I find it most regrettable however that the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Mohd. Nazri Abdul Aziz had refused to answer during question time whether the Prevention of Corruption Amendment Bill would provide for a statutory presumption that a public officer having extraordinary wealth or leading a lifestyle disproportionate to his known sources of income should be deemed to have committed an offence of corruption unless he can give a satisfactory explanation, and for the confiscation of such corrupt ill-gotten gains.
Datuk Nazri asked me to be patient until the Prevention of Corruption Amendment Bill is tabled in Parliament.
This is not a question as to whether I am "patient" or not, but concerns the right of the people to be fully informed and given an opportunity to meaningfully participate in the legislative process by having their views heard before Parliament passes any important piece of legislation.
In the final analysis, the war against corruption is about upholding transparency and accountability, and there is something very wrong when the whole process of enacting amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act is couched in secrecy without the benefit of any public input or participation.
I can understand if Nazri explains that the Bill is not ready for tabling in Parliament because the final drafting language is not ready, but he should be able to inform Parliament of the main thrust of the amendments.
This was in fact what the Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, did later in the Parliament lobby when he told reporters that the amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act would make it an offence for a false report of corrupt practices to be made against anyone.
Anwar said: "The Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) and Government will incorporate a provision specifically to protect the innocent from mala fide actions.
"Therefore, we have to impose a penalty against those who maliciously or falsely accuse a person of being corrupt without corroborating facts."
Anwar’s statement threw light as to why earlier during question time, the MP for Machang Datuk Sukri Mohamed, had posed a supplementary question whether there would be any provision in the amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act to deal with what he described as the "injustice" caused by those who lodge reports on corruption but were later found to be untrue.
It is clear that Sukri posed this question because the Barisan Nasional MPs had been briefed yesterday morning in the pre-council meeting of Barisan Nasional MPs by the Acting Prime Minister about the proposed Prevention of Corruption Amendment Bill.
What is of great interest however is that Sukri prefaced his supplementary question with a reference to the ACA report which I had lodged asking for full investigations as to how Ling Hee Leong, son of MCA President and Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik could at the age of 27 and without any corporate track record, embark on corporate acquisitions exceeding RM1.2 billion in a matter of three months and whether there had been any improper use or influence of his father’s political and Ministerial position.
Is the proposed amendment to prevent ACA reports like the one in connection with Ling Hee Leong’s RM1.2 billion corporate acquisitions to be lodged in future and is this a clear message to the ACA that it should not conduct any intensive and thorough investigation into this matter?
I am glad that there is national consensus involving all political parties as well as all cross-sections of society giving support to the "all-out war against corruption" launched by the Acting Prime Minister, as illustrated by the successful holding of the "Round Table Conference on Corruption - Assembly of Voices" last Sunday and the very significant meeting of Cabinet Ministers, MPs from the ruling parties and the opposition, corporate leaders, trade unionists, academicians and NGO representatives at the "Consensus Against Corruption" jointly organised by Institute for Policy Research, Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute, the Centre for Leadership and Development Studies and the Barisan Backbenchers’ Club on Saturday.
However, there is a need for greater national awareness not only about the evil of corruption, but also about the magnitude and full meaning of corruption.
For instance, corruption could be defined as "the misuse of public power for private profit", but it could also be described as representing non-compliance with the "arm’s-length" principle, under which no personal or family relationship should play any role in economic decision-making, be it by private economic agents or by government officials.
I would be very surprised if the ACA report in connection with Ling Hee Leong’s RM1.2 billion corporate acquisitions should be the cause of an amendment to create a criminal offence out of "false reports" on corrupt practices for two reasons:
Firstly, Ling Hee Leong had never publicly contested mass media reports about his RM1.2 billion corporate acquisitions in three months, when he was only 27 years old and had no corporate track record whatsoever, and the RM1.2 billion corporate acquisitions made up of the following:
(i) Dec. 96 Berjaya Industrial - RM568 million (ii) Dec. 96 Promet - RM350 million (iii) Dec.96 Kelenamas - RM314.5 million (iv) Sept.96 Red Box - RM 52 million
Total - RM1,284.5 million
Secondly, the most shocking statements and admissions which had been made by Ling Hee Leong in the mass media, raising the question whether Ling Liong Sik had played any role in his son’s RM1.2 billion corporate acquisitions, as for instance:
(a) Ling Hee Leong’s admission in the April 1997 issue of Journal One that "Ninety-nine per cent of the time I won’t do anything without my father’s blessing";
(b) His interview in the same publication, where he said:
"I think every father tries to open doors for his son, whoever the father may be. If he knows a few more friends, he is in a position to open a few more doors. And ‘unfair advantage’ I think, is an unfair comment. There is nothing unfair in this world. Everything is relative and unfairness is quite subjective. Those who benefit don’t feel it’s unfair but those who don’t benefit say it is."
I would ask Anwar to explain whether this proposed amendment on "false report" in the Prevention of Corruption Amendment Bill is because of the Ling Hee Leong case.
I would urge the Cabinet to reconsider and to withdraw such an amendment for three reasons:
Firstly, such an amendment is superfluous as under Section 203 of the Penal Code, it is an offence punishable up to two years’ jail for anyone to give false information in connection with a police report.
Secondly, the inclusion of such a proposal in the Prevention of Corruption Amendment Bill would focus debate on the Ling Hee Leong case, when I would prefer the thrust of the debate to be on how to create the conditions for the development of a new culture for political integrity with zero tolerance for corruption.
Thirdly, such a proposal would send a wrong message altogether when what the Cabinet and Parliament should be concerned about is to introduce a law to protect "whistleblowers" who expose corruption, fraud and misappropriation of public funds in the public interest.
We should create a climate to encourage more Malaysians to come forward to lodge reports against corruption instead of frightening the people off. Otherwise, instead of putting the "fear of God" on the corrupt, we will be putting the "fear of God" on those who want to report corrupt practices - which is totally inimical to an all-out war against corruption. What are the cases of injustices which had been caused as a result of ACA reports as to justify the creation of a new offence to punish those who make ACA reports and why couldn’t action be taken against them under the existing Penal Code?
I will hold consultations with the Panellists of the "Round Table on Corruption - Assembly of Voices" to propose amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Bill to lay a strong basis to build a strong national integrity system.
More and more countries are introducing "Whistleblowers Legislation" to protect people who bring to the public’s attention any matters which are contrary to the public interest, whether it be corruption, fraud or misappropriation of public funds.
These "whistleblowers" act in the public interest and should not be regarded as criminals or be charged under the Official Secrets Act.
During the Seventh Malaysia Plan debate in Parliament on 6th May last year, I had called for legislation to protect whistleblowers in the country, as whistleblowing is about openness, accountability, equity and justice.
I hope the Cabinet and Parliament can focus on the need for Malaysia to join the vanguard of nations providing for Whistleblowers’ legislation when we discuss amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act, as providing civil servants with the legal right to blow the whistle on fraud and corruption in their departments by reporting them to Members of Parliament and the ACA.