Corruption rooting out the mother of all evils in our nation

Corruption is the gangrene that will eventually destroy the whole body if pre-emptive action is not undertaken.

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Published by Astro Awani, Focus Malaysia, The Sun Daily, The Asean Post & New Straits Times, image from Astro Awani.

It’s been sagaciously said that the love of money lies at the root of all evils.Experience tells us that this is so, and therefore it could be also said that the vice of corruption or bribe as an element of the “original sin” of the love of money constitutes a root – as part of the wider root – of all evils.

Corruption understood and defined properly in broad terms and inclusively ranges from the simple giving of bribe to misappropriating and embezzlement of public funds through the procurement process under the cloak of authority is a cancer that eventually enervates and corrupt society as a whole considered in relation to the entire political and administrative system that enables it to thrive.

This results in the breakdown of moral fibres and trust which in turn is epitomised by institutional and systemic derelictions and failures. Or to put in a slightly but in just as vivid a manner: corruption is the gangrene – i.e., the death of tissues – that will eventually destroy the whole body if pre-emptive action is not undertaken.

As it is, corruption is given global recognition by way of Dec 9 designated as International Anti-Corruption Day. Malaysia has consistently ranked “high” in the corruption index or scale as measured by Transparency International (TI). For 2019, TI’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranks us at 51/180 whereas our score is at 53/100.

The recent high profile of acquittal and discharge not amounting to acquittal (DNAA) of prominent politicians is disconcerting to many Malaysians who worry that this represents a setback to the reforms put in place to root out and reset the nation away from the perceived structural corruption that has given rise to the anecdotal or popular but jaded cliche that the “system is rotten to the core”.

Under the Abdullah administration, the Integrity Institute of Malaysia (IIM) and an independent Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) was formed in 2004 and 2009, respectively.

What is often not known is the fact that in 2011, MACC introduced a scheme that offered cash reward to civil servants who whistleblow that is equal to the amount of the bribe or kickback or graft involved. Whistleblowers are protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act (2010) and Witness Protection Act (2009).

On the other hand, civil servants can be fined for failure to report the giving of as well as request for bribes. As of Dec 2020, five civil servants have been fined for neglecting or omitting to report cases of bribery to the MACC under section 25 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act (2009). Whereas based on the same data by the MACC, only 343 civil servants came forward to provide information on corrupt practices between 2012 and last year, according to Deputy Chief Commissioner (Prevention) Datuk Seri Shamshun Baharin Mohd Jamil.

More contemporary initiatives include the Pakatan Harapan government’s National Anti-Corruption Plan (NACP) 2019-2023 – as developed by the Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption Centre (GIACC), the Prime Minister’s Department – with its Six Priority Areas that are most vulnerable to corruption, namely:

• political governance;

• public sector administration;

• public procurement;

• corporate governance;

• law enforcement; and

• legal and judicial.

Not least, Section 17A (Amendment, 2018) of the MACC Act (2009) representing strict liability for corporate compliance came into effect on June 1, 2020 after a moratorium period for adjustments and familiarisation of two years.

This means that “commercial organisations are also liable and can be punished if their employees or associates are involved in corrupt activities and transactions. The commercial organisation could be considered guilty based on whether its top management or its representatives are aware of the corruption committed by their employees or associates”.

The penalty under Section 17A (2) is a fine of “not less than 10 times the value of the bribe or a minimum of RM1 million, whichever is higher, or imprisonment for up to 20 years, or both”. However, an allowance is provided on the condition that “the commercial organisations can demonstrate that they have implemented ‘adequate procedures’ to prevent corruption in their business operations or activities”.

It was announced early this year that some of the 22 out of the 115 initiatives under the NACP that have been implemented fully under the previous government are the no gift policy and asset declaration. However, when it came to the ban on political support letters and political appointments, there had been some controversy that these have not been complied with.

Civil society is no less involved and agitated in the drive and fight against the scourge of corruption, particularly in view of the widespread problem in our nation. The nation’s anti-corruption watchdog Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) has been quite active in:

• promoting awareness of anti-corruption behaviour through its programmes and campaigns;

• tracking progress of anti-corruption reforms;

• exposing maladministration and malpractices (committed by public servants and public bodies); and

• developing policy recommendations to further improve and enhance existing anti-corruption measures, among others.

The following policy recommendations by C4 and fully endorsed by EMIR Research for the Perikatan Nasional government under Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin are as follows, namely:

• the necessity to revive and table the Government Procurement Bill by early next year; and

• that the Special Cabinet Committee on Anti-Corruption (JKKMAR) be empowered and authorised to monitor and call out those that delay the implementation of the NACP.

On our own, EMIR Research would like to urge that:

• the placement of MACC officers in selected government-linked companies (GLCs) – whether as members of the board of directors, Chief Integrity Officers (CIOs), etc. – be extended to all from the current list and made compulsory (externally, i.e., provisions in the MACC Act and internally, i.e., in what is now the constitution of the GLCs, formerly known collectively as memorandum of association and articles of association) as part of good corporate governance.

• the government further enhance the e-Perolehan procurement system and the Project Monitoring System (PMS/SPP) II with the deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) software and blockchain technology, and integrated with the Laksana digital dashboard for real-time and holistic monitoring and oversight.

• Section 8(1) of the Whistleblowers Act (2010) should be amended to do away with the narrow constraints imposed or placed upon the whistleblower’s reporting capacity.

Just like the battle against Covid-19, the on-going “cosmic” struggle against corruption – as a work-in-progress – is indeed also a matter of life and death metaphorically speaking that entails a whole of government and whole of society approach and effort. All of us play a part, big or small, in ensuring that corruption doesn’t become a way of life and a necessary evil in this world.

As we brace for 2021 which should mark the ‘Reform’ phase, may both government and society work together to usher in a new era of hope and aspiration – for a nation that will be relatively corrupt-free in the future.

Jason Loh Seong Wei is Head of Social, Law & Human Rights at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focussed on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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