Press Release (27th June 2019): Appointment Of Suhakam Commissioners: Law Followed But The Spirit Of The Ph Manifesto Broken

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) expresses disappointment that the Prime Minister has appointed 8 new Commissioners to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) without allowing the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) for Major Public Appointments to vet them beforehand. The Prime Minister followed the letter of the law but ignored the spirit and promises of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) Manifesto where it clearly stated in Promise 26 that the appointment of SUHAKAM Commissioners will be done through a parliamentary committee.

The PSC on Major Public Appointments was already formed since December 2018 and it would have been the right thing to do to allow the PSC 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.

Bersih 2.0 urges the PM and the PH government to expedite without delay the necessary legislative amendments to the process by which key appointments are made so that such unbridled power that currently rest in the hands of the PM can be effectively checked to prevent abuses of power. We propose a process that not only involve the PSC but also a Nomination Committee that compose of individuals who are not involved in partisan politics to call for nomination from the public and does the first round vetting of potential candidates. 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. 

For the appointment of the SUHAKAM commissioners, Section 5(2) of Act 597 should be amended to compel the current Selection Committee to  publish the name of candidates in order for members of the public to submit comments before interview or shortlisting in order to ensure the candidates are of impeccable integrity. The process should be more transparent and shortlisted candidates forwarded to the PSC for further vetting. Indeed there is a need to know who the composition of this Selection Committee and how they are appointed. The Committee should be pluralistic and not 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 recognizes the important role the Parliament and the public plays in establishing a robust parliamentary democracy that is not dependent on the good intention and character of one man. People are fallible and as such we need independent institutions to hold them accountable.

Statement issued by:

Steering Committee of Bersih 2.0