DAP welcomes Cabinet decision to ratify the UN Convention Against Corruption in Mexico next week and calls on Malaysia to be the first country in the world to establish a National Commission on UN Convention Against Corruption with political party and civil society representation to implement the Convention principles of zero tolerance for corruption
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Thursday): DAP welcomes the Cabinet decision to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in Mexico next week and calls on Malaysia to be the first country in the world to establish a National Commission on UN Convention Against Corruption with political party and civil society representation to implement the Convention principles of zero tolerance for corruption.
The Cabinet stand was announced by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi at the 4th Regional Anti-Corruption Conference for Asia and the Pacific in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
Malaysia’s accession to the UN Convention Against Corruption, the first international instrument to combat corruption, promote integrity, ethical conduct and good public and private governance and the criminalization of bribery, is a step in the right direction and DAP commends Abdullah for his continued personal commitment to fight corruption since becoming Prime Minister on November 1.
Abdullah is right when he said that the fight against corruption should take a “systems-wide approach” that includes the family and education system, but he should be open to views, ideas and even criticisms that such a proper systemic approach should not be an excuse for not taking immediate, strong and effective actions to fight corruption at all levels in our society.
In my media statement of 20th November 2003 calling on Abdullah to state whether the Malaysian government would give full support to the UN Convention Against Corruption and will be one of the signatory countries at the High-Level Political Conference for the purpose of Signing the UN Convention Against Corruption in Merida, Mexico on December 9-11, 2003, I had also proposed that Malaysia should use its position and influence as Chair of both the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and OIC (Conference of Islamic Organisation) to ensure that the majority of the member states of these two global movements would sign the Convention next week so that it could immediately come into force.
Malaysia should also become the first country in the world to establish a National Commission on UN Convention Against Corruption with political party and civil society representation to implement the Convention principles of zero tolerance for corruption, as a study of the Convention will show that Malaysia falls far short of its principles and provisions. This is understandable as otherwise, Malaysia’s international ranking on the Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI) would not be so dismal, currently at the lowest 37th placing.
The UN Convention Against Corruption has rightly pointed out that corruption undermines the legitimacy of public institutions and strikes at society, moral order and justice as well as at the comprehensive development of peoples; and the need to enhance accountability and transparency especially as globalization of the world’s economies has led to a situation where corruption is no longer a local matter but a transnational phenomenon.
The UN Convention Against Corruption commits every signatory nation to implement effective policies and best practices to prevent corruption including protection for whistleblowers; ensure the existence of meaningful anti-corruption agencies and a public service based on principles of efficiency, transparency and objective criteria such as merit, equity and aptitude.
Malaysia will have to undergo a major reform of government in policies and practices to meet the principles and standards set in the UN Convention Against Corruption and be in the international forefront in the fight against corruption so that the country can be universally recognized as one of the world’s ten least corrupt nations.
Abdullah announced two other anti-corruption initiatives yesterday: firstly, a RM17 million allocation to establish an academy to train anti-corruption officers which will also become a regional centre for the development of anti-graft measures and will be under the purview of the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA).
There is no objection to Malaysia hosting a regional centre for training anti-corruption officers, but it would have been better if Malaysia had been able to establish an impeccable anti-corruption record, and not slipping down the Transparency International’s annual CPI from the lowly 23rd position in 1995 to the dismal 37th position in 2003.
What has Malaysia, for instance, to teach Singapore about fighting corruption, when the island republic had been consistently placed among the world’s ten least corrupt nations in the Transparency International CPI in the past nine years, as shown by the following comparative rankings:
Malaysia and Singapore – TI CPI Ranking from 1995 – 2003:
1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Malaysia 23 26 32 29 32 36 36 33 37
Singapore 3 7 9 7 7 6 4 5 5
Hong Kong 17 18 18 16 15 15 14 14 14
Although Malaysia has a better Transparency International CPI 2003 ranking for 133 countries than other Southeast Asian countries, like Thailand (No. 70), Philippines (No. 92), Vietnam (No. 100), Indonesia (No. 122) and Myanmar (No. 129), Malaysia is not only behind Singapore but also Hong Kong (No. 14).
Malaysia would have a higher moral ground to host such a regional centre for anti-corruption officers if we have been improving on our initial 23rd ranking on the Transparency International CPI instead of regressing for the past nine years.
Abdullah next announced the National Institute for Public Ethics which would also formulate and implement a National Integrity Plan. However, both these initiatives cannot be substitute for political will and full commitment by the government to fight corruption by establishing a new culture of zero tolerance for corruption.
The Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), for instance, cannot on its own improve the country’s human rights record without the full support and commitment of the government and society, and this is why Malaysia is placed 104th out of 166 countries in the second worldwide press freedom index of Reporters sans Frontiers in October this year four years after the establishment of Suhakam.
Similarly, the National Institute for Public Ethics and a National Integrity Plan cannot on their own improve Malaysia’s ranking as a clean and incorruptible nation if the government has no political will to declare an all-out war against corruption, which must be manifested now and not some time in the indefinite future.
Two current issues raise concerns about whether there is the political will to go beyond tokenism and symbolism to effect systemic changes to wage an all-out war against corruption and all forms of malpractices and abuses of power:
Abdullah should give personal and urgent attention to these two cases to take prompt and effective remedial actions to ensure that his pledge of a “clean, incorruptible, modest and beyond suspicion government” as well as Malaysia’s ratification of the UN Convention Against Corruption in Mexico next month would not suffer in credibility because of such conflicting and contradictory developments.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman