We need a fearless, upright AG

Dr Mahathir Mohamad has spoken, and we can imagine some people shaking in their boots if they have been guilty of suppressing the truth or, worse, abetting Najib Razak in his alleged crimes. If they’re lucky, they’ll just lose their jobs. If not, they might end up in prison.

At the top of the list is Apandi Ali, who has been ordered to go on leave from his post as attorney-general.

At a press conference last week, Mahathir said Apandi had undermined his own credibility. “He has, in fact, hidden evidence of wrongdoing and that is wrong in law.”

It’s obvious that he’s not coming back from his leave. He will be sacked.

It has been announced that the solicitor-general, Engku Nor Faizah binti Engku Atek, is taking over Apandi’s duties, but pundits are saying that’s probably only a stop-gap measure. They note that there have been several occasions when the solicitor-general, the Number 2 in the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), did not rise to the AG’s position.

If Engku Nor Faizah is indeed a temporary replacement, who then is the most likely candidate for the job? There are doubts that he or she will be anyone from the AGC. No one in the AGC stood up against the allegedly wrongful sacking of Abdul Gani Patail and his replacement with Apandi.

Will the choice then be a senior judge, like Apandi was when he took over from Gani? But the current judiciary doesn’t have a good reputation with the new government. Indeed, it has been alleged that the appointment of Chief Justice Raus Sharif was illegal.

There’s talk in the legal fraternity that retired Court of Appeal judge Hishamudin Yunus best fits the bill. But will he choose to come out of retirement? Moreover, the new government might not want to give the impression that the country is so lacking in talent that someone has to be called out of retirement to serve as AG. The argument that Mahathir is an active and alert 92-year-old doesn’t quite apply. The man is an exception.

Singapore’s example

Should we follow the example of Singapore and pick a lawyer in private practice to serve as AG? After all, Singapore has often been spoken of as having a governing system that ensures integrity.

Several private lawyers have previously been touted as a prospective AG. Among them, the most prominent is perhaps Shafee Abdullah. But there has been an allegation that he received a fee of RM9.5 million for successfully prosecuting Anwar Ibrahim. He called it “nonsense”, but it’s likely that the allegation will continue to hound him, especially if he assumes the office of AG.

What about Cecil Abraham? Questions hang over Abraham in relation to a second statutory declaration attempting to clear Najib of suspicions that he was involved in the 2006 murder of socialite Altantuya Shaariibuu. Although a court cleared him of misconduct, such allegations may militate against his being made AG.

Then there is Ambiga Sreenevasan. Many would find her acceptable, but others might see her social activism as cause for her disqualification. In any event, she may be better suited to look into our electoral laws as Election Commission chairman. After all, she shot to fame as leader of Bersih and is still a passionate fighter for free and fair elections.

Let’s not forget Yusof Zainal Abidin, the solicitor-general who went into private practice upon his retirement. He prosecuted Anwar when he was in service and then defended him as a private lawyer. Some might see that as reason to question his integrity.

The most prominent lawyer serving Mahathir is the young firebrand Hanif Khatri Abdulla. Hanif is certainly deserving of reward but, apart from acting for Mahathir, what else is he known for?

There is no shortage of good lawyers among Pakatan Harapan MPs, but it’s probably unwise to appoint any politician to the post, especially anyone too closely associated with the ruling regime.

One lawyer who has not been heard from since Pakatan’s election victory is Rosli Dahlan although he was the one who stopped the Registrar of Societies from dissolving PPBM.

One has only to google his legal profile to see him as probably the AG we’re looking for.

Rosli is known to be free of financial issues, and he is a pious but not fanatical Muslim. He is a trustee for various charitable organisations.

Much sought after

As someone conversant in both civil and shariah laws, he is much sought after for his in-depth knowledge of conflicts of laws. He has a network of regional and international contacts, enabling him to resolve contentious cross-border issues in the Asian region and further afield. He has a record of securing the the release of Malaysians detained in neighbouring countries.

His firm’s brochure describes him as someone who has won “landmark cases that made inroads against abuses by public authorities and government agencies in land acquisition, human rights, illegal deportations, fundamental liberties and prosecutorial misfeasance”.

It adds: “He is currently appearing in several high-profile judicial review cases including against the Speaker of Parliament for illegally tabling laws in Parliament; against the Registrar of Societies for dissolving a political party from contesting in the general election; against various state governments for wrongful acquisition of private land; against the Inland Revenue Board for abuses in seizing private assets under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001.

“Rosli is also a prolific writer and is on the Expert Panel 2018 of The Law Reviews, authoring the Malaysian chapter in the sixth edition of The Anti-Bribery and Anti-Corruption Review.”

The brochure lists a host of other publications he has contributed to.

It also mentions his personal experience as a victim of government abuses. “In Rosli Dahlan v. Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail & Ors (2014),” it said, “Rosli obtained an unprecedented ruling that the notion of the attorney-general’s absolute prosecutorial immunity is anathema to the rule of law.

“He also sued the mainstream newspapers, the attorney-general, the chief commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the Inspector-General of Police for defamation, conspiracy, false and malicious investigations and prosecution, abuse of power, prosecutorial misconduct and public misfeasance.

“Rosli won all his lawsuits.”

The views expressed by the writer are not necessarily those of FMT