Just as the previous parliamentary meeting will be noted for passing the first set of cyberlaws for Malaysia to prepare the country for the quantum leap into the Digital Era, the forthcoming meeting of Parliament should be noted for laying the foundation for one of the fundamental pillars of a civil society - an honest government and a clean society with zero tolerance for corruption.
In the past few weeks, it is very heartening to see all political parties expressing support for the Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in launching an all-out war against corruption and his declaration that "Now is the time to act…we will catch the big ones and we will catch the small ones."
The UMNO Youth, the Gerakan, the MIC and even the MCA Youth had publicly declared their full support for an all-out war against corruption.
However, the success or failure of the all-out war against corruption will depend on three factors:
National focus will now switch to Parliament and the 192 Members of Parliament in the Dewan Rakyat when they gather for the July meeting, for although the first factor is outside the jurisdiction of MPs, their role will have a great influence in the success or failure of the two other factors as to whether we have one of the severest anti-corruption laws and uncompromising enforcement agencies in the world and whether we have a new political culture with zero tolerance for corruption.
The July Parliament will be unique in Malaysian history for in every one of the ten Parliamentary sittings, there would be at least one question on corruption during the question time.
On the first day, in fact, six questions on corruption had been submitted, four by the Opposition, one by the Independent MP and one by the Barisan Nasional.
My question on the first day is on the subject on corruption and it is slated to be the fourth question to be answered during the question hour, asking the Prime Minister "what actions and measures the Government has taken on all fronts to launch an all-out war against corruption whether in increasing powers to fight corruption; enhancing penalties for corruption offences; creating an anti-corruption political culture as in encouraging an investigative media, a more accountable public service and more transparent procurement and pricing policies whether by government or privatised agencies; or developing and/or strengthening anti-corruption watchdog mechanisms."
Altogether some 33 questions concerning corruption had been submitted for the 10-day Parliamentary meeting, most of them come from the Opposition, with 16 questions from the DAP, 5 questions from the PAS, two questions from PBS, one question from the one Independent MP and eight questions from the different Barisan Nasional MPs.
Considering that Barisan Nasional controls 87.5 per cent of the seats in Parliament, its MPs should be asking 87.5 per cent of the questions on corruption as well and not merely 24 per cent of the questions.
Be that as it may, it is my hope that all MPs, regardless of whether government or opposition, can stand united to pass a law which would send out a clear signal that the country would no longer tolerate corruption, whether small ones or big ones.
There have been reports that the Cabinet had approved heavier penalties for corruption offences, doubling the maximum jail sentence from five to ten years while the maximum fines would be increased ten-fold from RM10,000 to RM100,000 and that the ACA is also asking for powers to confiscate the ill-gotten gains of the corrupt as in the case of the drug traffickers.
If Malaysia is to be serious in the all-out war against corruption, then this must be reflected in the penalties for corruption in comparison with other offences. If persons who are charged for unlawful assembly under the Police Act and under the Official Secrets Act would be sentenced to a mandatory minimum fine of RM2,000 ringgit on conviction, there is no reason why there should not be a minimum mandatory sentence of two years’ jail for a conviction of corruption - as is to be found in some countries. The maximum jail sentence should not just be increased to ten years but to life imprisonment.
Furthermore, if offences under the Computer Crimes Act and the Copyright Act could be as high as RM500,000, there is no reason why the maximum fines for corruption offences, apart from confiscation of ill-gotten gains, should not be set as high as RM1 million to RM2 million, as corruption in high places is not reckoned in hundreds of thousands or millions of ringgit, but in tens and hundreds of millions of ringgit.
It is important that there should be a nation-wide debate on the evils of corruption and the need to create a new political culture of public integrity with zero tolerance for corruption.
Let us frankly face up to the unpleasant fact that as at present, the ACA lacks public credibility with regard to its independence and freedom of action to wage an uncompromising war against corruption.
We can learn from the example of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) of Hong Kong, which is universally acknowledged as being in the vanguard of organisations dedicated to addressing issues of corruption that occur in both the public and private sectors.
Twenty-two years ago before the establishment of ICAC, corruption was a way of life in Hong Kong.
The success of ICAC in reducing corruption in Hong Kong in the past 22 years can be seen from public opinion surveys in Hong Kong, one in 1977 in which 38% thought corruption to be widespread and another in 1994 in which only 7.8% thought so. In a more recent survey, only 2.9% of the people of Hong Kong indicated they would tolerate corruption and 68% indicated that they would report it if they became aware of it.
The ACA is now 30 years old but it does not have the prestige and credibility of the ICAC, but this is no reason why the ACA cannot catch up and establish such a reputation if there is full political will and national support.
The Hong Kong opinion surveys highlight one important aspect in any war against corruption, that it must secure the support of the community itself which must be a driving force against corruption by taking proactive and sustained action to raise the standards of accountability, transparency and integrity in the public service and government.
Internationally, it is also time for Malaysia to made the debut in the global arena as a country which is serious in wanting to be recognised as among the "ten cleanest nations in the world" instead of being listed No. 26 out of 54 countries in the 1996 Transparency International’s international corruption perception index.
There is no more effective way for Malaysia to make such an international debut than for Malaysia to bid to host the 9th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) in Kuala Lumpur in 1999 to show the world that Malaysia is prepared to take her rightful place as one of the few countries in the world which is serious about an all-out war against corruption
In September, Malaysia will be participating in the 8th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) to be held in Lima, Peru from 7 - 11 September 1997. The main themes of the 9th IACC includes: "Defining the challenge of corruption"; "Sharpening the tools for the fight against corruption"; "Empowering civil society in the fight against corruption" and "Broadening international co-operation".
I would propose in Parliament that the Cabinet take a policy decision to make a bid in the IACC in Lima to host the 9th IACC in Kuala Lumpur in 1999 to show the world that Malaysia is prepared to take her rightful place as one of the few countries in the world which is serious about an all-out war against corruption.
Malaysia should in fact send a strong delegation to the IACC in Lima in September not only to back the bid for hosting the 9th IACC in 1999, but to show the country’s commitment to be in the vanguard in the world in the fight against corruption.
I hope MPs from all political parties would back this proposal that Malaysia make the bid to host the 9th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) in Kuala Lumpur in 1999 and even to send a Parliamentary delegation to the Lima conference to show Parliamentary support for this bid.