Shambolic protection for whistleblowers comes full circle

PIXABAY

C4 Center is outraged that Azam Baki, the chief commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), tasked with protecting whistleblowers who expose corruption, is himself threatening a whistleblower with legal action for revealing his alleged wrongdoings.

On 6 January 2022, a letter of demand was served by MACC chief Azam Baki upon Lalitha Kunaratnam, an independent Malaysian anti-corruption activist. This was in connection with her articles detailing Azam Baki’s questionable ownership of millions of shares in two listed companies, which were published by the Independent News Services.

Lalitha Kunaratnam is a Malaysian anti-corruption advocate whose integrity and evidence-based journalism has earned her numerous plaudits. Her findings in this case were backed by publicly accessible documents.

Azam Baki’s attempt to silence her smacks of grave intimidation and fear tactics completely unbecoming of a top graft buster.

The exposé and Azam Baki’s hostile response serve as yet another devastating blow to the credibility of the MACC, an institution already wrecked by corruption and criminal scandals involving its own officers.

His legal threats upon a notable anti-corruption campaigner also reiterate the huge personal risk whistleblowers face when exposing wrongdoing. It is the cruellest irony, as it is Azam Baki, of all people, who should be assisting Lalitha to obtain whistleblower protection. 

The principles of transparency and accountability espoused by the MACC, have all crumbled to ashes with this tragic episode that will take the trust deficit to an all-time low. 

What message does this send to the rest of us Malaysians? 

Malaysia is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Corruption. Article 33 of the convention explicitly sets out the parameters of protection for reporting persons and legally obligates signatory states to consider their incorporation, as follows: 

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Each State Party shall consider incorporating into its domestic legal system appropriate measures to provide protection against any unjustified treatment for any person who reports in good faith and on reasonable grounds to the competent authorities any facts concerning offences established in accordance with this Convention.

In Malaysia, the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010 was enacted to offer protection to our whistleblowers.

However, as proven by this case, its provisions are completely insufficient for the purposes of protection and does not encourage nor give confidence to potential whistleblowers to come forward with information.

For years, C4 Center has called for amendments to be made to the act, with emphasis on Section 4, Section 6(1), Section 8(1) and (4), and Section 11.

An amendment to Section 6(1) is especially crucial, as in its current form, it limits whistleblowers to reporting cases to enforcement agencies only, failing which, whistleblower protection would be revoked. Furthermore, it carries with it the condition that the disclosure cannot break any existing law, essentially stifling effective whistleblower efforts.

On 17 November last year, Azam Baki himself told the media of his support for amendments to the act. According to him, “We [the MACC] fully support the planned amendments to the law. Adequate protection should be given to ensure that such a mechanism will be effective.”

He added, “I believe more people will be able to become whistleblowers if they are confident that the relevant law will protect them.”

Where is the support for whistleblowers now? Was this all mere lip service?

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The only right cause of action for Azam Baki now is to immediately withdraw his letter of demand and prove to the public that the MACC genuinely advocates for whistleblower protection. He must cease with threats to whistleblowers and, amid this mounting criticism, declare his assets at once.

Furthermore, in light of the statement by the Securities Commission that it will be calling in Azam Baki for questioning over this alleged violation of stock trading laws, he must immediately go on garden leave until all investigations into his actions are complete. 

Leading an anti-corruption commission, Azam has, by his actions so far, terribly failed to lead by example and is sending the wrong message out. 

C4 Center hereby urgently and emphatically calls for:

  1. Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to set up a special taskforce composed of independent personalities to conduct an investigation into Azam Baki’s alleged wrongdoings without delay. The investigation must be done transparently, and the full findings of the special taskforce must be made public
  2. Azam Baki to be immediately be put on a garden leave to allow a thorough and impartial investigation to be carried out to ascertain the truth of the allegations
  3. The immediate withdrawal of Azam Baki’s letter of demand to Lalitha Kunaratnam
  4. A special committee to be set up immediately to implement the long overdue reforms to the structure of the MACC, in particular, an amendment of the Federal Constitution for the establishment of an independent anti-corruption commission free from executive influence. C4, along with the Malaysian Bar, the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, Transparency International Malaysia, and Citizens’ Network for a Better Malaysia, made this call in a memorandum published in 2015 at the request of the MACC itself
  5. A special committee to be set up immediately to revamp the MACC’s advisory boards and panels, which have unquestionably failed in their duty to properly investigate the concerns raised by Dr Edmund Terence Gomez before he resigned due to their inaction
  6. The reform of the Whistleblower Protection Act, which has continually failed to adequately protect whistleblowers since it came into force over a decade ago, with specific emphasis on Section 4, Section 6(1), Section 8(1) and (4), and Section 11 – C4 Center
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