KUALA LUMPUR, June 4 — Lawyer Tommy Thomas’ nomination to be the next Attorney General (AG) is fine even if he is not an MP as spelt out in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) election manifesto, lawyers and lawmakers said.
National Human Rights Society chief Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said the ruling coalition has yet to breach its electoral promise, which requires a change to the Federal Constitution that must first be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat.
“Actually PH manifesto on AG requires a constitutional amendment. Until then the present position applies,” she posted on her Twitter account last night.
News portal Malaysiakini had yesterday highlighted PH’s election manifesto, the 15th which had promised that “the AG shall be appointed from amongst the qualified members of Parliament, and he would become a minister who can continue the role as chief legal advisor to the government”.
Contacted for comment, Kulai MP Teo Nie Ching told Malay Mail that the government could not yet implement its legal reform pledge on the AG’s appointment as there were other urgent matters that needed to be straightened first.
Foremost on the cards, she said, was public debate over Thomas’ suitability for the post as a non-Malay and non-Muslim, which were among the reasons given for Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V’s rejection of the government’s sole nomination.
“Capability is more important than race, if race is a problem here, it wouldn’t make much of a difference if he is an MP or not,” Teo said.
Just as important was PH’s other law reform initiatives, namely the separation of powers between the role of public prosecutor and the main legal adviser to the government.
“Until we manage to separate the role of the AG and public prosecutor, it does not make sense to appoint an MP as the AG. Chances of PH MPs initiating suits against his or her own government is slim.
“If the decision to sue is not a just and sound decision, it is hard to convince the rakyat due to the conflict of interest,” Teo added.
The Malaysian Bar’s constitutional law committee co-chairman Surendra Ananth said the election promise requires constitutional amendments that would take time.
“Until that happens, the AG would be exercising prosecutorial functions and therefore it is best that the next AG be someone who not a member of Parliament so he is not only independent but perceived to be so,” he said in a statement.
Wading further into the subject, Surendra said it may even be better to have an AG who is unattached to a political party as the government legal adviser would not be free to act in a fully independent and impartial manner.
Lawyer and Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh echoed Surendra’s sentiments and even argued that PH’s promise to only appoint an MP as AG could be a barrier to selecting credible persons for the role.
“I am unable to agree with Promise 15 of PH’s manifesto that the AG will be appointed from amongst only Members of Parliament because if this were the case, there will be a grave restriction of talent for the job.
“This is because only MPs may be considered when there might be so many other better qualified non-MPs,” the son of the late Karpal Singh said in a statement yesterday.
Ramkarpal urged the government to review this election promise, suggesting that emphasis be given to suitability instead.
He cited the possibility of conflict of interest if the AG were to be appointed from among MPs.
“A situation may also arise wherein none of the MPs are suitable, surely it would be unreasonable to restrict the choice of an AG to only MPs,” said Ramkarpal.
Ramkarpal explained that whoever is AG, whether an MP or otherwise, must have a strong grasp of civil and criminal law while remaining neutral and unshaken by fear.