Sunday, March 1, 2009

MACC: Old Wine In A New Bottle

Sunday, 01 March 2009 02:02

we can have the best legal framework, systems and procedures, but if we put crooks in charge, nothing will change. A “bunga taik ayam” by any other name will not smell like a rose.


What a waste of public funds! The creation of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission will go down in history as a feeble and pathetic final clutch at the straws by a sitting duck prime minister best remembered for his inexhaustible supply of good intentions but with nothing to show for them. The MACC was hastily conceived against a murky background of a web of duplicity and deceit. It was a desperate attempt at deluding the people of this country and the world anti-corruption community at large that the Abdullah Badawi administration still had a lot of fire in its belly to make corruption a high risk and low return business. The whole process was nothing more that a charade, a sleight of hand that we had come to expect of this government. In the meantime, corruption continues to be in robust good health.

In 1995 my friends and I started to look at corruption in our country seriously and to view with growing unease its debilitating effects on our society. This led incidentally to the formation of Transparency International Malaysia as it has come to be known. We saw the Anti-Corruption Agency for what it really was in operational terms. It was the weakest link in both the “supply and demand sides” of the corruption equation. We saw the ACA as part of the problem of corruption and not, as it should rightly have been, part of the solution. We thought its claim to “independence” was a joke in poor taste. It was as independent as a beached whale.

"They have missed the point deliberately and with a cynicism of Machiavellian proportions. It is frighteningly sinister."

We demanded from day one that the ACA be converted into an independent commission along the lines of the highly professional Independent Commission Against Corruption with a strong and influential oversight civilian committee to keep an eye on the staff who could otherwise be tempted to abuse their wide powers.

After years of insisting that the ACA was independent despite glaring examples to the contrary, the government finally relented just as the Abdullah Badawi administration went into its death throes. Abdullah Badawi woke up all of a sudden to try to put in place the flawed Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. He is, he has just told us, happy with the judiciary and the MACC. But then our prime minister is an easy man to please. You will note that for all the rhetoric about an independent commission, the key operating word itself does not appear in the name and title of the new body. I suppose it matters not what name you give it, the creation of the MACC is nothing if not a clumsy attempt at decanting old wine into a new bottle.

As for the much hyped up “Hong Kong model” upon which the new corruption fighting machine is apparently based, the less said about this the better. It is clear for all to see that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission falls far short of the Hong Kong template on at least two counts. The first and most obvious shortcoming is an absence in the current law a provision enabling a MACC officer to call anyone to account for their wealth and lifestyle that stick out like a sore thumb against his known income.

It is not a crime for public servants to be wealthy, but would they please explain how they have acquired their wealth to the satisfaction of the authorities, assuming naturally that the authorities themselves are incorruptible? The absence of this specific provision in the law renders the fight against corruption an exercise in futility. The legions of the corrupt in Malaysian public life know that they cannot be touched. The framers of the law knew what they were doing when they decided to omit this powerful provision both in the 1997 Act as well as the current law. They claim that there is no need for it as there is already in the statute book a provision against money laundering. They have missed the point deliberately and with a cynicism of Machiavellian proportions. It is frighteningly sinister.

The second and equally serious shortcoming is the quality of the commissioners. You cannot by any stretch of the imagination compare them with their highly professional Hong Kong counterparts. I have kept abreast of the excellent work of the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption from the time when the iconic Bertrand de Speville was its commissioner. The Hong Kong model works because of the quality of the officers employed. They are all of them drawn from the professions, and are well trained to behave and act professionally. Above all, the ICAC is truly independent, set out to be just that from day one.

Now that the MACC has been officially launched, let us hope it will shed its reputation for bias and sloppy approach to its mission, and above all, its officers must resist the great temptation of seeking premature publicity such as the “million flying licenses” of some years ago. Let your professionalism be its own reward, and Datuk Seri Ahmad Said Hamdan, the head of the organisation should learn to keep his counsel and not repeat that most uncalled for and disgraceful act of finding Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim guilty while his “car and cow” case was still a work in progress.

I wrote this piece before the official launch of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission yesterday, and I am glad that I delayed submitting it to the editors so that I can now have the pleasure of congratulating Datuk Anwar Fazal, a partner in the setting up of Transparency International Malaysia, Tan Sri Megat Najmuddin, and Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon, all strong anti-corruption advocates and my co-workers, on their appointment to the advisory board. They have their work cut out for them, and I wish them well.

As for the MACC, remember this; we can have the best legal framework, systems and procedures, but if we put crooks in charge, nothing will change. A “bunga taik ayam” by any other name will not smell like a rose.

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