KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 10 ― Dewan Rakyat Deputy Speaker Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said called for reforms to the appointment and functions of the attorney general (AG) today, in response to the controversy of Tan Sri Tommy Thomas’ memoir.
Among the few Umno leaders who supported Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) proposal to separate out the AG’s roles as the public prosecutor and the government’s legal adviser, she urged federal lawmakers to collaborate on the constitutional amendment needed to achieve this.
"In the context of ‘real likelihood of bias’, how can a person who is appointed on the advice of the prime minister (PM) as AG, advise the government and simultaneously wield powers to prosecute? Where are the checks and balances?
"If we are to make any progress as a nation, we must recognise that the Parliament can be utilised as a potential buffer with regards to the AG’s appointment and removal thereby promoting accountability and transparency,” she said in a statement today.
Azalina argued that the AG, as a product of the Constitution, should neither be a representative of the executive arm of the government nor the judiciary.
The Umno leader also noted she was not alone in this view, citing constitutional experts such as Emeritus Professor Datuk Shad Saleem Faruqi and Malaysian Bar as among those who supported the reforms to ensure prosecutions would be conducted without fear and favour.
Azalina added that prior to 1960, an AG was not appointed on the advice of the PM but had instead been chosen by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong from members of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLS).
The government later amended Article 145 of the Federal Constitution to allow an AG to be chosen not only from members of JLS but also from among politicians, private lawyers and even academics.
"Indeed, being armed with prosecutorial powers makes the AG one of the most powerful men in Malaysia. Hence, in absence of any proper check and balance mechanism to ensure the AG’s independence and accountability, there is greater need to guarantee that the AG’s powers are exercised responsibly and independently,” she said.
PH, in its 2018 election manifesto, had promised that "The Pakatan Harapan Government will take immediate steps to separate these two roles [the office of AG from PP]”.
Azalina said when she asked about the matter in Oct 2018, the then deputy law minister Datuk Hanipa Maidin said that PH government was dedicated in conducting comprehensive research first before fulfilling that promise as well as stating no deadline was set to fulfil the matter.
The PH administration collapsed in February of last year.
"By the time PH government’s time in public office terminated after 22 months, the ‘comprehensive research’ was still ongoing.
"I wonder how comprehensive that research was, if there was even any in the first place!” she said.
Last month, former AG Thomas released a tell-all memoir that caused controversy and led to over a hundred police reports to be lodged against him.
On February 7, Bukit Aman Crime Investigation Department director Datuk Huzir Mohamed said the police have opened three investigation papers related to the contents of Thomas’ book My Story: Justice in the Wilderness over these reports.
Yesterday, Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim also chided Thomas, saying the latter made flawed and "fatal” conclusions about several issues in a memoir that has become the subject of dozens of investigations, including casting "unkind remarks” about the Attorney General’s Chambers that implied its mostly Malay staff as being lazy.