In this connection, Anwarís meeting with the Anti-Corruption Agency director-general Datuk Shafee Yahaya and the State ACA directors in the Prime Ministerís Department yesterday and his announcement that the proposed amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act 1961 would be tabled for Cabinet discussion tomorrow are positive signs that the government is serious about the all-out war against corruption.
I would call on the Cabinet to present amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act to the July meeting of Parliament to send a clear and unmistakeable signal that the government is serious in its all-out war against corruption and would not falter or allow the campaign to fail.
There is an urgent need for the anti-corruption laws to be updated to provide for increased powers for the ACA as well as enhanced penalities for corruption offences.
ACA officers have often lamented in private that under the present law, it is not an offence for political leader holding public office to accumulate astronomical assets completely disproportionate to his known sources of income, and that there was nothing the ACA could do about it.
The amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act should provide that it is an offence of corruption for a political leader holding public office to accumulate assets and income completely disproportionate to his known sources of income and the confiscation of such ill-gotten gains.
The question is whether all the Cabinet Ministers could rise up to the call of history that a strong stand be taken now against corruption by passing severe deterrent laws and not to be seen to be very tough with the "ikan bilis" while very soft and protective of their own kind.
Corruption should be regarded as one of the heinous crimes in the country and fines should be in the million-ringgit bracket while serious corruption offences should be punished with life imprisonments.
The Cabinet tomorrow should not only decide to table the amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act in next monthís Parliament, but should also raise the status of the ACA by approving increased funding and expansion of ACA investigators and staff.
The DAP will support any supplementary supply bill in the July meeting of Parliament to increase budgetary allocations to the ACA, even to the extent of doubling its 1997 operating expenditure of RM32 million passed by Parliament at the end of last year to show the new importance the country is giving to the ACA.
The ACA should should build an international reputation as one of he most effective anti-corruption agencies in the world and be a model for other countries, whether developing or developed, in the fight against corruption, which has increasingly become a global concern.
At present the most famous anti-corruption agency is undoubtedly the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) of Hong Kong, which is universally recognized as being in the vanguard of organizations dedicated to addressing issues of corruption that occur in both the public and private sectors.
Is there any reason why the ACA of Malaysia cannot be as famous and successsful as the ICAC of Hong Kong?
The Cabinet, at its meeting tomorrow, should also direct Ministers to play a leading role to root out corruption in their respective Ministries. They should not adopt the passive attitude of leaving to the ACA to expose corruption but should assume personal responsibility to ensure that their Ministries and all departments under their jurisdiction enjoy the public reputation of accountability, transparency, honesty and integrity.
In this connection, the Primary Industries Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik should be commended for the good example he has set in publicising malpractices in government departments and government agencies, as in his recent strictures against the Smallholders Development Corporation Sdn. Bhd for evading export cess and hiring out its export quotas.
In response to the denial by the Risda chairman Datuk Abu Zahar Nika Ujang claiming that Risda investigations revealed that no sawn timber belonging to its subsidiary had been seized, Keng Yaik produced documentary evidence to back his claim.
The Minister for Rural Development, Datuk Annuar Musa should not have sided with Risda and questioned Keng Yaik for going public on this scandal, for a "cover-up" culture is not in keeping with the all-out war against corruption which the government has initiated and the new culture of public integrity that must be instituted in the country.
I only hope that the Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik could emulate the example of Keng Yaik in cleaning up his Ministry, which has one of the worst public reputations for corruption.
I hope Liong Sik would be among the first Cabinet Ministers to act on the advice of Anwar Ibrahim to conduct surprise visits to check on public complaints about corruption and abuses of power in the various departments and agencies in the Transport Ministry.
Of course, Liong Sik must resolve his own credibility problem first, especially with regard to one of the hottest issues in the country, his explanation of his role in the corporate phenomenon where his son, Ling Hee Leong, could embark on RM1.2 billion corporate acquisitions at the age of 27 in a matter of three months, when he has no corporate record whatsoever.
Defined simply, corruption is the misuse of public power for private profit. It also means failure to comply with the "armís-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.
The public are entitled to a full explanation from Liong Sik that he had scrupulously adhered to this "armís-length" principle and had no role whatsoever in his sonís corporate acquisition of RM1.2 billion worth of shares in four companies in a matter of three months, when Hee Leong was only 27 and had no corporate record whatsoever.