Prosecution takes 37pc cut even as overall allocation for AGC rises slightly in Budget 2021

Ida Lim
·6-min read
An aerial view of the Kuala Lumpur High Court April 23, 2020. The prosecution division of the AGC provides advice and instructions to law enforcement agencies and conducts prosecution as well as criminal proceedings in court. — Picture by Hari Anggara
An aerial view of the Kuala Lumpur High Court April 23, 2020. The prosecution division of the AGC provides advice and instructions to law enforcement agencies and conducts prosecution as well as criminal proceedings in court. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 16 — The Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) annual budget will inch up again to RM178 million for 2021, but its prosecution division will see its allocation shrink by nearly 37 per cent to just RM9.8 million next year.

The government tabled last week its biggest-ever Budget totalling RM322.5 billion for next year, with the AGC’s allocation amounting to about 0.055 per cent of the entire budget.

Here’s a look at the AGC’s operating expenditure in recent years, both in terms of the amount actually spent and budget estimates, based on Finance Ministry documents archived by Sinar Project and also the latest Finance Ministry documents:

Emoluments or salaries of AGC personnel take up the biggest chunk of its annual budget, at a range of 78 per cent to 82 per cent of the funds actually spent in 2017 to 2019 and of the funds allocated for 2020 and 2021.

While the AGC’s operating budget for 2021 might be going back up to levels nearing the RM179 million it spent in 2016, one of its key divisions has seen a significant budget cut for 2021.

his was highlighted recently by lawyer Lim Wei Jiet, who expressed concern over the 37 per cent cut that would leave the prosecution division with RM9.8 million in 2021 compared to RM15.5 million in 2020.

He said this division was the one that heads the prosecution of various politicians including former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, and urged the government to explain the lower budget for prosecution work, questioning the justice with merely RM9.8 million to the prosecution division as compared to the RM85 million allocated for the Special Affairs Department (Jasa) under the Communications and Multimedia Ministry.

Malay Mail’s check of the government’s estimated federal expenditure for 2021 showed that the AGC has four programmes: management, laws (covering activities such as the drafting and review of laws), litigation (covering activities such as prosecution, trials and appeals) and advisory (covering activities such as providing legal advice and carrying out research).

While there have been significant changes to some of the other units under the AGC, namely the states’ legal adviser office under the management programme and the Kuala Lumpur branch under the litigation programme which both recorded a jump of more than RM2 million each in allocations for next year, most of the rest either saw increases or reductions in the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands.

The prosecution division stands out as having the biggest change to its budget, with the cut of close to RM5.7 million.

A clue on the prosecution division’s smaller budget?

Zooming in on the prosecution division’s budget over the years, it had been relatively stable with allocations within the RM7 million to RM8 million range for 2016 to 2019, before jumping to RM15.5 million for 2020 and falling by almost RM5.7 million to become RM9.8 million for 2021.

What could be a possible explanation for the sudden cut?

Just like the overall operating budget for the AGC, emoluments make up most of the budget for the prosecution division — nearing 90 per cent or above 90 per cent of the division’s estimated budget for the years 2016 to 2021.

As for the number of positions estimated in any division under the AGC, the estimates in the government’s federal expenditure vary from year to year. For example, the estimate for the year 2020 may differ, depending on whether the federal expenditure was released in 2019 or 2020.

Looking at the number of positions under the prosecution division, the 2017 federal expenditure estimate (released in 2016) put the figure as 75 in 2016 and 75 in 2017, with the 2018 federal expenditure estimate (released in 2017) then stating it as 75 in 2017 and 75 in 2018.

In the 2019 federal expenditure estimate (released in 2018), the number of positions in the prosecution division was however adjusted to a new estimate of 235 for 2018 and 235 for 2019. This would be almost three-fold the initial estimates in the number of personnel for 2018. At this time, the prosecution division’s allocation was estimated to be RM7.9 million.

In the 2020 federal expenditure estimate (released in 2019), the estimated number of personnel in the prosecution division remained at similar levels of 226 for 2019 and 226 for 2020. The allocation for this division had however shot up to an estimated RM15.5 million.

And finally in the 2021 federal expenditure estimate (released this year), the estimated number of personnel in the prosecution division has been reduced by almost half to a new estimate of 122 for 2020 and 122 for 2021. At the same time, the division’s allocation went down from the RM15.5 million estimate in 2020 to a lower estimate of RM7.9 million for 2021.

It’s unclear, however, if this readjustment in estimated number of personnel could be the actual reason for the cut in the prosecution division’s allocation.

Here’s a look at what the prosecution division does

In the government’s annual estimated federal expenditure, the prosecution division of the AGC is stated as having the function of providing advice and instructions to law enforcement agencies and conducting prosecution as well as criminal proceedings in court to ensure criminals are punished under the law.

As recent as the government’s 2017 estimated federal expenditure, the performance of the prosecution division was indicated by its work output, with the 2015 actual figures showing that the division had presented 270 opinions from the attorney general, carried out 77,465 proceedings in the subordinate courts and High Court, conducted 1,801 appeals, applications and reviews in the High Court, and made 318,059 studies and advice and instruction to law enforcement agencies regarding investigations and consent to prosecute.

From 2016 onwards, the performance of the AGC in terms of litigation —- including the prosecution division and other units —- was measured as a whole by its success rate in court.

Based on the AGC’s directory available online, units under the prosecution division include the commercial and cyber crimes unit, serious crimes unit, general crimes and public order unit, sexual crimes and domestic violence unit, money laundering crimes and forfeiture of proceeds of crimes unit, and transnational crimes unit.

In the FAQ section on the AGC’s website, it explained the difference between the prosecution division and the Trials Unit that both carry out prosecution, stating that the Trials Unit only handles cases that are classified as “high profile” or of “particular public interest” whether these cases are at the Magistrate’s Court, Sessions Court or High Court.

Based on the names in the online directory however, some of the deputy public prosecutors in the prosecution division have also been involved in conducting the prosecution for high-profile trials in Kuala Lumpur such as that involving former prime minister Najib as well as Umno president and former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

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