Saturday, December 13, 2008

Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission: Old Coke in a new can?

by Din Merican

As usual the outgoing Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi is upbeat with new announcements and this time it is the tabling of the Anti-Corruption Commission Bill and the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill in Dewan Rakyat on December 10, 2008. He is hopeful that when these bills become law, the integrity and credibility of the successor Anti-Corruption Agency which is modelled after the Hongkong ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) and the judiciary would be restored. The Prime Minister was reported to have said that the passing of these two legislations “will result in a higher level of confidence in the two institutions, which we hope will dispel the negative perception” (The New Straits Times, December 11, 2008 page 20).

Most Malaysians including The President, Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers, Datuk Mustafa Mansur (see The Star, December 11) may be prepared to give the Prime Minister his last chance to show what he can do, but I have become very skeptical over the last half a decade because I have heard a lot of talk and spin from the Badawi Administration about fighting corruption and the independence of the judiciary.

Frankly speaking, what can he really do after March, 2009 when the new UMNO-led Barisan Nasional administration under Najib takes over? Just bite his fingers and regret loss of opportunity to make significant change to our political and socio-eonomic landscape. We all know that laws matter little, if there is no enforcement. We can legislate until the cows come home, but if there is political will to enforce laws enacted by Parliament, execution will remain half hearted at best. We have seen that before. Will Najib see this through, given the commissions he has been getting through his proxies and proxy companies?

So it will, for example, be in the case of the Anti-Corruption Agency in its reincarnation. Instead of being under the Prime Minister, the MCAC will be scrutinised by 5 independent bodies, namely the Anti-Corruption Advisory Board, Special Committee on Corruption, Complaints Committee, Operations Review Panel and Corruption Prevention and Consultative Panel. This is a bureaucracy. We know about the new structure for MACC, but we are not told whether there will any drastic changes to the agency’s modus operandi. Otherwise, old coke in a new can is old coke. Nothing changes. The Prime Minister is still in charge.

And the Prime Minister still has a big say on how the MCAC will operate, only this time via individuals appointed by the Agong on his recommendations. It is well known that the Agency as presently constituted has been an instrument of the UMNO-BN government to intimidate members of the opposition, political rivals and critics, and others who are perceived to be anti-govermment.

Ministers and politicians connected to UMNO and its coalition partners have not been spared the trauma of an ACA investigation. Even the recent investigations by the ACA of the Attorney-General and the Inspector-General of Police for fabricating evidence against Anwar Ibrahim in connection with the latter’s infamous 1998 was shrouded in secrecy. These personalities were not even suspended from their duties, a privilege denied to lesser individuals. That speaks volumes of the independence and integrity of the ACA. It is just a political poodle.

I have been informed by friends and associates of instances where ministers have interfered with the ACA’s work. The agency has been intimidating witnesses, drafting and altering statements, and advising those in power on how charges should framed so that they are not in any way implicated.

One Minister, for example, even consulted the Attorney General’s Office so that parties allied to her are protected; instead a senior civil servant in her ministry suffered the indignity of suspension from his duties and will be charged in our courts for corruption. In recent years, we have witnessed the case of the former Secretary-General, Ministry of Rural Development was charged, sentenced and acquitted by the court while the Minister in charge was not even called as a witness for his trial. No government minister except Kasitah Gaddam has been dragged to the courts for corruption.

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