This is not because anyone would condone "false allegations" to be made in connection with corruption, but because such a provision is both unnecessary and unwise.
Unnecessary because there are already existing provisions in the Penal Code which could punish up to two years’ and even seven years’ jail for crimes of false reporting, false information and false charges. Unwise because such a provision would be inimical to the whole spirit and purpose of mobilising the entire population behind an all-out war against corruption.
The fight against corruption is a fight for accountability and transparency, and in this regard, the ACA Director-General, Datuk Shafee Yahya, should set an example of accountability and transparency by convincing Malaysians that the new legal provision to provide heavy penalties for "false allegations" on corruption is really warranted and not designed to instil fear and discourage public co-operation in the fight against corruption.
For instance, the ACA received 8,940 complaints last year, out of which about 33 per cent came through poison pen letters.
How many persons had been charged out of these 8,940 complaints received by the ACA in 1996 for having given false reports or information, and what were the results of these charges and the sentences meted out by the courts where convictions had been secured.
I for one have never heard of a single case of prosecution against anyone for making a false report or allegation in connection with corruption, although there are several provisions in the Penal Code to deal with such crimes.
Section 182 of the Penal Code provides for a maximum of six months’ jail, RM2,000 fine, or both for any "false information, with intent to cause a public servant to use his lawful power to the injury of another person".
Under section 203 of the Penal Code, "whoever, knowing or having reason to believe that an offence has been committed, gives any information respecting that offence which he knows or believes to be false" is liable to a maximum penalty of two years jail, fine, or both.
Section 211 of the Penal Code provides for a maximum of seven years’ jail, fine or both for whoever "falsely charges any person with having committed an offence… punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for seven years or upwards".
With these ample criminal sanctions for false allegations on corruption, had the ACA charged any person for false allegations from the 8,940 complaints it had received in 1996 or in the previous 30 years of its history?
If there had not been a single case, or there had been very few cases, of prosecution for false allegations, then it is not that the existing Penal Code provisions are inadequate and that there is any need to incorporate any new offence in the Prevention of Corruption Amendment Bill to make false allegations liable to RM100,000 fine or 10 years jail, or both.
The inescapable conclusion would be that the new provision of false allegations is simply to frighten off the public from co-operating with the ACA to fight against corruption - which sends out a very jarring note in the present all-out war against corruption when the priority should be to enlist full public support to declare corruption as public enemy No. 1.
Yesterday, the Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said changes in the new law on corruption would include a clause that the ACA would no longer investigate poison-pen letters which are not accompanied by documentary evidence or facts.
This again sends out a wrong message about the ACA’s uncompromising fight against corruption and raises the question whether the country is serious in wanting to declare corruption as Public Enemy No. 1 - an even greater enemy than the drug menace.
Why is it necessary to have a special clause in the law on "surat layang"? In the past the ACA had proclaimed that it would investigate allegations of corruption even from "surat layang". Why can’t such discretion be given to ACA, without its hands being tied by unnecessary legislation? Clearly, if there are no facts or information in the "surat layang", there would be no basis for the ACA to act in any event.
As out of the 8,940 complaints on corruption received by the ACA last year, 33 per cent came from "surat layang", let the ACA inform the public how many of these "surat layang" proved to have provided information and leads to justify ACA investigations?
Furthermore, the ACA should also give a list of the number "surat layang" each year which it found to have provided basis for l investigations to be initiated by the ACA, resulting in prosecutions and convictions.
As public support is one of the most critical elements in any all-out war against corruption, the ACA and the government should make an attempt to convince the public that the new provision on "false allegations" is necessary and warranted, and to withdraw such a provision in the new bill if they are unable to persuade public opinion on this issue.