LAST week, a businessman was acquitted of four charges of corruption involving RM49.7mil by the Sessions Court. The said businessman was at the centre of a controversy a couple of years ago, involving alleged improprieties where a company received public funds. These allegations were made by an Opposition MP, following from findings made by the Auditor-General at that time.
The acquittal of the said businessman was pursuant to the decision of the Attorney-General to drop the charges against the said businessman after studying a letter of representation sent by counsel for the accused. It was not made after a full trial and where the Sessions Court found him not guilty.
The discretion to institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings for an offence, other than proceedings before a Syariah court, a native court or a court-martial lies with the Attorney-General, as the Public Prosecutor. This is provided for by the Federal Constitution and is not in dispute.
However, as the charges against the businessman is in connection with a national controversy involving large sums of public monies, the Attorney-General should explain to the public why he made the decision to drop those charges.
The issue here is not whether the Attorney-General could discontinue the charges, but whether there are cogent reasons to do so.
Juxtapose this with the MP who made the disclosure relating to the businessman and the company that he is a part of. The MP was charged for disclosing bank account details without authority and the trial for his case will continue. The Attorney-General has not made any decision to discontinue the prosecution.
A person is innocent until proven guilty. Both the businessman and the MP should be accorded that right, and the right to defend themselves against any criminal charge against them. This writer makes no comment as to their guilt or innocence.
But the reality is that there is a perception that authorities, be it the police or the prosecutors, are more interested in going after whistleblowers than actual offenders. The differing fates of the businessman and the MP will only strengthen this perception.
Similarly, the Inspector-General of Police has stated that the police have begun investigations into an anti-graft organisation following its revelation of documents related to a Government-linked Islamic foundation. It is unclear what law the anti-graft organisation has broken by disclosing those documents, but this will again feed the perception that authorities only go after whistleblowers.
If indeed the Islamic foundation feels aggrieved by the disclosure, they are free to take civil action against the anti-graft organisation. It is a private wrong, not something the state should step into by way of police investigations.
If we do not protect whistleblowers, they will not come forward with the information that they possess.
If they do not come forward with information they possess, wrongdoings within an organisation may never be known.
Yes, we have a Whistleblower Protection Act, but it only accords protection to those who make disclosures to the authorities. In the current climate where there is a trust deficit in the authorities, it is unlikely that anyone would come forth and do so - especially if they believe that they would be at risk, despite the existence of the Act.
The Act is also ineffective as it is negated by other legislation such as the Official Secrets Act and Section 203A of the Penal Code, which prohibits disclosure of information by those in the civil service or exercising functions under the law.
While the disclosure of information may run afoul of the law, our authorities should prioritise investigations on the wrongdoing exposed instead of investigating and prosecuting the whistleblower.
The authorities should focus on the bigger picture and the larger issue of corruption and mismanagement, instead of acting as if they are only going after whistleblowers.
Until and unless we truly afford protection to whistleblowers, our fight against corruption will not be as effective as it should be.