DAP commends Abdullah’s commitment and reaffirmation of no backing down in the battle against corruption with two strategic anti-corruption proposals -  an Opposition-headed Parliamentary Committee on Corruption and enactment of Freedom of Information Act to usher in a more accountable and transparent administration

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Sunday): DAP commends the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri  Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for his commitment  and reaffirmation of no backing down in the battle against corruption, after taking “serious note” of the adverse  Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2004 where Malaysia suffered the double whammy of falling two spots in the CPI ranking  from last year’s 37th  to 39th of 146 countries as well as a lower CPI score of 5.0 out of 10 as compared to 5.2 last year. 

Abdullah is right that the fight against corruption is a “long-drawn process, the result of which may not be seen overnight”, but the Cabinet, Parliament and nation must not be complacent and take very serious note that although  there had not been stunning improvements in both  ranking and score in the 2004 Transparency International CPI, Malaysia had in fact suffered reverses in both indices while other countries like Thailand and South Korea had improved in both these indices in the past one year. 

There should be a national soul-searching whether  Abdullah is right when he said that the latest Transparency CPI had “overlooked the country's strict laws and regulations as well as the institutional framework in place to help keep graft in check”? 

Abdullah’s  claim that “Malaysia is  strong in terms of having the relevant laws and framework to stem corruption, stronger in fact in this aspect than countries placed higher up in the list”, is open to dispute, but the real test of whether a country is clean and less corrupt is whether there is full seriousness of national purpose and the political will of the government  to combat corruption. 

In Malaysia, Abdullah has raised sky-high public hopes and expectations of an all-out war against corruption, but he has often been undermined by other members of his Cabinet or ruling coalition, not only by irresoluteness but even lack of commitment to national  integrity, such as rampant  “money politics” in last month’s UMNO party elections followed by the abuses of “Datuk politics”. 

The statement by the Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob that he would stand on his principle not to report on money politics in UMNO so as not to hurt the political careers of his friends by throwing light on vote-buying in the recent UMNO party elections is a classic example of the betrayal of the Prime Minister’s reform agenda to combat corruption couched in the guise of party solidarity with corrupt UMNO leaders. 

In his interview with The Star last week, former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was asked  about the latest phenomenon of “Datuk politics” close on the heel of “money politics”. 

Mahathir referred to the time when “Sabah gave out so many datukships that it became quite meaningless”, and joked: “Before, if you threw a stone you hit one Datuk. Now, you throw a stone you hit two Datuks.”  Things have now got so bad that if you throw a stone into a crowd, it will hit three Datuks, with the stone richochetting to hit two other Datuks after the first Datuk! 

Malacca with some 700,000 people awarded 84 Datuks early this month, and at this ratio, Malaysia will have a mind-boggling number of some 3,000 new Datuks from state honours alone this year.  Pahang yesterday awarded 109 new Datuks. 

Last year, the Federal Government had expressed concern about the huge number of state awards given out each year, to the extent of devaluing the public standing of state datukships.  But such concerns have all come to nought, and the situation is even worse than before, with a most adverse impact on Abdullah’s pledge to introduce a new national integrity system to usher in a clean, incorruptible, accountable, transparent nd  trustworthy government. 

It is not only Abdullah, but the entire Cabinet, Parliament and nation which should take seriously the adverse 2004 Transparency International CPI, initiating a nation-wide debate as to why international perceptions of Malaysia’s national integrity system is so bad as well as devising new strategies and approaches to move Malaysia from its lowly ranking to among the world’s ten least corrupt nations. 

DAP wishes to make  two strategic proposals to ensure the success of the war against corruption, which will also  demonstrate that Malaysia has the political will and seriousness of purpose to combat graft  – the  establishment of an Opposition-headed Parliamentary Committee on Corruption and the  enactment of a  Freedom of Information Act. 

The Cabinet should schedule a special  meeting on the adverse 2004 Transparency International CPI to give support to these two proposals, so that an Opposition-headed Parliamentary Committee on Corruption, which would monitor the progress of the fight against corruption including an annual review of the  Anti-Corruption Agency, could be established before the end of the year when Parliament reconvenes for its budget meeting on November 22. 

The enactment of a Freedom of Information Act is  key to  an all-out fight against corruption and the creation  of a new culture of political and public integrity with zero tolerance for corruption. 

Research has shown that countries with access to information laws are also perceived to be the least corrupt.  In 2004, of the ten countries scoring best in Transparency International’s CPI, nine  had effective Freedom of Information  legislation enabling the public to see government files. Of the ten countries perceived to be the worst when it comes to corruption, not even one had a functioning access to information regime. 

The right to information lays the foundation upon which to build good governance, transparency, accountability and participation, and to eliminate corruption. Malaysia should embrace and spread the message that open government with right to access  information is a key  antidote to corruption.  Barisan Nasional MPs should support Opposition MPs in Parliament for the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman