Its chief wanted Malaysians to believe that the anti-corruption body is “independent, transparent and professional”. Yet, so far, the MACC has failed to convince a highly sceptical public, observes Martin Jalleh.
With the dawn of a new year the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) marked its first anniversary as a commission. But there was little to celebrate. Abu Kassim Mohamed was appointed the new Chief Commissioner. New resolutions were made by the MACC to redeem itself and restore public confidence.
They even came up with a new slogan: ‘Let’s Together Change: Fight Corruption’. This was followed by stirring speeches and soul-baring interviews of the MACC’s supremo, who asked the public to give him the benefit of the doubt!
The public remained sceptical! Judging from the way things turned out (as seen below), they were justified in having serious doubts about the ‘new’ MACC and its chief.
Shot in the foot
But even before Abu Kassim could settle down and show some semblance of seriousness, his boys indicated that it was going to be business as usual! On the first day of 2010, two MACC officers lodged police reports against opposition newspaper Suara Keadilan and Thai forensic expert Dr Pornthip on matters related to the Teoh Beng Hock inquest.
“Certainly it is not a good way to start the year. Already people shudder at the mention of the MACC. Oh my God! More selective prosecution! What’s new at the MACC? Nothing has changed. Such is the perception,” commented Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, a Pas central working committee member.
On 8 Feburary 2010, Abu Kassim conceded that the police reports were a “shot in the foot”. He claimed that he did not know about the reports, had asked the AG (about it), and the latter said “every (MACC) officer has the right to make a police report”.
He added: “I don’t really understand why a report was made against Pornthip”. Neither do we, Abu.
Farcical file on Najib
On 23 May 2010, Abu Kassim very dramatically revealed that the commission had opened a file into PM Najib Abdul Razak’s controversial offer (made on the eve of the Sibu by-election) of RM5 million for flood-mitigation projects in Rejang Park, provided the BN candidate was elected.
He said: “Yes, we have received complaints from several quarters during the by-election. So we have started investigating. We will investigate any party. We have two (complaints), one in Hulu Selangor… and [another in] Sibu.”
MACC investigations director Mustafar Ali said that the MACC “may consider calling Najib in for investigation. Not at the moment, but if need be of course we will call whoever [was relevant] to testify”. Was the MACC thinking of regaining public confidence by taking the rakyat for a ride?
In an unusual move on Teoh Beng Hock’s first-year death anniversary (16 July 2010) the MACC head issued a statement expressing his sympathy for the family and pledged he will not “compromise or cover up the actions of any culprit or anyone found potentially involved in the death of Teoh Beng Hock”.
The open letter to the grief-stricken family backfired. The family questioned the sincerity of Abu Kassim especially on why the condolence statement was only issued in Mandarin and consequently only given coverage in the Chinese-language media.
Further, the year-late condolence was at variance with the stance adopted by the MACC counsel Abdul Razak Musa at the inquest where he was clearly acting on the MACC’s instruction that Teoh Beng Hock had committed suicide.
MACC chickened out
In June, the MACC made a U-turn at the eleventh hour on plans to meet private investigator, P Balasubramaniam, in London to record his statement on a 2008 statutory declaration that implicated PM Najib Razak, his wife Rosmah Mansor and their friend Razak Baginda in the Altantuya murder and submarines-graft case.
In a bid to help the MACC counter the storm of criticism that erupted since the MACC’s announcement that it had been advised by the A-G not to go, MACC adviser Megat Najmuddin Megat Khas came up with the ludicrous: “It is ridiculous to go over there. The process will involve a lot of cost and a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
In a stinging response to the MACC, Americk Sidhu, Bala’s lawyer, said: “This turn of events has certainly destroyed what little credibility the MACC had left and has confirmed the suspicions held by most right thinking members of society that they are a body existing solely to protect the interests of the powers that be…
“Let me add that whatever advice the MACC may have received from the Attorney General’s chambers is highly suspect and devoid of any legal basis, but instead smacks of a hastily assembled concoction of very weak excuses designed to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation for those who are obviously in control and who are able to hijack the machinations of the State and to manipulate the system to suit their own illegitimate agendas.”
Press must “protect” MACC from itself!
On 21 July 2010, the MACC operations review panel said that “the press has been unfair in its coverage of the MACC so far. It should in fact “protect” the anti-graft body in order to encourage foreign direct investment into the country” (The Malaysian Insider).
Why blame the press, especially when the MACC does not do what it should be doing? Why shoot the messenger when the MACC is in a mess? There is really no need for the MACC to fear bad press. But it should be wary of itself! Tunku Abdul Aziz put this perfectly: “The MACC is its own worst enemy!”
MACC ‘commits suicide’
On 18 August 2010, the MACC very tragically “committed suicide” during the cross-examination of world-renowned Thai forensic pathologist Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand by its lawyer Abdul Razak in the Teoh Beng Hock’s Inquest.
He helped kill the very little that was left of the MACC’s own integrity and credibility. Its public image plunged to the very depths with the help of Abdul Razak. He had at first advocated self-strangulation. He even demonstrated how it could be done.
He then asked Dr Pornthip if she had any experience jumping off a building! When that failed, the very experienced lawyer of 24 years assisted the Commission to take a wild leap out of the window of logic, common sense and civility.
In October 2010, MACC deputy chief Mohd Shukri Abdull revealed that “moles in the MACC were disrupting the operations of the anti-graft body. They must be weeded out quickly as they were also a threat to national security”. The commission had lodged a police report on 25 September after it discovered that documents on investigations into several VIPs had appeared on blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin (RPK)’s Malaysia Today news portal.
The public considers RPK a very good “mole” – the nation’s best and boldest whistle-blower! What was his motive of publishing those documents? Blogger Din Merican explains the logic behind RPK’s “leaks” very clearly: “The MACC’s response has been pathetic. Day by day, RPK is showing that the MACC is not serious about eradicating corruption. Day by day, the MACC is shown to have resiled on its own oath and motto.
“Day by day, MACC is seen as just being another tool of the BN to cover up its own excesses. Day by day, the organs of government are shown to be apparatus of abuses and oppressions. Day by day, the PDRM and the MACC are seen as just tools by the Attorney General Gani Patail to further his own interests.”
On 2 November 2010, the MACC insisted it acts against all corrupt officials, be it “ministers, chief ministers, political leaders or even civil servants”. It hit out at Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers for “sensationalising” issues, attacking to gain political mileage (Malaysian Insider)
Nazri Aziz, the minister in charge of the MACC, revealed that the commission was still investigating 11 individuals for offences relating to “owning assets beyond one’s normal income”.
Lim Kit Siang rubbished the reply, arguing that it was “illogical” that the MACC probed only 11 persons for all of 2010, when the country was “mired with reports of corruption”.
“Only 11 investigations done till now? Are you saying that there are no more cases of corruption? We read reports of high-powered politicians living way beyond their means, with lavish mansions and big cars, but yet no action is taken against them. That is why we are questioning the efforts (by MACC) to tackle corruption.”
Conspiracies, collusion and cat-paws
Abu Kassim wants Malaysians to believe that the new anti-corruption body is “independent, transparent and professional”. Yet, in 2010, the MACC failed to counter the growing allegations and evidence of the commission being a cat’s-paw of the government, Umno and the political elite.
Allegations also surfaced of the MACC being in collusion with the former IGP Musa Hassan and AG Gani Patail in the selective prosecution of those they wanted to bring down such as former Commercial Crimes Investigations Director (CCID) Ramli Yusuff and lawyer Roshli Dahlan.
The decision of the KL Criminal Sessions Court on 20 August 2010 to acquit Ramli Yusuff of the last of the three cases levelled at him by the AG, the then IGP and the MACC was a real slap in the face of the heads of the three agencies. They tried to fix Ramli three times for three different charges in three separate courts before three different judges but failed according to the reputed blogger, Din Merican!
Since 15 Aug. 2010, Malaysia Today has published nine reports on how Tajudin Ramli plundered MAS and reduced the airline company from a surplus of more than RM600 million to a deficit in excess of RM8 billion. RPK showed documents to not only prove this “but also to prove that there was alleged collusion between the AG Chambers, the MACC and the PRDM to sweep this entire episode under the carpet”.
Hype or hope?
In an interview with Sin Chew Daily on 1 February 2010, Abu Kassim had asked for a year to reverse the bad impression the MACC has made on the public. His time is almost up! Will he continue defending the MACC and deluding himself that the public perception of the MACC is improving?
But the MACC was not without a prize catch in 2010 – two big fish in fact! They were former minister and MCA president Ling Liong Sik, who was charged in Court on 29 July 2010 for cheating the government and former Selangor Mentri Besar Mohd Khir Toyo, who was arrested and charged in court for corruption on 6 December 2010.
Some saw the arrests and the suits as the result of the “good work” of the MACC. The agency should be congratulated for their “great effort”, which resulted in a good catch.
On the other hand, many viewed it as a “good show” and a “great gimmick” – reminiscent of the charade against corruption by former PM Abdullah Badawi, with the big fish eventually escaping in good time! Still many considered the “small” charges for the big fish a big joke!
Will Abu Kassim continue to be the “good boy” of Gani and the government or seriously and genuinely consider the good of the people? Its everyone’s good guess! Or will he follow the good example of leaders like Robert Phang, an MACC panel advisor whose courage, commitment and consistency has given Bolehland a glimmer of hope by giving the MACC a good name?
Martin Jalleh, a well known political commentator, is a regular contributor to Aliran Monthly.