Bar Council member backs president over Latheefa remarks, says not just personal opinion

Muhammad Rafique (centre) was responding to lawyer Siti Kasim’s criticism, who described the Malaysian Bar president’s statement today as being 'political'. — Picture by Aizyl Azlee
Muhammad Rafique (centre) was responding to lawyer Siti Kasim’s criticism, who described the Malaysian Bar president’s statement today as being 'political'. — Picture by Aizyl Azlee

KUALA LUMPUR, June 6 — Malaysian Bar president Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor’s remarks regarding Latheefa Koya’s appointment as the new Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief are not simply his personal views, a Bar Council member said today.

Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali was defending Abdul Fareed over criticism that the latter should not have presented these concerns as that of the Malaysian Bar, the professional body representing lawyers in Peninsular Malaysia.

“The president does not at all make personal statements according to his whims and fancies,” he said in a written response to Malay Mail.

Muhammad Rafique further said the Malaysian Bar president is “authorised” to issue statements for the Bar “within the position he holds within the wisdom of the office he holds”.

“The said statement is timely and correctly expresses what the Council has been advocating — purely ‘non-clandestine appointments’.

“The appointment itself must be seen to be according to due process,” he added.

According to Muhammad Rafique, the Malaysian Bar president “only makes statements on behalf of the Bar” when it involves matters in relation to Section 42 of the Legal Profession Act.

Section 42 covers a long list of items outlined as the Malaysian Bar’s purpose, including to uphold the cause of justice without fear or favour, as well as to express its view on matters affecting legislation and the administration and practice of law in Malaysia when requested to do so.

“The Bar has always been advocating reforms and has been involved actively with various statutory bodies and agencies in what we label as ‘institutional reforms’.

“So issues like the MACC’s numero uno appointment hit at the heart of the matter of what the Bar has been calling for. So, the press statement by the President reflects the views of the Bar, and is not his personal opinion,” he added when saying that Abdul Fareed’s statement reflected the “correct” view.

Muhammad Rafique was responding to lawyer Siti Kasim’s criticism, who described the Malaysian Bar president’s statement today as being “political” and noting that the lack of consultation of the parliamentary select committee in Latheefa’s appointment is “not against the law”.

“I question the wisdom of our President in making this political statement. The Bar only issues statements when it concerns the law. This is unethical and shouldn’t be the Malaysian Bar’s stand. The President can state his own personal opinion but not on behalf of members,” Siti had written on her Facebook page, further adding that many posts in the current or previous government were held by inexperienced people and that the prime minister has the power to appoint who he deems fit.

Muhammad Rafique responded by claiming: “Funny for Siti Kassim to be so robust on certain issues but when it comes to issues which are opportune for her or her stand it is seen to be above board. In essence at least the Bar is seen to be apolitical but clearly Siti Kassim is not!”

Earlier today, Abdul Fareed had in a statement on behalf of the Malaysian Bar expressed concern over how Latheefa was appointed and questioned her suitability to hold the post as MACC chief.

Among other things, Abdul Fareed acknowledged the parliamentary special select committee on major public appointments has no force of law but said it should have been consulted in the selection process for the new MACC chief.

Abdul Fareed highlighted that Latheefa was previously an active PKR member and had held party leadership positions which he said gives rise to the spectre of “conflict of interest”, adding that the public perception is that her appointment amounts to political patronage and that the practice of political appointments should have ended with the change of government.

Abdul Fareed also said noted Latheefa’s strong credentials as a human rights lawyer and activist, but said she lacks experience in any law enforcement agency while the MACC chief position needs knowledge and familiarity in law enforcement and investigation.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office unexpectedly announced Latheefa as the new MACC chief effective June 1.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad yesterday confirmed he made the decision unilaterally and did not consult his Cabinet as he did not want to be bound by their views, adding that Latheefa was selected due to her “strong character” where she sticks to the truth.