(Petaling Jaya, Monday): UMNO leaders seem to be quite ectastic about the arrest of former Malacca State Exco member, Datuk Sahar Arpan, by the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) on Saturday and his being charged in court today, with the new Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Abu Zahar Isnin declaring that this proved the governmentís seriousness in creating a clean, efficient and trustworthy image.
The Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said UMNO would ensure that corruption does not become part of its culture or the Malaysian way of life.
However, UMNO leaders must be reminded that "one swallow does not make spring" and that while Malaysians welcome a more effective Anti-Corruption Agency, questions remain about the position of the seven other State Executive Councillors who are the subjects of ACA investigations, the position of UMNO National Vice President and former Selangor Mentri Besar, Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib, as well as how the Selangor Mentri Besar-designate Datuk Abu Hassan Omar is going to form a "clean and capable" State Executive Council to keep his vow to run a clean state government when the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, was unable to find a single Selangor Exco or Assembly member who is "clean and capable" to take over as Selangor Mentri Besar.
Abu Zaharís statement yesterday that Shaharís position as Malacca state UMNO liaison secretary, deputy chairman of the Malacca State Development Corporation and Malacca State Assemblyman for Durian Tunggal would be decided after the corruption trial is over is most unbelievable and not in keeping with Najibís statement that corruption should not be part of UMNO culture.
While Shahar is entitled like everyone else to the legal maxim that a person is innocent until proven guilty, higher standards of political integrity and accountability requires that until Shahar has cleared himself of the corruption charges preferred against him, he should relinquish all public offices, including that of Malacca State Assemblyman, deputy chairman of Malacca State Development Corporation and Malacca State UMNO liaison secretary.
In order to set high standards of public integrity and accountability, the UMNO leadership should not be afraid of a by-election in the Durian Tunggal state assembly seat in Malacca, arising from the resignation of Shahar as State Assemblyman but should welcome it. ]
The circumstances of the ACA arrest and charging of Shahar raises a disturbing question as to whether the ACA had to get the political "green-light" before arresting and charging Shahar for corruption.
A week earlier, when forming his executive council, the new Malacca Chief Minister was directed by the Acting UMNO President, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to drop Shahar from the line-up.
It is now clear that the top UMNO leadership had been privy to the information about the outcome of ACA investigations into Shahar, and this is why the question arises as to whether the ACA had to get the "political green-light" before arresting and charging Shahar for corruption.
When was the UMNO top leadership first informed about the outcome of ACAís investigations into Shahar and why was there such a long interval between the time the UMNO top leadership was first informed and the actual arrest of Shahar?
If the government is serious about fighting corruption in high political places, then the ACA must be completely independent and free to arrest any political leader for corruption without having to get any political "green-light".
In fact, the ACA should be so independent in its jurisdiction to fight corruption that there should be no need for the ACA even to give prior information or notice , let alone having to seek "political clearance", whether from the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister, before arresting and charging a political leader for corruption.
The Minister in the Prime Ministerís Department, Datuk Mohamad Nazri Tan Sri Abdul Aziz, said in Kota Bahru yesterday that proposed amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act 1961 "to enable the ACA to conduct investigations efficiently" are expected to be tabled in Parliament before the end of the year.
Going by past practice, such a statement is not a clear commitment that amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act would be tabled in Parliament at the end of the year but just to notify the people that the government is thinking of amending the anti-corruption law, which might take another one or two years, or even until after the next general elections.
I call on the Cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday to take a policy decision to introduce amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act 1961 in the July meeting of Parliament to send out a clear message that the government is serious in the fight against corruption.
The amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act should make the anti-corruption law in Malaysia the most severe and stringent in the world and should increase the powers and independence of the ACA as well as enhance penalties for corruption offences, including the powers of confiscation of properties and wealth completely disproportionate to known sources of income of a Minister, Mentri Besar or Chief Minister.