Ministerial row with ACA highlights urgency of total overhaul of ACA to make it totally independent of Executive - vital pre-condition for any successful anti-corruption campaign by Abdullah
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Monday): I have written to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, asking for an appointment to hand over a DAP memorandum on “All-out War Against Corruption” and for a discussion on the pre-conditions for a “clean, incorruptible, modest and beyond suspicion” government and a Malaysia with a new political culture with zero tolerance for corruption internationally recognized as among the world’s ten least corrupt nations.
Abdullah has started as the fifth Prime Minister on the right footing, creating a national feel-good mood and anticipation of better things to come, in particular his pledge in his maiden official speech in Parliament on November 3 to lead a “clean, incorruptible, modest and beyond suspicion” administration followed by his announcements of a National Institute for Public Ethics, restoration of the civics course in schools to inculcate the values of ethics and integrity, a RM 17 million regional anti-corruption academy and Malaysia as signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption at the convention-signing ceremony in Mexico tomorrow.
Abdullah has the reputation of Mr. Clean, and DAP like all Malaysians not only wishes him well but is prepared to give him full support to make Malaysia world-famous as a corruption-free developing country. However, recent developments have raised serious questions whether Abdullah has got the whole system of government behind him in the all-out fight against corruption or whether it is the case of one man against the system. Has Abdullah got the support of the entire Cabinet and the top civil service in declaring an all-out war against corruption?
If the entire Cabinet is behind Abdullah in the objective for a corruption-free administration and a new political culture of zero tolerance for corruption, why hasn’t the Cabinet given total endorsement in the anti-corruption campaign by taking two decisions in the past five weeks, viz:
The shocking statement by the Chief Secretary, Tan Sri Samsudin Osman, at the closing of the Fourth Regional Anti-Corruption Conference for Asia and the Pacific last Friday that corruption was not a “serious” problem in Malaysia as the rate of corruption in Malaysia was low in the civil service not only flies in the face of the sharp drop of Malaysia’s ranking of Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index from 23rd placing in 1995 to 37th this year, but posed the question whether the top civil service leadership is solidly behind the campaign of an all-out war against corruption.
The public row between two Ministers, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz (Entrepreneur Development) and Datuk Azmi Khalid (Rural Development) with the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) has underlined one indisputable fact – the utter lack of independence and professionalism of the ACA or Malaysia’s TI CPI ranking would not have fallen 14 places from 23rd to 37th placing in the past nine years!
In fact the row of the two Ministers with the ACA provided four illustrations of the ACA’s shocking incompetence, ineptitude, inefficiency, ineffectiveness and utter lack of professionalism and integrity.
First - Azmi said ACA had not yet acted on his major complaints about RM6 million corruption and abuses of power against agencies in his Ministry, for which formal ACA reports had been lodged two-and-a-half years ago, as so far only minor cases involving RM10,000 and below had been dealt with. Azmi said these cases were not complicated cases like the Perwaja scandal and furthermore, these matters had not been raised by “orang bawah…tetapi menteri sendiri”. (Mingguan Malaysia 7.12.03)
This highlights incompetence, ineptitude, inefficiency, ineffectiveness and lack of professionalism of the ACA.
Second - Nazri said yesterday that he would advise the Cabinet to remove ACA Director of Investigations Datuk Nordin Ismail and replace him with someone “neutral and of high calibre”,
Hitting out at the ACA for resorting to “threats and gangster-like methods” in solving its cases, Nazri said: “This ‘gangster’ attitude should not be used to gag the mouth of ministers. Nordin must be reminded that we are his employers….I want to remind him for the last time that he is a government servant and in this structure, ministers are his superiors and he is answerable to us.” (NST)
It is an open-and-shut case which needs no further argument – that the ACA is not an independent body, but a creature of the Executive, answerable not only to the Prime Minister, but to ordinary Ministers! If a Cabinet Minister can publicly pressure for the removal of the ACA Director of Investigations – who is the No. 3 man in ACA hierarchy – what independence and autonomy can the ACA claim?
Third – Nordin’s response and statement in the Mingguan Malaysia yesterday that he would direct police to issue arrest warrants against anyone, including ministers, who refused to co-operate with ACA investigations. He said the ACA used “too much diplomacy” in allowing people to answer queries and give statements leisurely.
This has confirmed public suspicion all along that the ACA applies double-standards instead of a “without fear or favour” attitude in the conduct of its investigations – treating Ministers, Mentris Besar, Chief Ministers and Barisan Nasional leaders as a class apart from ordinary Malaysians! Is this the reason why all the Cabinet Ministers who had been the subject of ACA investigations had been able to get away scot-free? Is the ACA prepared to make public the full list of Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Mentris Besar, Chief Ministers and top government servants who had been given such “special VIP treatment” by the ACA in the past two decades?
Fourth – the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced yesterday that he would intervene in the row between the two Ministers and the ACA and would meet all the parties involved. How can the Prime Minister intervene in this matter without undermining the independence, autonomy and integrity of ACA?
Nazri is incensed that Nordin’s remark against those with questionable high incomes was directed at him, condemning it as a “despicable attitude in handling the case” and declaring: “The issue of my income where Nordin was quoted as saying ‘tidak habis makan (endless supply)” was off-track as I am obliged to declare my assets to the Prime Minister every two years”.
Two things need to be done: Firstly, Nordin should clarify whether he was referring to Nazri, and if not the Entrepreneur Development Minister, which Minister was he adverting to in his “tidak habis makan” remark. Secondly, regardless of Nordin’s clarification, is Nazri prepared to publicly declare his assets to rebut whatever implications of the “tidak habis makan” reference?
The row of the two Ministers with the ACA has only highlighted the urgency for a complete overhaul of ACA, including making it into a totally independent anti-corruption body, which is the vital pre-condition for any successful anti-corruption campaign in Malaysia and should be Abdullah’s top priority.
In fact, the complete overhaul of the ACA making it a totally independent body, no more under the Prime Minister’s Department as at present but answerable only to Parliament and to an all-party Parliamentary Standing Committee on Corruption headed by an Opposition MP, will be fulfilling Malaysia’s first international commitment when Malaysia becomes a signatory of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in Merida, Mexico tomorrow.
When the UN Convention Against Corruption was being drafted, there was concern as to whether there would be enough signatory countries required to bring the Convention into force. As the Rome Treaty to establish the International Criminal Court took three years to come into force as it required 60 signatory countries, an unprecedented decision was taken to reduce the threshold for the UN Convention Against Corruption to come into force to only 30 countries.
It is now reported that over 100 nations have indicated they will sign the UN Anti-Corruption Convention at the convention-signing ceremony in Merida, capital of the eastern Mexican state of Yucatan - including some of the most corrupt nations in the world.
There is now a danger that the UN Convention Against Corruption may make history as the most-signed international convention at its convention-signing ceremony but the least observed.
This is because many of the countries which have declared their preparedness to sign the Anti-Corruption Convention in Mexico tomorrow are not only among the most corrupt in the world, but have not evinced any political will or readiness to go beyond lip-service statements to enact and implement minimum national laws and legal standards against corruption.
What attracted them was one of three objectives of the Convention to recover illicit and corrupt assets stashed away in foreign countries and not the other two principal objectives to combat corruption in their respective countries.
It is an open secret that most African countries face the problem of their wealth filling the vaults of banks in several world cities because of the corruption of their former leaders while their citizenry wallow in abject poverty and destitution without any political will to fight the corruption of the present crop of African leaders.
Malaysia should show these African countries that we support the UN Convention Against Corruption not only to recover illicit and corrupt assets stashed away in foreign countries but also to declare an all-out war against corruption inside Malaysia – starting with the complete overhaul of the ACA to make it completely independent of the Executive.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman