ONE can be forgiven for concluding that arrests of public servants on charges of corruption merely skim the surface because it is not an easy crime to prove.
That arrests now happen almost on a regular basis indicates just how rife it is in the country. The most recent is the apprehension of eight Kelantan Forestry Department staff by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for complicity in illegal logging in the Ulu Sat forest reserve in Machang.
This is another instance of enforcers breaching the trust placed on them by their office. Not too long ago, the integrity of Immigration officers along the Malaysian-Thai border was questioned after the discovery of death camps at Wang Kelian, Perlis. Special Branch reports emerged alleging that 80 per cent of Immigration personnel at our borders were involved in all manner of smuggling activities, including human trafficking.
However, without whistle-blowers, the MACC is impotent to act. There was too, the case of the Customs officers in Port Klang, the MACC’s major opening salvo.
Evidence came in the way they lived; well beyond their means. It gave them away. Brought to court and charged, humiliation came in the way of being photographed with their underwear masking their faces.
In short, with the increasing empowerment of the MACC, its image changed from allegations of brutality against suspects to proper corruption-busting.
Their lament of inadequate prosecution reach only reinforces the suspicion that there is much more to the problem than the eye can see.
The worry is the reality reflected in the MACC’s success. It appears to lend proof to the persistently less than flattering image of the country given by Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.
There was, indeed, a time under the predecessor to the MACC, the Anti-Corruption Agency, when there was barely any exposure of corruption.
There were some, but nothing as regular as it is now. Obviously, it didn’t mean that corruption did not exist, but rather, that corruption was like a silent cancer breeding in the fabric of the public service.
Now that the problem is exposed, how can it be dealt with?
Naturally, corruption is inherent in positions vested with power. The abuse by the holders of the posts is what gives rise to the crime.
Where judges are concerned, it is argued that handsome salaries hinder corruption, hence their higher-than-average remuneration package. But, to repeat this with every powerful government post is to bleed the Treasury.
How, then, can the state eliminate corruption effectively? Transparency, it is said, removes the veil of secrecy, which breeds this most destructive of crimes.
Take for example, tender procedures for government projects. Negotiated tenders are open to abuse, while open tenders have a better chance of awarding projects to the lowest bidder.
Unfortunately, not all corrupt situations can be solved through transparency — like cross-border smuggling, for example. Therefore, the only recourse is severe punishment, the degree of which depends on the crime’s potential to breach national security.
Above all though, the best armour against corruption is personal ethics; the God-fearing, righteous, honest and trustworthy individual.
NST Editorial 29 August 2015
Transparent and accountable
PAHANG Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob’s announcement that he and 10 state executive council members will declare their assets to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) was a breath of fresh air at a time when Malaysians wake up to bad news most mornings.
The message Adnan wants to send to the people of Pahang is that the “Pahang government, its menteri besar and exco members are together in fighting corruption”.
It is a positive first step, and inspires hope that those holding office in other states will also voluntarily divulge their assets before, during and upon leaving their terms.
If we accept the idea that public office is synonymous with high morality, then, public sector officials with power must show that they are acting for those they serve and not for personal gain.
Transparency, accountability and integrity are must-have traits of those who have the authority to decide contracts, allocate budgets and oversee a variety of decisions that involve taxpayers money.
Adnan’s point that top public officials in Pahang might be among the first in the country to disclose details of their assets is a telling comment on the state of asset declaration regime in Malaysia.
Local experts have suggested that Malaysia has an existing system of asset declaration, but, it is not comprehensive because it lacks transparency and a strong verification mechanism.
Among some suggestions are to make it mandatory by law for ministers and members of parliament (including senators) to reveal their assets; for the practice of ministers making known their assets to the prime minister to stop; and for all elected MPs and senators to be legally bound to state their possessions to a parliamentary committee that is independent from the Executive.
A greater role is envisioned for the MACC by giving it the mandate to verify and monitor asset declaration covering those made by politicians to the parliamentary committee and civil servants to their ministry.
The MACC must also have the authority to work with agencies, such as the Inland Revenue Board and Bank Negara Malaysia. And, the MACC must make all information available publicly following completion of the verification exercise. Since there are privacy issues to consider, interested parties may want to make a request for information.
If that is the case, Malaysia should mull over the possibility of introducing a Freedom of Information Act. However, when commenting on the possibility of this last week, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low said Malaysia was not yet ready to implement it, as there was as yet no structure for it.
Declarations of assets, liabilities and other interests owned or controlled by public officials, their families and close associates have become a key tool in combating corruption around the globe, according to Transparency International.
Asset declarations are increasingly required of certain categories of public officials. In some cases, such officials are identified as “politically exposed persons” or “PEPs”, and some countries have gone so far as to build PEP lists. Disclosure allows monitoring of a public official’s wealth.
The asset declaration statement becomes an important document for investigators when suspicions about an individual emerge.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of an asset disclosure programme is the reassurance citizens get that their leaders are doing the right thing. NST Editorial 27 August 2015