"Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life, and allows organised crime, terrorism, and other threats to human security to flourish." (UN Convention Against Corruption 2004)
Will the scourge of corruption be eradicated by this "convenience government"?
Revolving door of corruption prosecutions
I have pointed out an evident pattern in Malaysia’s "revolving door of corruption prosecutions" in a previous article. Malaysia’s new normal of a political revolving door since GE14, 2018 – BN to PH and then back to BN/PN, and now PH/BN – is also proving to be a revolving door of corruption prosecutions.
We saw BN politicians being charged with corruption over 1MDB and other scandals after 2018 and these ongoing cases expose shocking behind-the-scenes tricks by these elected representatives. After the fall of the PH government in 2020, we witnessed the re-opening of the corruption cases involving PH politicians and which were rather foolishly dropped by the PH government after GE14.
Of course, the revolving door is maintained by the revolving series of MACC chairs and attorney-generals who are appointed by the government of the day. From their decision making, it seems that their mission is to punish the ruling coalition foes and to let off those who choose to be friendly, rather than ensuring that all of the corrupt, regardless of political persuasion, are brought to book.
Unfortunately, the new "convenience government" under the former reformasi champion Anwar Ibrahim failed to "hold high the banner of anti-corruption" when he appointed a deputy prime minister who is currently facing multiple corruption charges in court.
And true to the script of "Malaysia’s revolving door of corruption cases", he has alleged corruption by the previous PN regime to the tune of RM600 billion! This is certainly more sensational than the RM2.6 billion 1MDB scandal associated with the former BN administration. We hope the MACC will do their duty and follow this up.
Whatever happened to the LCS and LCA scandals?
This is all great stuff for pummelling the opposition, but does it add credibility to the government’s commitment to rid the nation of corruption? For example, what happened to all of the corruption cases that were trending just before GE15?
Before the GE15, PKR deputy president Rafizi Ramli was gung-ho about the littoral combat ships (LCS) scandal, revealing that the ex-deputy defence minister’s spouse was the owner of companies pocketing money from LCS project.
The report on the controversial LCS project by the special investigation committee on public governance, procurement and finance further revealed that Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was involved in the procurement process. The report included evidence in the form of a letter sent by Boustead Naval Shipyard Sdn Bhd (BNS) on July 8, 2010, to Zahid asking for a letter of intent on the LCS project. The letter carried Zahid's handwriting that said "sila laksanakan" (please get this done) as well his signature and stamp as the defence minister.
Then there was the scandal of the multi-billion-ringgit Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) tender for 18 light combat aircraft (LCA) with allegations of impropriety by ministry personnel.
Will these cases be subsumed under the new sensational RM600 billion scandal allegedly committed by the previous PN government?
The people want all corrupt politicians to be charged
With this new normal of a revolving door of corruption prosecutions, it is not surprising that the public view such prosecutions with cynicism and scepticism. The citizens of this country want to see justice done without fear or favour – regardless of political affiliation or socio-economic status, whether the sum involved in the corruption is RM2.6 billion (in the case of the former prime minister) or RM2.6 million (in the case of the former chief minister of Penang). Justice should not only be done but should "manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done".
The decisions of the MACC chair and the AG are thus crucial to vindicate the public's interest in upholding an honest government and an independent judicial system. Whatever their political affiliation, it is the responsibility of all public servants to maintain a high ethical standard to serve the people effectively and honestly. This is easier said than done when these crucial posts are appointees of the prime minister of the day.
The defection of former PKR vice-president Xavier Jayakumar to the PN government just as MACC was closing in on his heels has exposed MACC’s lack of commitment to a truly independent graft-busting mission that all decent Malaysians expect. On this score, both BN and PH coalitions are equally guilty of treating corruption as a political game that is used against their opponents rather than a commitment to expose corruption, irrespective of whether the corrupt happens to be a friend or foe.
Zero tolerance for corruption
In the reformed Malaysia that Malaysians yearn for, there must be zero tolerance for corruption. We expect every case of corruption to be reported to the relevant authorities, nothing less than that. We also expect MACC to follow through with its investigations to a legitimate end.
Corrupt leaders and civil servants must be accountable to the people. Furthermore, they must pay back what they have corruptly obtained from the people and atone for their indiscretion. This is irrespective of whether the amount of money involved is RM2.6 billion in your personal bank account or RM2.6 million that you paid for a house.
An effective and independent MACC
First, the heads of anti-corruption commissions should be appointed through a process that ensures their independence, impartiality, neutrality, integrity, apolitical stance, and competence. Their appointment must be based on non-political, non-partisan criteria.
The degree to which MACC can function truly independently is vital to its ability to fight corruption effectively. The principle that these agencies should be independent is axiomatic. Being free from undue influence is generally stated in the form of being free from politics.
The ideal is that MACC is part of an "apolitical" law enforcement system and implements a clear set of laws to bring about the apprehension, conviction, and punishment of offenders. There should in fact be a statutory or constitutional basis for a claim to independence, asserting autonomy and limiting the powers of the executive. Other mechanisms relate to appointment, continuity, removal, and remuneration of AC officials.
This concerted effort to root out corruption requires strong impartial leadership and commitment, and a team of skilled investigators able to collaborate with other investigative and prosecuting bodies, accorded sufficient powers and resources to make its operations effective. Independence therefore means freedom from interference as well as the capacity to act.
To conclude, eradicating corruption from our midst involves enhancing the citizens’ voices by removing the restrictions that stifle dissent and open debate, including press freedom; judicial reform, especially the creation of an "independent" judiciary; civil service employment reform; the removal of unnecessary layers of bureaucracy; tough anti-corruption laws and the assurance of politically independent law enforcement agencies.
Any coalition that wants our support at the next general election must first declare their commitment to such reforms and demonstrate that they are serious about implementing them to rid the country of this scourge of corruption. We will not tolerate the cherry-picking of corruption cases by the government of the day to suit what looks like the "new normal" of a revolving door of corruption prosecutions.
Kua Kia Soong is a human rights activist.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.