(Petaling Jaya, Monday): The Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) director-general, Datuk Ahmad Zaki Hussin recently asked that the ACA be vested with more powers like those of the police and the immigration to investigate crimes related to corruption, so that the ACA could on its own raid premises suspected to be used for prostitution, gambling and drug trafficking.
He believed that there was a possibility that prostitution, drug trafficking and gambling were covered up by corruption, but at present, the ACA does not have powers to take action against those involved in corruption-related crimes and can only provide information to the police or Immigration Department to carry out raids at such premises with ACA officers behind the scene.
I do not think anyone will begrudge the ACA being conferred with more powers so that the war against corruption could be waged with greater effectiveness and impact.
However, the ACA owes Parliament and the Malaysian people an explanation as to why it has failed to make full use of the increased powers and enhanced penalties for corruption legislated under the new corruption law enacted by Parliament in 1997, the Prevention of Corruption Act 1998, to break the back of the problem of corruption in Malaysia.
Instead, the scourge of corruption in Malaysia has gone from bad to worse, as reflected by the latest Transparency Internationalís 2000 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), marking Malaysiaís free-fall in the international ranking since its first introduction in 1995 except for one year.
Malaysia was placed 23rd in 1995, 26th place in 1996, and 32nd
in 1997, 29th in 1998, 32nd in 1999 and 36th in 2000 in the Transparency
International (TI) CPI. The only time when there was an improvement in
Malaysiaís ranking in the corruption perception index was for the year
1998, largely because of the anti-corruption campaign led by the then Deputy
Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar
Ibrahim the previous year before he was summarily and arbitrary sacked from government.
The invariable answer of the government when queried in Parliament by DAP MPs in the past few years about the poor rating of Malaysia in the TIís CPI was the smug answer that "it did not reflect the actual situation since it had been done from a perception point of view".
However, this did not prevent the ACA from publicly taking pride in the 1998 CPI of TI which had placed Malaysia 29th among the 85 countries surveyed worldwide. In these circumstances, the ACA should feel ashamed that the nationís TI CPI ranking has fallen to the worst 36th ranking in the past six years, regarding this not only as a great disgrace for the nation but an indictment for the ACA.
The ACAís priority should not be asking for more powers but to prove that it could fully use the enhanced powers which Parliament had conferred on it under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1997, and its first agenda should be to catapult Malaysiaís into Transparency Internationalís annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI) within the first 20 least corrupt nations in the world by 2005 and within the first 10 least corruption nations by 2010.
Is the ACA courageous enough to publicly set such a target in the fight against corruption and rally national support for such a national agenda?
If not, the ACA has only itself to blame if there is widespread and deep-seated national skepticism about its capability and commitment to combat corruption particularly in high political places.
The ACA must give a proper public accounting about its investigations
into several high-profile cases. One of them concerns ACA investigations
into the statutory declaration made by the former Bank Negara assistant
governor Datuk Abdul Murad Khalid in October 1999 that former Deputy
Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had amassed a fortune of RM3 billion
while in government
through 20 "Master Accounts".
At that time, Zaki swung into action and announced that the ACA had set up a special high-level team to investigate into Muradís allegations against Anwar, claiming that almost every paragraph of Muradís seven-page statutory declaration contained some information on corruption or corruption practices.
But there has been complete silence from Zaki about the ACAís investigations into the Murad statutory declaraton after the November 29, 1999 general election.
Can Zaki explain why he made almost daily statements about investigations into Anwar on the basis of Muradís statutory declaration before the November 1999 general election, but fell into total silence after the general election?
What has happened to the four police reports on high-level corruption which had been lodged by Anwar in 1999?
If Zaki cannot answer these questions, then he has only himself to blame if there is great public skepticism about the independence, professionalism and integrity of the ACA to combat corruption in high political places, without fear or favour, regardless of status or rank - making a mockery of requests by ACA for more powers to fight corruption when it is unable to invoke existing powers to rid the country of the cancer of graft in high political places.