Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Lawyer moots ‘cooling-off period’ before ex-govt officials return to industry they once headed

This is already the practice in many countries as part of good governance and anti-corruption measures.

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A senior lawyer has proposed that former civil servants who once held top posts undergo a cooling-off period before returning to the private sector to work in industries which used to be under their jurisdiction.

“This is to avoid any perception that someone is unfairly or unjustly leveraging contacts made or information gained during his time as a civil servant for personal gain,” Andrew Khoo, who is also the co-chair of the Malaysian Bar’s Constitutional Law Committee, told MalaysiaNow.

He was responding to a report that a former top anti-corruption officer is now part of the defence team for a politician charged with money laundering.

Earlier this week, Dzulkifli Ahmad, who served as chief commissioner for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission from 2016 to 2018, was named as part of the defence counsel for former Felda chairman Shahrir Samad in the latter’s money laundering case.

Shahrir, the former Johor Bahru MP, faces a charge of money laundering for failing to declare his actual income in 2013 when he received RM1 million from former prime minister Najib Razak, money which MACC said was linked to troubled state firm 1MDB.

Dzulkifli was also in charge of a unit placed under the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) when it was involved in the 2015 1MDB investigation, which was short-lived.

He also headed the AGC’s unit to fight money laundering, the same crime with which Shahrir is charged.

Dzulkifli’s role in Shahrir’s case has raised questions of a potential conflict of interest.

“He puts himself in a clear conflict of interest as the defence lawyer to Shahrir, as he would have confidential and privileged information which came to him during the time he was in the AGC, and subsequently as chief commissioner of MACC,” a lawyer had told MalaysiaNow on condition of anonymity.

Khoo agreed there was potential for conflict of interest in former senior officials from jurisdictional bodies joining the private sector, although this is not illegal.

He said in Dzulkifli’s case, it is the right of a solicitor to choose whom he represents.

But he added: “There are professional rules about conflict of interest and the requirement for an advocate and solicitor to not place himself in a position of conflict or potential embarrassment.

“This could arise if an advocate and solicitor is privy to information about his client that was obtained while he was in a different capacity.”

He said one solution is to institute rules to ensure that “a sufficient period of time elapses between leaving government service and working in a company or enterprise in the similar sector”.

“This is done in many countries as part of good governance and anti-corruption measures and practices,” he added.

Khoo said concerns of conflict of interest could arise in the case of retired judges returning to practise law, or former civil servants becoming directors or consultants in companies involved in the same industry where they had held positions in the government.

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