Latheefa Koya has made history by becoming Malaysia’s first-ever woman to head the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
Latheefa is the fifth MACC chief commissioner, taking over from Datuk Seri Mohd Shukri Abdull.
In fact, Latheefa is also the first woman to be appointed to be in charge of the country’s anti-corruption authority, including MACC’s predecessors Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) and National Bureau of Investigations (NBI). (All 13 before her, including Shukri, were men).
Latheefa’s appointment from June 1 that was announced yesterday comes amid a wave of recognition of female talents under the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration, including appointments of Malaysia’s first female chief justice and first female deputy prime minister and heads of multiple government or government-linked bodies.
Here’s a bit of Latheefa’s background, based partly on past media interviews:
Latheefa, 46, grew up in Petaling Jaya and studied in schools there, such as Taman Petaling Girls School and the Assunta Girls School.
She worked and studied at the same time for her law degree which she obtained from the University of London in 1997, before being admitted to the Malaysian Bar as a lawyer on February 8, 2001.
Since May 2002, Latheefa has been attached to the law firm Daim & Gamany, where she is a partner.
The law firm — which was co-founded by former minister Tun Daim Zainuddin and the late civil rights lawyer S. Thaivasigamany in 1968 — is perhaps best known for taking on public interest and human rights cases. (Daim is currently not a practising lawyer).
The law firm is listed as having four other practising lawyers as of November 2018, including Eric Paulsen (former executive director of human rights group, Lawyers for Liberty) and Melissa Sasidaran (who was named Lawyers For Liberty executive director yesterday).
A passion for human rights
Latheefa co-founded Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) in 2011, where she acted as adviser until she took up the position of executive director in LFL when Paulsen became legal director of Fortify Rights in June 2018. (Latheefa has resigned from LFL to take up her appointment as MACC chief).
According to the LFL website, Latheefa had in the past taken part in the Bar Council’s Legal Aid Centre, Refugees and Migrants Clinic, Immigration Law Reform Committee, as well as human rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) and the Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA movement against the now-abolished Internal Security Act.
Latheefa was also on the legal team that defended many politicians and activists against sedition charges in court, back when the Sedition Act was heavily used by the Barisan Nasional (BN) government during Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration in perceived attempts to quash dissent.
Those who she represented in sedition cases include Paulsen, PKR vice-president Chua Tian Chang, lawyer N. Surendran, the late PKR state assemblyman Mat Shuhaimi Shafiei, cartoonist Zunar or Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque, and student activist Adam Adli Abdul Halim. (They all had their sedition charges dropped or convictions set aside by the courts).
She was on the legal team defending PKR’s current president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his second sodomy case in court. Anwar last year received a royal pardon and was released early from imprisonment.
Latheefa was also the lawyer for former bank clerk Johari Mohamad, who was charged along with PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli over the leaking of bank documents relating to various accounts, including the National Feedlot Corporation’s (NFCorp), in what some view as whistleblowing on the controversial company.
One of the high-profile cases which Latheefa was handling together with other lawyers such as Surendran was that of two Malaysia-born boys known as *T and *L, who were finally granted citizenship by the Malaysian government after being stateless for years.
The two boys were part of many stateless cases that Latheefa was dealing with, including that of Klang-born Roisah Abdullah, who was born to a Malaysian father and foreigner mother. (Roisah, who is under the care of minister Zuraida Kamaruddin, received recognition of her citizenship in March this year).
Interest in politics
Latheefa was one of four women among 24 councillors in the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ), serving in this role from June 2008 until July 2012.
Other than that, she had been fairly active in politics, having in the past held positions in ruling party PKR, such as central committee member and legal bureau chief.
While Opposition politicians were quick to question Latheefa’s appointment due to her PKR affiliation, Latheefa yesterday clarified on Twitter that she quit as a party member on June 3 prior to the Prime Minister’s Office’s (PMO) announcement yesterday.
“Thanks for the advice. But I have already sent in my resignation with immediate effect as an ordinary member of PKR yesterday, upon being told of my impending appointment as MACC chief,” she wrote on her official Twitter account.
Anti-graft watchdog Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Centre) executive director Cynthia Gabriel expressed concern over the appointment process, which she said should have been reviewed by Parliament’s select committee, but hailed Latheefa as a good candidate.
Cynthia described Latheefa as having a “fearless no-nonsense approach” and “great credentials to lift MACC to new heights”, further saying that C4 will be working on anti-corruption efforts with Latheefa.
What lies ahead
Latheefa will be stepping in at a time when MACC’s image has been somewhat restored after a challenging period a few years back, when the anti-corruption body was perceived to have been fettered and restricted in its efforts to clamp down on graft during Najib’s administration — especially in financial scandals such as the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fiasco.
She also comes in after a year of MACC’s vigorous work in nabbing multiple senior politicians or officials once thought to be untouchable and bringing them to court over corruption offences, including Najib.
Continuing the trend in recent years of fairly high number of arrests by MACC (841 arrests in 2015, 939 in 2016, 879 in 2017), the period of January to April 2018 saw 324 arrested, and 570 arrested from May to December 2018.
As a whole, 894 arrests were made by MACC in 2018, and a whopping figure of about 660 arrests have already been made from January to April 2019. (In other words, 1,230 arrests from May 2018 to April 2019, or about a year of PH’s rule.)
Latheefa’s immediate predecessor, Shukri, shortened his two-year contract that was only due to end May 17, 2020.
When contacted, Shukri yesterday told Malay Mail that he believes he has accomplished his mission and had done all he could for the MACC, saying that it was time to leave as he has already placed the MACC on the “right track now”.
In the latest figures released this January, Malaysia improved its ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2018 by one spot, moving to the 61st spot out of 180 countries measured. Its score remained unchanged at 47 out of 100.
Latheefa, who clocked in for work at the MACC yesterday afternoon itself, will have to steer the anti-graft body to aid the realisation of the government’s National Anti-Corruption Plan 2019-2023that was launched in January.
The MACC looks poised to continue its vital role in the battle against corruption.
The PH government has mounted an aggressive campaign against bribery and graft with measures such as setting policies against expensive gifts for government officials; launching the National Centre for Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption; setting up a special Cabinet committee against corruption; and forming the National Anti-Financial Crime Centre (NAFCC).
Initiatives that have started involving the MACC is the move to have MPs declare their income and assets publicly, while the anti-graft body will also be making preparations to enforce a new law from June 2020 that will allow companies to be prosecuted for corruption instead of just individuals.
In the months ahead during Latheefa’s two-year contract as MACC chief, several high-profile bribery cases involving individuals such as Najib’s wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, Umno treasurer Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, and former Sabah Umno chief Tan Sri Musa Aman are already scheduled for trial.
The MACC is expected to keep its busy pace of cracking down and probing all forms of alleged corruption, with reports that it will question former defence ministers Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein regarding military land swaps after the Raya break.
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