JUNE 4 — The news still sizzles, so hold on to your roller-coaster seats everywhere in Malaysia, the Latheefa Koya Show is coming your way.
As the newly appointed head of the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC).
She is not for the meek, that’s the quick summary.
My favourite story about Latheefa is when of one of our reporters a decade ago tried to avoid contacting Latheefa, because she’s afraid of getting an earful from the lawyer who never minces her words. Worse, if the issue is misrepresented when speaking to her.
Say what you must, Latheefa is a believer and is willing to stick by her principles, come hell or high water.
I bumped into Latheefa in 2004 during the Sivarasa for Petaling Jaya Selatan (Now, Petaling Jaya) race. We were volunteers from Multimedia University (quietly without campus administrators knowing) and she was campaign manager. It was a Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) campaign, the bull logo party would merge with Keadilan only after a sickening beating at the general.
Latheefa’s connections are mainly made from service rendered rather than by keen networking by herself. No social function has her schmoozing for support, favours or future colleagues. I remember at our 2006 event for Balairakyat, she and Xavier Jeyakumar relentless with the late Nazrin Hassan on democratic reform. Quite the debate.
Her connections in the opposition, now government, is from service.
As in, she was in that small group of lawyers who did a mountain of pro bono work related to political persecution, the poor and not the least citizenship cause for the stateless. She’s valuable because she will put in the time, commit to lost causes and not be cowered by louder and stronger voices.
Her value puts her in good stead with party members. They call her Kak Lat. A fighter, even if not many people’s cup of tea, and probably the new gig fits her personality.
Perhaps her unwillingness to take sides based on politics inside the party would have cast her in bad light with certain leaders inside PKR. Her departure ends two decades as a party member and begins her anti-corruption crusade from the inside, with an organisation she’d had many run-ins with in the past.
The first serious concern is that whether she get the leadership within MACC to work hand in hand with her. She might want things done in a certain way, but that may not be exactly how those who report to her may feel. The initial challenge is to win over her organisation by building trust and assuring them that they will get the “Latheefa” treatment, of not selling her people down the river for her own benefit. Her no-nonsense approach might appeal to the structure, but they would still want to be warmed up to.
In a Malaysia in the middle of very high profile cases and further a slate of investigations leading to prosecution, she is to occupy the hot seat.
And perhaps forced to triage, go after some and not go after all, because resources can be self-limiting.
The Teoh Beng Hock and other unresolved cases may see the light of day in the new administration.
The MACC’s renewal as a force for good must preclude a measure to come clean with the past. How this will play out, time will tell.
If the Latheefa era can alter public perception and instead turn the commission as an independent actor looking out for Joe Public, that may be her bigger achievement, to turn the MACC into a rakyat’s vehicle for justice.
Scratching PKR’s back
The naysayers are pointing out to her links to the party. Can’t serve a group for twenty years and not feel beholden to them. Will PKR folks get a free ride with Latheefa at the helm?
With most candidates, I’d be cautious.
In the recent past she has questioned the integrity of her party president then, and now Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
When it comes to Latheefa it’s difficult to seeing her going light with ex-colleagues. There is a nasty suspicion she’d be that much harder on the people she knows to protect the sanctity of the institution she represents and to rid Malaysia of corruption.
A volatile spell
The downside has to be outlined. Her overzealousness might lead to rushing a bunch of people not too long ago used to seeing her as the opponent to a series of fight which may wear them out, and render the MACC as the tool of a new regime to embarrass the old — political vengeance.
Forcing public outcry — led by Umno and PAS, few cry as hard as those blokes — or rebellion inside MACC, or both can scupper her effectiveness. And the public relations will be on call throughout to process or protect the free-speaking attorney.
But if she can find her balance, managing the public and her own team, watch out for the fireworks.