Call for establishment of a National Coalition Against Corruption (NCAC) of Political Parties, NGOs and concerned Malaysians as the third initiative of the civil society to mobilise public support to keep up the momentum for a sustained all-out war against corruption to achieve a new culture with zero tolerance for corruption

Speech - 1997 Supplementary Estimates Bill
by Lim Kit Siang
(Dewan Rakyat, Monday):
The Government is seeking approval for the second supplementary operating estimates for 1997, amounting to RM246 million and the first 1997 supplementary development estimates amounting to RM514 million, totalling RM760 million.

It should be noted that out of the nine ministries which are seeking approval for supplementary votes, five of them have departments which are among the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) list of "Top Ten" government agencies and departments most prone to corruption.

Recently, The New Straits Times carried an exclusive report about this ACA "Top Ten" list of government agencies and departments investigated for corrupt practices based on a 1990-1994 survey it conducted.

Of the 3,558 cases investigated during the five-year period, the ACA found that police recorded the highest number of cases at 918, followed by local authorities, including district and municipal councils (446), Land Offices (367), Education Ministry/Department (226) and the Road Transport Department (196).

The others in the list are the Public Works Department (189),Customs and Excise Department (135), Forestry Department (125), Defense Ministry/Armed Forces (115) and Health Ministry/Department (102).

I believe that the reports lodged with the ACA is only the tip of the iceberg representing a small proportion of the total number of cases of corruption in the country in the five years concerned, primarily for two reasons: first, lack of general public confidence in the ACA as independent and capable of dealing with corruption involving influential people holding high government or political office; and secondly, the lack of a strong culture of integrity in public service with zero tolerance among the people for corruption.

Ministers should submit annual reports to Parliament as to what leadership they have provided and the pro-active measures their Ministry had taken to ensure all departments and agencies are clean and incorruptible

The Ministers and heads of the "Ten Top" agencies identified by the ACA as most prone to corruption should regard the listing as a personal affront to their own integrity and should launch internal Ministry and departmental campaigns to remove such a social stigma - and such a campaign must be a public one and not a private operation.

In fact, every Minister should submit an annual statement to Parliament to give a report as to what leadership he had provided and the pro-active measures his Ministry had taken to ensure that all departments and agencies under his Ministry achieve an image of integrity and incorruptibility.

Corruption had recently catapulted into a top item on the national agenda because of the all-out war against corruption launched by the Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on the directive of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.

It is the hope of Malaysians that the top political leadership really means business this time, and as Anwar said in Sabah recently, "Now is the time to act…we will catch the big ones and we will catch the small ones" - as up to now, no "big ones" have yet been caught, only a few "middling ones".

Malaysians do not want to see the all-out war against corruption fizzling out and end up as failures like so many anti-corruption drives whether in Malaysia - like the campaign for a "clean, efficient and trustworthy" government launched in 1981 for if it had not failed, the Prime Minister would not have been moved to tears when he warned how corruption and money politics could lead to the ruination of the nation in the UMNO General Assembly in October 1996 - and in so many other countries.

Let us concede that there is a lot of skepticism nation-wide whether the top political leadership has the political will and commitment to sustain an all-out war against corruption until a new culture of integrity in political life and public service with zero tolerance for corruption emerges in the Malaysian body politic, or whether there will just be a lot of thunder without rain.

However, I must say I am encouraged by the anecdote given by the Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak at the opening of the "Consensus Against Corruption" Conference last Saturday to show that the Prime Minister is fully committed to the all-out war against corruption, because the Prime Minister had told his Cabinet colleagues, that "advice and warnings had been given, even tears have been shed, and there is no other option left but to take action against the corrupt".

Involve civil society and private sector to create a new culture of integrity with zero tolerance for corruption

If Malaysia is to make history by creating a new culture of integrity in political life and public services with zero tolerance for corruption, the second critical factor to ensure the success of an all-out war against corruption is full public support and involvement by drawing the civil society and the private sector into the anti-corruption reform process.

In this connection, a very good start had been made to involve all sectors of the Malaysian society in the all-out war against corruption with the holding of the "Round Table on Corruption - An Assembly Voices" on July 13 and the "Consensus Against Corruption" Conference on July 19.

The Round Table on Corruption was attended by a most distinguished gathering of Malaysians who had been concerned about corruption and public integrity over the decades, people like Tan Sri Ahmad Nordin, undoubtedly the most famous Auditor-General in Malaysian history; Tan Sri Harun Hashim, the first Director-General of the ACA when it was formed 30 years ago and the reputation and public confidence in the ACA had never been higher than when it was under the leadership of Tan Sri Harun Hashim; Dr. Syed Hussein Alatas, Malaysia’s world authority on corruption; Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, Director of Just World Trust, leading campaigner and shaper of public opinion against corruption; Tan Sri Samad Ismail, veteran journalist; Tunku Abdul Aziz, Convenor of Transparency International Malaysia; Datuk Param Cumaraswamy, Special UN Rapporteur on Independence of Judiciary and Lawyers, Dr. Jomo K.S., Malaysia’s outstanding economist; Gurmit Singh, environmentalist and Secretary-General of HAKAM; Prof. Hamdan Adnan, President of FOMCA and YB Ruhanie Ahmad, MP for Parit Sulong and Chairman of Barisan Backbenchers Club (BBC).

The "Round Table and Assembly of Voices", which was also attended by representatives of NGOs, reached a Ten-Point Consensus as follows:

YB Ruhanie Ahmad and the BBC must be commended for the initiative in convening the historic "Consensus Against Corruption" Conference, together with Institut Kajian Dasar (IKD), Asian Strategic and Leadership Institute (ASLI) and the Centre for Leadership and Development Studies (CELDES), drawing together political parties, government agencies, the private sector, trade unions, the consumer movement and NGOs.

The "Consensus Against Corruption" Conference issued a most seminal 16-Point Declaration, and I refer in particular to its calls for legislation for the formation of a National Anti-Corruption Council whose task is to identify, study and analyse the impact of corruption on the socio-economic, political and national security aspects, with branches at state and district levels; as well as the establishment of a high-level committee, answerable only to Parliament, to review cases submitted by the Anti-Corruption Agency to the Attorney-General but never prosecuted - with the Attorney-General as an ex-officio member but with members comprising laymen of high integrity. I fully support these two proposals and hope that legislation could be introduced as a matter of urgency to implement them.

It must be regarded as a matter of grave concern at a time when the entire citizenry should be mobilized to support and participate in an all-out war against corruption that there are principal officers in the land who seem to be quite lukewarm to the whole campaign.

Absence of Attorney-General at the "Consensus Against Corruption" Conference raises the question whether the Chief Law Officer is opposed to the all-out war against corruption

The absence of the Attorney-General, Tan Sri Mohtar Abdullah at the "Consensus Against Corruption" Conference, where he was scheduled to be a presenter in the panel "Eradicating Corruption - The Way Forward", together with Datuk Shafee Yahya, Director-General of ACA and Tony Kwok Man-Wai, the Deputy Commissioner, Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) Hong Kong, has raised the question whether the government’s Chief Law Officer is opposed to the all-out war against corruption.

It is most shocking that the Attorney-General could be so discourteous as not to inform the organisers whether he was able to accept the invitation, and to send a representative from the Attorney-General’s Chambers if he could not personally come, instead of making the whole Conference wait for him for some fifteen minutes before starting on the panel without him.

The war against corruption is finally about transparency and accountability in government - the antithesis of corruption. The Attorney-General is setting a very bad example in accountabililty and transparency in this regard, and he should realise that he is only continuing to undermine publlic confidence in the fairness and reasonableness of his office.

The rule of law requires that prosecutions on behalf of the state be conducted fairly and reasonably. The commencement of, or refusal to commence, prosecution proceedings ought not to be motivated by improper, and particularly political, considerations, but by the public interest and the need for justice.

In fact, the all-out war against corruption cannot achieve its full results unless we have not only independent investigators, but also prosecutors and judges performing their professional duties in a transparently independent fashion.

Parliament should be at the centre of the struggle to fight corruption and attain and sustain good governance

Parliament and MPs must not be bystanders, but should be at the very centre, of the struggle to fight corruption to attain and sustain good governance.

In the Teluk Intan Parliamentary by-election on May 17, for instance, the voters of Teluk Intan sent M. Kulasegeram to Parliament as their elected representative to convey their concerns about the country, known as the Teluk Intan 20-Points, to the highest chamber in the land. High on Teluk Intan 20-Points is corruption. The people of Teluk Intan want their voice to be heard in Parliament, that the government should declare corruption as the country’s public enemy No. 1 and to aim for a Malaysia with zero corruption.

Parliament can do this, collectively by forming an all-party Parliamentary Committee Against Corruption not only to act as watchdog of the people against corruption, but to initiate a comprehensive examination at the whole of the country’s national integrity system.

Malaysia has quite a long list of former Anti-Corruption Agency Director-Generals since its establishment in 1967, and the Parliamentary Committee on Corruption should conduct public hearings with everyone of the former ACA DGs to learn from their experience and insights as to how to develop an effective strategy to fight corruption.

In my mind, the success or failure of the all-out war against corruption will depend on three factors:

The first two initiatives of the Round Table and the Consensus Conference were focussed on the "talk" stage to arouse public awareness and consciousness, but the new initiative of a National Coalition Against Corruption (NCAC) should focus on "action" stage, how to formulate and implement an action plan to involve all sectors of the civil society as full players in the all-out war against corruption.

I wish to propose that the BBC President, as one of the organisers of the Consensus Against Corruption Conference, join with the organisers of the Round Table Conference - Assembly of Voices to convene a meeting for the establishment of such a National Coalition Against Corruption to mark a third initiative of mobilising civil society support for the all-out war against corruption before Parliament debates the new amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act next week.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong