Corruption index improves but shadow of undelivered reforms still hangs over government  

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The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) notes the release of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2023.

Malaysia is ranked at 57th spot out of 180 countries with a score of 50 out of 100.

The CPI findings revealed that Malaysia’s score increased three points from 2022, denoting a step towards positive change in how corruption is perceived in the nation.

While the score’s increase can be taken as a sign of progress towards better governance and transparency, C4 Center remains aware of the numerous setbacks Malaysia has experienced in combating corruption.

The perceived improvement can be attributed to the multiple public engagements conducted by the “unity government” following the reformist anti-corruption pledges made during the 2022 general election.

In its first year in power, the unity government has made its stance against corruption clear by taking preliminary steps to enhance focus areas such as good governance, transparency and public accountability.

The unity government has additionally conducted consultation sessions with civil society organisations, including C4 Center, to refine details for a potential government procurement act, to establish core positions in implementing the right to information bill and to fine-tune necessary amendments to the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010 and the Official Secrets Act 1972.

While the scores are promising, it is worth noting that 2023 was not a smooth year for the unity government.

In particular, it was heavily criticised for favouritism in the manner in which it attempted to resolve controversies involving high-profile politicians – for instance, the attorney general/public prosecutor’s peculiar decision to discontinue 47 charges of corruption against first Deputy PM Zahid Hamidi after the prosecution had, in the opinion of the presiding High Court judge, successfully established a prima facie case against him. Zahid was later granted an order of discharge not amounting to an acquittal.

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Similarly, recall the decision to charge former Prime Minister Mahiaddin Yasin for alleged corruption in the Jana Wibawa case. Yet Tengku Zafrul Aziz, who was at that relevant time the finance minister and currently, the investment, trade and industry minister – was not prosecuted at all.

Other prominent events warranting close attention include the decisions to renew contracts with Boustead Heavy Industries Corporation Bhd, which was complicit in the Scorpene scandal for the littoral combat ships, and Pharmaniaga for faulty ventilators, despite shocking revelations by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of mismanagement and non-compliance with public procurement regulations.

Furthermore, enablers of corruption, such as patronage and cronyism, persist and remain unaddressed.

Political appointments as influential officeholders of government-linked companies were maintained under Anwar Ibrahim’s one-year leadership.

However, it is important to note that even in the situations where concerted efforts are taken to eliminate corruption, the lack of independence of investigation and enforcement bodies from the executive – in particular Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim himself – casts doubts on the principles by which these decisions operate.

The recent prosecutions against former finance minister Daim Zainuddin, as well as Bersatu member Wan Saiful Wan Jan, for corruption-related offences have ignited Anwar’s critics. Many claim these are selective prosecutions for the purposes of Anwar to silence or seek revenge against his political enemies.

Without the requisite reforms that would guarantee the independence of our corruption-combating institutions from the influence of the executive, any and all such action will be marred by the perception of political motivation, no matter how principled the original intention may be.

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This may most certainly become a massive obstacle for the government’s anti-corruption efforts in the long term in the absence of a buy-in from all of society, regardless of political affiliation.

Given Anwar’s commitment to elevate Malaysia to the top 25 countries for the CPI ranking in the next 10 years, it is imperative for the unity government to implement real and substantive anti-corruption reforms.

In light of these developments, C4 Center hereby calls on the government to prioritise outstanding critical reforms that focus on ensuring independent oversight of the government and its related public entities.

C4 Center firmly believes that providing true independence to these institutions and empowering them to act without fear or favour will close the persistent gap in public governance and significantly improve our future CPI score.

C4 Center urgently recommends the following:

  • Separation of the attorney general’s and the public prosecutor’s offices to ensure independence in all prosecutions. In tandem with this, prosecutorial guidelines should be formulated to delineate the functions, procedures and relevant considerations involved in reaching the decision to prosecute or discontinue prosecutions against individuals
  • Reform the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). This includes granting it full independence in its investigation capacity as the sole anti-corruption body. An independent oversight body should also be established to evaluate important operations of the MACC, such as appointment of the chief commissioner and its budget
  • Formulate a ministerial code of conduct and ethics to regulate and address enablers of corruption, such as conflict of interest, nepotism, patronage and cronyism. In particular, this code should seek to abolish the practice of political appointments to government-linked companies and state-owned enterprises
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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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