Intentions noble but Malaysia’s incoming King, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, bound by Federal Constitution, says senior lawyer

Malaysia’s incoming Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar’s desire to ‘hunt’ the corrupt should be applauded, but his aspirations for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and national oil company, Petronas, to report to Istana Negara is not provided for, under the Federal Constitution.

Senior lawyer, Datuk Seri Dr Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos, was responding to the Sultan of Johor’s interview with Singapore’s Straits Times over the weekend. Sultan Ibrahim’s term as the 17th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, will begin next month.

“Sultan Ibrahim made some good points, especially about joining the fight against corruption. As the head of the country, his message is that the fight is real and that his government and its agencies should go all out against corruption,” said Jahaberdeen.

“However, the current constitutional framework does not allow the Agong to get involved beyond appointments and giving advice.

“Sultan Ibrahim has the nation’s interests at heart, but regardless, it goes back to the powers given to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong under the Federal Constitution.

“I can understand why he wants MACC to report to the crown because the crown is not political, and can therefore, be more independent. But under the current constitutional framework – Article 40(1A) – the appointments of the heads of the institutions are made by the Agong ‘upon the advice of the prime minister’. He has influence in that sense, but there are some areas, per the Constitution, that he has to accept he cannot influence.”

On Petronas, Jahaberdeen said it may not be possible for the national oil company to report directly to the King, as it is a government-linked company, and not a government agency.

Section 3(2) of the Petroleum Development Act 1974 states: “The Corporation (Petronas) shall be subject to the control and direction of the Prime Minister who may, from time to time, issue such direction as he may deem fit”.

Section 5(1) of the same Act states: “There shall be established a council to be known as the National Petroleum Advisory Council, consisting of such persons, including those from the relevant States, as the Prime Minister may appoint”.

The Act clearly states that the power lies in the prime minister’s hands.

Jahaberdeen pointed out that the Attorney-General’s Chambers, MACC, and Petronas, do not report to Parliament.

“The idea for these bodies to be answerable to the monarchy is something new, and has never been provided for, under the Federal Constitution.

“It is something that requires further debate and discussion in Parliament, and amendments to the Federal Constitution, if that is what the people want.

“Otherwise, it is not for the monarchy to get involved in the actual running of the executive.”

The incoming Yang di-Pertuan Agong was also reported as saying that he hoped to revive the high-speed rail (HSR) link project with Singapore, and that the border crossing passes through Forest City, a smart city in Johor Bahru.

He was also quoted as saying that judicial appointments must “be separated from the executive” and that “they must be independent”.