Azam Baki’s reappointment as MACC chief highlights failure to bring about institutional reform

Probe Azam Baki's alleged shareholdings

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On 12 May, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief Azam Baki was reappointed to hold office for another year, following a previous one-year extension in 2023.

The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) reiterates the criticism in its media statement dated 17 May 2023 in response to Azam’s previous reappointment – that the credibility and independence of the MACC remains in question so long as the appointment process of its chief is not reformed.

C4 Center calls for greater momentum in the implementation of extensively discussed reforms to decentralise and democratise executive power.

Chief secretary to the government Mohd Zuki Ali announced that Azam’s appointment was made under Sections 5(1) and (2) of the MACC Act 2009, which provides for the chief commissioner’s appointment to be made by the Agong on the advice of the prime minister.

It is common knowledge that the phrase “on the advice” under these sections removes any discretion from the Agong, pursuant to Article 40(1A) of the Federal Constitution. This means that the decision to reappoint Azam as chief commissioner for another year is solely attributable to the prime minister.

As previously highlighted by C4 Center, it was revealed through investigations by a journalist that Azam owned millions of shares in two listed companies while he was the head of MACC’s investigations department.

Azam subsequently sued the journalist for defamation in a clear instance of “strategic litigation against public participation” (Slapp) and even used this defamation suit as one of many excuses not to appear before a parliamentary select committee that had summoned him to testify.

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An MACC probe in April 2022 into Justice Nazlan Ghazali was declared non-compliant with proper protocol by the Federal Court in February 2023.

This investigation, conducted under Azam’s leadership, was according to a unanimous bench of seven judges done “without regard to judicial independence” and had “curious timing”. It cast doubt over whether the exercise was made in good faith.

Were these seriously controversial incidents taken into consideration by the PM before deciding on Azam’s reappointment?

The process for appointing the chief commissioner of the MACC has been the subject of criticism for years.

For instance, in 2015, the Malaysian Bar, C4 Center and several other civil society organisations released a joint memo calling for the reform of the MACC. Among other recommendations, the memo called for the creation of a parliamentary select committee on corruption, which would be tasked with the nomination of commissioners to the anti-corruption commission.

This issue was even raised during Malaysia’s session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN Human Rights Council on 25 January 2024, where its human rights record for the past five years was examined by the international community.

There, the Canadian delegation emphasised the demands of domestic advocates by recommending that permanent independent bodies such as parliamentary select committees be established to oversee appointments to anti-corruption and other oversight institutions.

The government had previously somewhat addressed this matter in the national anti-corruption plan for 2019-2023 by proposing a public appointments bill to “regulate the exercise of Executive Power in respect of Public Appointments to certain constitutional and statutory offices”. This presumably would cover the statutory office of MACC chief commissioner. However, this initiative was never implemented.

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Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim stated in Parliament on 28 March 2023 that the implementation of an alternative process for appointing the MACC chief commissioner would depend on the progress made by Parliament. In the event such a mechanism is decided upon and studied by the relevant stakeholders before the end of Azam’s tenure, he would have no issues with it.

However, over one year later, no progress has been made in this regard.

Disappointingly, the new national anti-corruption strategy for 2024-2028 stipulates that relooking at the requirements for the appointment and dismissal of the MACC chief commissioner shall be a long-term sub-strategy, with an anticipated period of four to five years for implementation.

This delay shall prove detrimental to Anwar Ibrahim’s administration, as any investigations initiated by the MACC of politically linked persons, especially those who are politically opposed to the prime minister, will inevitably be perceived as unjust and selective.

As long as the appointments process remains unreformed, this government shall suffer from an erosion of credibility and public confidence.

In summary, the reappointment of an individual plagued with scandals he has not answered for, to such an important office is already disappointing.

However, the fundamental issue here goes beyond Azam alone. The institutional capacity to combat corruption and uphold good governance in Malaysia shall remain impaired without sufficient devolution of the powers which have been centralised in the hands of the prime minister.

Critically, the lack of accountability regarding the appointment of the MACC chief is a severe detriment to the credibility of the institution, and must be remedied without delay.

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Therefore, C4 Center reiterates that Azam Baki’s disconcerting reappointment must catalyse the expediting of comprehensive reforms to the appointments process for the office of the MACC chief. – C4 Center

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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