In its latest quarterly December 1996 newsletter, the Berlin-based international NGO against corruption, Transparency International(TI) had praises for the Malaysian Government for the “remarkable developments in the public attitude of the government regarding corruption issues”.
The TI newsletter noted that the Malaysian Government, which had been “one of the strongest critics” of the TI Index on corruption when it appeared, has now cited Malaysia's standing in the index as a reason for reform.
It referred in particular to the statement by the Chief Secretary to the Government, Datuk Abdul Halim Ali, last October when announcing the establishment of a toll-free complaint line by the Anti-Corruption Agency.
Halim had said that “the international index on corrupt practices prepared by Transparency International, which indicated that Malaysia is among the top nations on the list, is a warning for us to take the necessary steps to overcome the problem”.
He warned that the stability and prosperity of a country depended greatly on how clean or corrupted a particular government was and that a corruption-free society was what Malaysia aspired to be.
The TI newsletter also referred with favour to the warning by the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, last November that great Islamic and Western empires had collapsed when problems like corruption had become acceptable at all levels of society.
These have indeed been “remarkable developments” on the corruption front, for when I first raised Transparency International’s 1995 international corruption index placing Malaysia as No. 23 in a list of 41 countries in Parliament in a motion of urgent, definite public importance in April last year, the Government claimed that it had never heard of Transparency International and did not know how the corruption index was calculated.
When TI’s 1996 international corruption perception index was published in June, placing Malaysia lower down the line at No. 26 out of a list of 54 nations, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed hit out against the West, accusing them of being more corrupt and decadent and not qualified to pass judgement on corruption in other countries.
This was not a supportable position to take as it gave the impression that the Malaysian government was asserting the sovereign right to be corrupt and that it was no business of anyone anywhere in the world to interfere or meddle in its corruption affairs.
I had then said that the Government could challenge the validity of TI’s ranking for Malaysia, but it should not challenge the propriety or legitimacy of TI’s commitment or mission to oppose corruption in the international arena.
I am glad that the government has adopted a more positive and constructive attitude towards TI and its international corruption perception index, and that Anti-Corruption Agency officials had even visited the TI at its Berlin headquarters recently. It would have been most invidious and indefensible for the ACA, for instance, to be denouncing the TI when they should be working closely to mobilise all available resources against corruption, whether nationally or internationally.
The Cabinet should take a formal decision that the government work closely with TI to wage a high-powered campaign against corruption and improve Malaysia’s placing in the new 1997 TI international corruption perception index.
There is no doubt that some recent events - like the failure on the part of the ACA to take any action whatsoever in the second Perwaja financial scandal, where the RM1 billion Perwaja losses before the takeover by Tan Sri Eric Chia in 1988 had exploded to RM2.9 billion accumulated losses and RM6.9 billion in liabilities and most recently, the numerous questions surrounding Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib for not declaring RM2.4 million cash in various currencies in Brisbane on December 22 - are not conducive towards a culture of transparency or improvement of Malaysia’s placing in the new 1997 TI international corruption perception index.
All Malaysians, regardless of party, must regard it as a national patriotic duty to promote a corruption-free culture and image and place Malaysia among the top ten nations in the world which are regarded as most clean and least corrupt.
The Prime Minister and many government leaders have exhorted Malaysians to aspire to world-class status, and there is no reason why one of these aspirations should not be for Malaysia to join the ranks of the top ten nations universally regarded as most corruption-free.
I propose that the government should establish a Royal Commission on Corruption-free Society headed by the first director-general of Anti-Corruption Agency and retired Supreme Court Judge, Tan Sri Harun Hashim, to propose a strategy for a national war against corruption, which should include the introduction of a high-powered anti-corruption law and improvement of Malaysia’s ranking in the TI international corruption perception index.
Harun Hashim will be most suitable to head the Royal Commission on Corruption-free Society to plan out a national campaign against corruption and to improve Malaysia’s ranking in the TI international corruption perception index - not only because of his past experience, but also because of his continued interest in this field.
Recently, for instance, Harun had suggested in his column in a national daily that politicians holding public office and government officers who are in possession of pecuniary resources or property disproportionate to their known sources of income and for which they cannot satisfactorily account should be guilty of an offence which is punishable with imprisonment not exceeding 20 years without the option of a fine and such properties be forfeited. Harun said "possession" should include possession by spouses, children, siblings and even front companies.
Yesterday, Harun said that the time has come to close the chapter on money politics, that “ it is becoming increasingly obvious that politics and business is not a good mix”, stressing that people “should not enter politics as a stepping stone to untold riches”.