Amid Hamzah audio clip, Bersih wants reform of how top posts are filled

Bersih has urged the government to reform how high-ranking government officials like the Inspector General of Police (IGP) are hired and fired.

This, it argued, would put an end to the abuse of power.

The NGO pointed to the 1988 removal of late lord president Mohamed Salleh Abas, the 2007 judge-fixing scandal featuring lawyer VK Lingam, and the 2019 unilateral appointment of Latheefa Koya as MACC chief.

Today, Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin verified an audio clip of him saying he wanted to promote “our boy” to the top of the police force as “it will be very good for us”.

The minister refuted claims that the clip implicated him of wrongdoing because he, as the chair of the Police Commission, was empowered to decide police appointments.

Speaking to the media this afternoon, Bersih executive director Yap Swee Seng (above) said such appointments ought to be based on a list of objective criteria.

“He (Hamzah) referred to a person as “our boy”. This should not be criteria when choosing an IGP.

“An IGP needs to work in a professional manner and not take sides with anyone. They should be neutral and not somebody’s ‘boy’. They need to serve the rakyat.

“And that’s why a list of criteria is very important so that all appointments can be done based on criteria like integrity, competency, merit, expertise, and experience,” Yap said in an online press conference.

In its latest report, “Reform Of Appointments of Key Public Officers In Malaysia”, Bersih proposed a Public Appointments and Removal Bill to govern how key public officers were appointed and removed.

The law, they said, would ensure that power is not concentrated in the hands of any prime minister or minister in the appointment of the IGP, MACC chief, Chief Secretary, Chief Auditor, Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) commissioner, and Election Commission (EC) commissioner.

Unlike now, such appointments would have to go through a seven-step process before they are confirmed:

  1. Minister appoints an independent Advisory Assessment Panel (AAP) that is headed by a civil society figure. The panel will interview and nominate candidates for key public officers.
  2. An open and informed invitation is published to notify the public of such vacancies.
  3. AAP recommends to the minister three candidates in order of preference.
  4. Minister can either accept candidates or refer the matter back to the panel for reconsideration. The minister can only do the latter once.
  5. Minister nominates the recommended candidates to a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), which convenes and deliberates the nomination.
  6. PSC either confirms the nomination or refers it back to the minister stating reasons for reconsideration. If the latter happens, the minister may nominate another candidate from the AAP’s list or nominate a candidate at their discretion.
  7. PSC has the final say on which candidate is confirmed for the position. Minister must appoint the candidate or recommend the candidate to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong

In addition, the Bersih report proposed the appointment of a Commissioner for Public Appointments and Removal to audit the process.

The government must also formulate a governance code that stipulates key public officers must have principles such as selflessness, integrity, merit, openness, diversity, assurance, and fairness.

As for the removal process, the report suggested the following process to ensure impartiality:

  1. If the minister believes there are clear grounds to remove a key public officer, the Agong must appoint an independent tribunal comprising judges, retired judges, senior retired civil servants, and civil society members. Minister may temporarily suspend the officer pending the tribunal’s decision.
  2. Tribunal will deliberate on the charges against the officer and submit recommendations to the Agong on whether grounds for removal have been established.
  3. Agong will act on the tribunal’s recommendations

The report was written by lawyer Lim Wei Jiet, who is also the secretary-general of human rights NGO Hakam and a co-founder of the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda)

“We can see in the example of the 1MDB scandal where top positions like the Attorney-General and MACC chief were removed and ‘yes men’ were appointed.

“The executive will continue to abuse their powers and be unchecked (if) government agencies which are supposed to oversee them and provide accountability are (led by) ‘their people’, appointed by them, and indebted to them,” Lim said during the press conference. 

(First published by Malaysiakini, 30 April 2021: