries and further shortlisted for the PM and his Cabinet to select,” it said.

For the appointment of Suhakam commissioners, it said, Section 5 (2) of Act 597 should be amended to compel the selection committee to publish the names of candidates for public scrutiny.

“The process should be more transparent, and shortlisted candidates forwarded to the PSC for further vetting,” it said, adding that the selection committee should not be 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 recognise the important role the Parliament and the public play in establishing a robust parliamentary democracy that is not dependent on the good intention and character of one man.”

When contacted, PSC chairman William Leong said his committee had been briefed on the selection process by Suhakam and the Legal Affairs Division in the Prime Minister’s Office.

“However, the names of the candidates had already been submitted when the briefing was given,” he told FMT.