COMMENT | Umno’s young lawyers’ secretariat chairperson, Nik Saiful Adli Burhan, has alleged that it “could lead to a conflict of interest” when the Attorney-General’s Chambers appointed a team of specialist lawyers, among whom a partner in his former law firm, to represent 1MDB in claiming beneficial ownership of the superyacht Equanimity.
Nik Saiful appears unsure about how the appointment “could” lead to a conflict of interest. His explanation is missing.
He is quoted to have merely asked an emotion-seeking question (as opposed to an explanation); that: “how can the government appoint a law firm that is owned by someone who holds an important position in the country?”
Nik Saiful is also quoted to have illogically compared this appointment to the conflict of interest arising from the former prime minister simultaneously wearing three decision-making hats. He remarks that: “(They said) Najib requested money from Najib who also approves the funds (in his capacity as finance minister), but now it appears that Harapan is doing something similar”.
In my view, Nik Saiful’s comments are irresponsible and misconceived; or, at best, made out of ignorance.
First, he makes a factual error in saying that the firm in which Ms Sitpah Selvaratnam practices “is owned by” the attorney-general (Tommy Thomas).
I believe the attorney-general had publicly declared that he had relinquished all interests in the firm, upon taking up his current position. I hope Nik Saiful’s factual error is unintentional.
Second, the admiralty proceedings concerning the RM1 billion Equanimity is a matter of immense public interest. The amount the rakyat (through the government) is seeking to claim is a humungous sum; which previous governments never had the misfortune of having to do.
This factor must be taken into account, together with the complexities of the legal issues involved, and the urgency of the matter.
That being the case, one must expect the government to utilise the best resources they can, including human resources, by appointing the best and most experienced admiralty advocates in the country.
Third, having been a former president of the Bar, and a former chairperson of the Admiralty & Shipping Law Committee, I am aware that there are not many counsels in Malaysia specialising in admiralty and shipping law, fewer still with the level of competency and experience that will be required to handle a case of this magnitude and complexity.
The three specialist lawyers appointed by the AGC are certainly among the very few top choices for this complex legal brief. Two of them were the pioneers who helped set up the Admiralty & Shipping Law Committee of the Bar Council more than a decade ago, to promote admiralty and shipping practice in Malaysia for the Bar.
Fourth, it has been pointed out that Ms Sitpah has even agreed to provide her invaluable services to the rakyat, without charging her fees.
Nik Saiful’s comment, apart from being misplaced both in fact and in law, has done the rakyat a huge disfavour; by unfairly criticising persons who are prepared to sacrifice time, expertise and fees, to do their best for the rakyat in a matter of public interest.
In my view, a public apology is owed to Ms Sitpah and the attorney-general.
Fifth, Nik Saiful’s comments are further misconceived because we are not dealing with any appointment of decision-makers or judges, to adjudicate and decide on a matter. We are talking about the appointment of counsel to advocate the government’s (and the rakyat’s) position in a court of law. There is no issue of conflict of interest, to begin with.
Sixth, there can be no comparison at all, between the appointment of a counsel to advance one’s arguments in court, with the case of the former prime minister who headed three interrelated decision-making bodies.
The attempt to compare the two is so frivolous and outrageous that I must resist any temptation to presently spill more ink on it.
YEO YANG POH is an advocate & solicitor and former president of the Malaysian Bar.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.