COMBATING CORRUPTION WITH NEW HOPE?

The reactivation of the Cabinet Committee on Integrity in Governance with a new name the Cabinet Committee on Anti-Corruption (JKKMAR) is an important step.

One of its first decisions was to establish a Centre on Governance, Integrity and Anti- Corruption (GIACC) which will report directly to the Prime Minister. The GIACC will also encompass human rights. A number of existing entities such as the Department of Integrity and Governance (JITN), the Institute Integrity Malaysia (IIM), the Public Complaints Bureau (BPA) and the Integrity Commission on Enforcement Agencies (EAIC) will be placed under the GIACC. The aim would be to reduce duplication and public expenditure as the government intensifies the fight against corruption.

A national Anti-Corruption Plan is going to be formulated. All government ministries will also be asked to identify 3 weaknesses related to existing laws, policies and procedures that should be reviewed in order to reduce corruption. They have been given a month to submit their findings to the GIACC.

The government is also planning to introduce a law which will enable punitive action to be taken against officers who deliberately cause wastage and leakages or are extravagant in the administration of public funds. Cabinet Ministers right down to political secretaries will also be prohibited from accepting gifts from the public.

A more important measure is the promulgation of a law on political financing. A detailed proposal on this already exists which makes it so much easier to expedite this much needed legislation.

In announcing several of these worthwhile initiatives, Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, also emphasised that all Ministers will have to declare their assets to him and to present the same report to the anti-graft authority. This is not what many groups have been campaigning for over the last few decades. The declaration of the assets and liabilities of Ministers and Deputy Ministers at the federal level, and Executive Councillors at the State level, including the Prime Minister and the Mentri Besar/ Chief Minister respectively, should be made public. The Penang and Selangor State governments have been doing this since they came to power in the two states a decade ago. Three Ministers in Tun’s recently installed Cabinet from Parti Amanah Negara,namely, Mohamad Sabu, Salahuddin Ayub and Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad have already inked Statutory Declarations which detail their assets and their debts. These declarations are accessible to the public.  The Amanah leaders and the Penang and Selangor governments should be commended for setting the right example.

Political leaders and key public officials declaring their assets and liabilities to the public is a principle of accountability that has gained tremendous momentum in the last three or four decades. It enhances the people’s trust in their leaders. It not only gives the ordinary citizen an honest picture of the financial worth of his leader but also serves to deter those who wield power from using their office to accumulate wealth at the expense of the people.

Different societies have evolved different mechanisms for making their leaders’ financial status known to the people. In our case, all declarations of assets and liabilities at Federal and state levels could be lodged with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) which will verify the information contained therein before posting it on a secure website accessible to the public. The leaders and officials concerned would be required by law to update the information on their finances at regular intervals.

A bold and brave move of this sort is imperative at this stage because of what the nation has gone through in recent times. The magnitude of the betrayal of the people’s trust is so horrendous that confidence in the elite will only be restored and sustained if it demonstrates that it has the moral courage to put into practice the loftiest canons of integrity and accountability. In similar vein, our constitutional monarchs should in accordance with their position allow their emoluments and other perquisites to be made known to the people through an appropriate mechanism. In a genuine constitutional monarchy there would be hardly any dissension about such a practice. Indeed, it is a practice that will enhance the people’s love and affection for their monarchs.

There are a number of other proposals that have been made over the years by some of us to strengthen accountability and integrity that should be re-articulated at this stage in the hope that the powers-that-be will respond positively. Barring close kith and kin of any Minister or Executive Councillor from bidding for any government project or contract; eliminating agents and proxies in procurements involving the state; ensuring the practice of open tenders across the board with some exceptions linked to defence purchases; and making the MACC directly answerable to Parliament are ideas which will certainly strengthen accountability and honesty in the life of our nation.

For a nation which was the first in the Global South to enact a law against corruption and to establish a separate agency to fight the scourge, we have sadly, now fallen into the abyss. Only a leadership and a people driven by a single-minded passion to combat corruption will be able to lift us out of this morass. This is what Malaysians are hoping for after ousting the previous venal regime. Will Pakatan Harapan— the Pact of Hope — strive to realize that hope?

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