Former Bank Negara assistant governor Latifah Merican Cheong has joined calls for the separation of the role of prime minister and finance minister.

Similarly, she opined that the attorney-general (AG) should not be the legal advisor to the government and final arbiter to decide on prosecution.

Latifah, who is also Malaysian Economic Association (MEA) deputy president, concurred with similar views voiced by civil society, namely the G25 group of eminent Malays (G25) and Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4).

“Of course, the finance minister is the finance minister. Similarly, many civil society organisations have raised the issue that the AG is legal advisor to the government and final arbiter to decide on prosecution.

“There is a conflict here,” she said at a press conference yesterday.

Ideally, she said these roles should be separated and the country should install certain processes to ensure checks and balances in the system.

“In most countries, they have the office of the public prosecutor (separate from the AG’s Chambers), whereas ours is combined,” she added.

This situation in Malaysia is not justified, she said.

Dr M precedent

Former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had created the precedent where the prime minister also simultaneously helmed the Finance Ministry.

He had appointed himself as finance minister in 1998 to 1999 and 2001 to 2003.

His successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi also held the finance minister post during their tenure, a practice Prime Minister Najib Razak has continued.

Mahathir, who left Umno to form Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), was reportedly calling for the separation of the role of premier and finance minister to avoid a repeat of the 1MDB fiasco.

Meanwhile, Latifah also wanted the administration powers of legislature to be reinstated so Parliament could be more independent.

“Parliament should have its own administration and (be) independent. Parliament should employ (its own staff) to grow its own expertise and they can help the MPs to do their work better.

“But, currently Parliament officials are hired by the Public Service Department and therefore they can be removed (by the government),” she said.

“There must be separation of the executive functions dealing with disbursement of budget and even for the (management of) Parliament,” said Latifah.

Recommendations in the works

MEA, a group of economists formed in 1962, has conducted a forum and is working on drafting recommendations to improve parliamentary efficiency.
According to Latifah, MEA’s paper is “almost ready” and will be made public in due course.

The press conference was called by Latifah to announce MEA’s forum on economic governance in the public sector, slated to be held at Sasana Kijang, Kuala Lumpur on Feb 13.

The forum aims to create an awareness and understanding of the governance framework for the public sector, which implements laws and public policies approved by Parliament, she said.

Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy dean Kishore Mahbubani, former chief secretary Mohd Sidek Hassan, Prasarana Berhad chairman Ismail Adam and Max Everest-Phillips, director of United Nation Development Program for Public Service Excellence, Singapore are among the forum’s speakers.

– M’kini