Did Tommy Thomas resign too abruptly in Feb?



COMMENT Tommy Thomas has explained himself succinctly that he did not agree to a settlement with film producer Riza Abdul Aziz over money laundering charges related to 1MDB funds and described claims that he agreed as a “lie”.

I can accept the former attorney-general’s (AG) word for what it is because I see no reason to think otherwise.

In his 21 months as AG, Thomas (above) served the government, people and nation well. He came into the job at an extraordinary juncture in the nation’s political development.

With no known political connection, Thomas was chosen as the government’s principal legal adviser based on his knowledge of the law which was considered specifically crucial soon after the fall of the BN government in May 2018. He was the first practising barrister to be appointed AG.

The new Pakatan Harapan administration led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad had one top priority – to bring the corrupt to justice quickly – and Thomas was assigned that onerous task.

As it stands today, that special assignment for Thomas is far from over. The new AG should be exonerated of any shortfall on his part. There were just too many cases to handle and time was not on his side.

The Riza case has brought to the fore just one of Thomas’ many uncompleted tasks. It also raised questions on whether the AG’s abrupt resignation was a mistake.

Had he not resigned suddenly on Feb 28 soon after the fall of the Harapan government, would that have made a difference?

Would three more months on the job be of major help for Thomas to tidy up the loose ends of the many cases before the court, Riza’s being one of them.

Thomas was appointed for a two-year term in June 2018 and he resigned on Feb 28 this year, three months short from completion.

Thomas confirmed that he made the decision to charge Riza in July last year, but said that his only role in the case was to appoint former federal court judge Gopal Sri Ram to lead the prosecution in the case.

In fact, Thomas appointed Sri Ram as the government’s lead prosecutor in all 1MDB-linked trials, and not only the Riza (below) case.

Following the sequence of events as explained by Thomas, it is only possible for the new AG Idrus Harun, who was appointed on March 6, to approve the prosecution’s move to apply for a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) on the Riza case, and most probably on the recommendation of Sri Ram.

I do not see anything awry in such a procedure. It was a fair call by Idrus who, in April, had hardly warmed his seat at the AG’s Chambers, to accept Sri Ram’s advice on the case.

On record, both are former Federal Court judges and brother judges should trust each other’s instinct in making the right call when meting out justice.

The Riza case aside, another interesting poser is the resignation of the AG – must an AG step down following a change of government?

Constitutionally, the AG does not have to. According to Article 145(1) of the Federal Constitution, the power to appoint the AG rests with the prime minister, but with the consent of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

There is also no fixed term for the AG. However, in Thomas’ case, it was a stated two-year appointment. So too for Thomas’ successor, Idrus, who was appointed by new Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

As AG, Thomas is not a minister and unlike ministers, the AG is not constitutionally bound to step down in the event of the resignation of a prime minister.

Previous AGs had served more than one prime minister but those were during ordinary times.

Malaysia’s first AG from 1963 to 1977, Abdul Kadir Yusuf, served three prime ministers – Tunku Abdul Rahman, Abdul Razak Hussein and Hussein Onn.

We can understand that Thomas stepped down on a matter of principle. To him, it was the honourable thing to do.

Since Mahathir (below) appointed him as the AG, Thomas must have felt that it was the right thing to leave too once Mahathir was no longer PM.

Thomas must surely not be blind that these are politically turbulent times and that it would be difficult for him to be effective as the AG under another prime minister who did not appoint him.

Does such an act, even an honourable one, lend credence to discomforting talk that the AG is also a political appointee, and whose role is to look after the interests of his political masters too?

Malaysians have reasons to doubt the integrity and credibility of the AG’s supposedly esteemed functions at times. There was a case of a former AG who failed miserably to be a role model as the highest ranking public prosecutor in the country. Surely, there is no necessity to mention a name here.

To Thomas, although you left with many tasks uncompleted due to circumstances beyond your control, you have nonetheless brought back honour and dignity to the office of the AG.

For that, we owe you our sincere gratitude and thank you for working hard for the nation and people in all of your 21 months in the AGC.

Godspeed, Thomas, on your next journey as a leading legal guru in the country.


FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at sirsiah@gmail.com.

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