Azam Baki, the chief commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), stated on Thursday, 21 July that the findings of Transparency International’s corruption perception index (CPI) 2021 were not based on evidence and stressed that the index was merely a measure of “perception” that may not be necessarily reflective of reality, among other comments.
The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) expresses its surprise over these statements.
Transparency International published their corruption perception index 2021 earlier this year, in January, and has been doing so annually since 1995.
The CPI ranks 180 countries and territories around the world by their perceived levels of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean), based on the composite feedback and assessments of experts and business executives from international financial institutions and banks.
Its methodology has also been independently audited and its results endorsed by global stakeholders such as the UN and the International Monetary Fund.
The CPI serves an important tool for foreign investors in assessing the suitability of a given country for investments.
For 2021, Malaysia scored 48 points, dropping from 51 in 2020, to an overall rank of 62nd out of the 180 surveyed countries.
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To claim that the index measures perception has never been disputed. Transparency International itself stresses that the CPI is not meant to be an absolute measure of corruption within entire nations and their societies and certainly does not serve to paint a complete picture of the state of corruption within the surveyed countries.
However, his statements did not end there; he also curiously took issue with Transparency International’s decision to include other matters such as human rights and business ethics and so on, of which he claims “not all is linked to corruption.” He also repeatedly stressed the need for “evidence” of corruption before accepting any assessments of the matter.
Azam, as chief commissioner, should better explain the CPI’s value rather than discredit the country-wide index, and worse, make statements that decouple corruption and its links with democracy, human rights and business interests – an extremely shallow take on corruption that reveals a lack of understanding about the subject, and a shocking one coming from a top graft buster.
To state that corruption has little to do with human rights and business ethics is simply wrong – the continued harassment of journalists and crackdown on free speech in an attempt to silence those who would reveal abuses of power perpetrated by the government demonstrate a clear link between corruption and human rights, to provide just one example.
This lapse in judgement on his part possibly leads to some uneasy questions. Is his de-linking of corruption and business interests a consequence of his own corporate scandal, possibly an attempt at minimising his own culpability? The revelation in late 2021 that Azam owned millions of shares in two listed companies comes to mind.
Or is it merely an attempt on his part at discrediting the CPI as a whole to save face, in the event Malaysia’s CPI score continues its descent?
Notwithstanding the guilt or innocence of any individual in relation to offences regarding corruption, Azam’s insistence on the need for “evidence” in relation to assessing corruption is additionally puzzling.
The nature of corruption is such that related acts such as bribery, diversion of public funds and use of public office for private gain (examples of acts assessed by the CPI), are acts done covertly, meaning that procuring evidence for corrupt practices necessitates investigations that can only be undertaken by robust and independent enforcement agencies, like the MACC.
If there is a lack of evidence, it follows that there should be more investigations by the agencies that are empowered to do so.
The evidence on which Azam places so much importance can only be reliably collected by agencies like the MACC and law enforcement, and subject to proper deliberation in a court of law.
If investigations against powerful officials are dropped without proper justification, if transparency regarding the allocation of government funding is hidden behind secrecy laws, or if the judiciary is unable to act because of ostensible undue influence, these are also strong indicators of corruption.
Azam’s notion of “evidence” versus “perception” is a false dichotomy that Malaysians cannot be misled into internalising, as both aspects are necessary measures of assessing and fighting corruption.
As chief commissioner, Azam should know that the “perception” of corruption that arises from a lack of government transparency or conflict of interest are problems in themselves that do not and should not necessitate “evidence” to substantiate its problematic nature.
In a climate of political uncertainty and a looming general election, the need for strong institutions that provide oversight and enforce accountability on politicians both in power and not, is more pressing than ever – especially in the wake of a global health crisis that has only provided more inroads for abuse of power and corruption.
While the national anti-corruption plan seems to have been relegated to a thing of the past, the MACC should be bearing the standard of continually affirming its application in policymaking.
C4 Center would like to remind Azam that his duty, as chief commissioner of the MACC, is to the public first and foremost, and that his interests and the interests of protecting a “national image” are secondary to the fight against corruption.
We would also be more than happy to meet Azam and other representatives of the MACC for the purpose of providing resources and materials that demonstrate the close linkages between corruption, business interests, and human rights that will no doubt strengthen the MACC’s work.
Azam also represents Malaysia as a board member of the International Anti-Corruption Academy and thus we call upon them to provide a prompt response and clarification to Azam’s statements.
Lastly, it is vital that even the MACC should not be allowed to act without oversight and should itself report to and be accountable to Parliament.
As the nation’s foremost authority in fighting corruption, the MACC must not only be transparent and accountable in value but also carry the “perception” of a body that upholds these values. – C4 Center