Article 145(1) of the Constitution reads:
“The Yang di Pertuan Agong shall, on the advice of the Prime Minister, appoint a person who is qualified to be a judge of the Federal Court to be the Attorney-General for the Federation.”
From the reasons given by the Speaker’s rejection, there has not only been no appointment of Gani as the new Attorney-General by the Yang di Pertuan Agong, the Prime Minister has not made the “advice” on the appointment to the King as required under Article 145(1).
Last Friday, Kok had given notice under Dewan Rakyat Standing Order 18(1) to adjourn Parliament on Monday to debate Gani Patail’s appointment as the new Attorney-General on a matter of urgent, definite public importance on two important grounds: the constitutionality of his appointment as well as it propriety, in view of two serious allegations against him for obstruction of justice - threatening Anwar Ibrahim’s former tennis partner Datuk S. Nallakaruppan to fabricate evidence against Anwar and shielding the Minister for International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz from prosecution on five charges of corruption - which would undermine public confidence in the system and cause of justice in Malaysia.
In rejecting Kok’s motion, refusing to allow her the customary parliamentary
privilege of reading it out in Parliament, the Speaker, Tun Mohamad Zahir
Ismail gave her a written reply which reads:
“Usul di bawah P.M. 18(1)
Usul Yang Berhormat bertarikh 23 November 2001 telah saya terima.
2. Kedudukan yang sebenar perkara ini adalah Y.Bhg. Datuk Seri Ainum meletakkan jawatannya sebagai Peguam Negara bermula pada 31.12.2001. Dalam masa itu Y.Bhg. Datuk Abdul Ghani akan membantu Datuk Seri Ainum menjalankan tugas-tugasnya sehingga 31.12.2001.
3. Y.Bhg Datuk Abdul Ghani akan dilantik mengambil alih jawatan itu pada 1.1.2002. Ini bermakna perlantikan rasmi Y.Bhg. Datuk Ghani belum lagi dibuat sehingga 1.1.2002 itu. Ini juga bermakna perletakan jawatan dan perlantikan tidak dibuat pada hari yang sama atau dalam tempoh satu hari seperti YB katakan. Proses memohon berkenan Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong untuk perlantikan Peguam Negara baru sedang dibuat mengikut Perkara 145(1) Perlembagaan Persekutuan.
4. Berkenaan dengan tuduhan-tuduhan yang dibuat keatas Y.Bhg. Datuk Abdul Ghani itu adalah semata-mata tuduhan dan tidak boleh dibuat alasan untuk menimbangkan di bawah Peraturan 18.
5. Selain dari itu apa yang dikatakan dalam usul Yang Berhormat itu bukanlah satu perkara yang tertentu dan tidak perlu disegerakan. Oleh yang demikian saya menolak usul ini dalam kamar di bawah P.M. 18(7) dan tidak akan dikemukakan dalam Majlis Mesyuarat di bawah P.M. 18(8).”
Zahir’s rejection letter to Kok is an important source material for students of Malaysian constitutional development and history.
Leaving aside the various contentious implications of the Speaker’s arguments, two things are crystal clear - firstly, that Gani has not yet been appointed the new Attorney-General and secondly, that the Prime Minister has not yet invoked Article 145(1) of the Constitution to advise the King of the appointment of the new Attorney-General - as “sedang dibuat” is different from “telah dibuat”.
As the Prime Minister has not yet invoked Article 145(1) to advise the Yang di Pertuan Agong on Gani Patail’s appointment as the new Attorney-General, Mahathir should reconsider his intention to appoint Gani Patail as the new Attorney-General and introduce an open, transparent and consultative process of appointment for senior legal and judicial appointments in keeping with reforms in this field in other Commonwealth countries.
Mahathir should reconsider his intention to appoint Gani as the highest law officer of the land as never before in the nation’s history has the the proposed appointment of the new Attorney-General plunged the country into a new crisis of confidence in the system of justice in Malaysia - as happened in the past week.
In Malaysia’s history, there have been examples of an Attorney-General leaving office under a cloud, but never before had there been a single case of an Attorney-General assuming office under a cloud!
In these circumstances, the Prime Minister and all Cabinet Ministers should place public confidence in the administration of justice above all other considerations and decide whether justice and the national interests could be served in proceeding with the intention to appoint Gani as the new Attorney-General.
In such a review, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet should seek the widest consultation of views from all sectors of society, in particular the Judiciary, the Bar Council, Parliamentarians, political leaders and representatives of the civil society.
It is most regrettable that Mohamad Zahir had rejected Kok’s motion to debate the issue in Parliament on Monday, even disallowing her the customary right to personally make the application in the House.
Mohamad Zahir seems to have forgotten the proper role and limits of the powers of a Speaker, which is akin to that of an umpire to hold the ring to ensure that all the “players” keep to the rules, and not to get into the ring and be a “player” himself!
Mohamad Zahir had not only denied Kok the parliamentary right to raise urgent issues of public importance in Parliament, but also usurped the role of the executive to answer to Parliament by becoming the government “P.R.O”.
The arguments given by Mohamad Zahir in the rejection letter on the constitutionality and propriety of the government’s actions on the question of the appointment of Gani as the new Attorney-General are open to challenge on many grounds, but they should be made by a government Minister and not by the Speaker, doubling up as “Public Relations Officer” of the government!
If the unsound reasons in the Speaker’s rejection letter are given by a government Minister, they could be challenged and disputed in Parliament as well as by the public - which is now denied to Parliament because it would be tantamount to questoning the ruling of the Speaker which is impossible with the “blind and brute” two-third parliamentary majority of the Barisan Nasional!