I refer to news reports on the statements made by Abu Zahar Ujang, chairman of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s anti-corruption advisory board, and Azam Baki, the chief commissioner of the MACC, at their press conference on 5 January 2022.
Much was expected of this press conference, as Abu Zahar had promised to explain why he took no action when serious allegations about Azam’s business interests were brought to his attention.
Much was also expected of Azam, since he had not spoken publicly about these allegations since they first arose a few months ago.
However, the statements by Abu Zahar and Azam have raised more questions than answers. Their statements have exposed even more problems within the MACC, while raising extremely distressing new concerns about Azam’s business interests.
These new issues relate to three core questions.
First, is the administration within the MACC so poor?
Second, can the advisory board act impartially and appropriately when dealing with serious allegations of impropriety by senior MACC officers?
Third, has Azam’s response raised new legal and regulatory questions about his business interests?
I will deal with these issues separately.
1. Poor MACC administration?
Abu Zahar insists his office’s secretariat did not receive even one of the three emails I sent him. How is this possible? If so, this suggests gross negligence on the part of the MACC secretariat or that the MACC’s impressive technology system is extremely faulty.
I find these claims incredulous. Are we expected to believe this occurred when I sent emails to the secretariat on an extremely pertinent issue?
Even if we are to accept this claim that the MACC’s secretariat did not receive these emails, I informed Borhan Dolah, chairman of the consultation and corruption prevention panel, of the need to have a meeting on this matter.
Borhan responded that he would look into this matter and “advised MACC accordingly”.
I also copied all my emails to another advisory board member. Two other board members were informed of my concern that Abu Zahar had not responded to my emails. Is Abu Zahar insisting that even though numerous people were aware of my emails to him, no one raised this matter with him?
Abu Zahar claims I did not agree to meet him when his office’s secretariat approached me, through Whatsapp, on Wednesday, 28 December 2021, requesting a meeting.
I had, in fact, immediately responded, stating that I would like to meet Abu Zahar. But since I was going abroad soon, I asked that we meet that very night, through a Zoom meeting.
Abu Zahar’s office did not respond to my request that we meet that night.
I have copied these WhatsApp messages to editors of newspapers to verify my intent to meet Abu Zahar.
2. Independent advisory board?
Abu Zahar stated that the advisory board met on 24 November 2021. At this meeting, Abu Zahar said that Azam gave its members an explanation of the allegations made against him.
Can the minutes of this advisory board meeting on 24 November be publicly disclosed since this is a matter of public interest?
Why is it that Abu Zahar and the board members did not invite the whistleblower, who had raised these allegations, to discuss this matter? Or why did the advisory board not invite me to present and discuss these matters to them, as I had offered to do so?
Why did Abu Zahar not call for a press conference immediately after the advisory board meeting on 24 November to inform the public about what had transpired, including explaining why Azam had been exonerated of the serious allegations made against him?
Azam stated in his press conference he is answerable only to the MACC advisory board.
He is also required to respond publicly to allegations made against him, as these matters were raised in Parliament, deeply tarnishing the image of the MACC.
3. Violation of regulations and laws?
Azam’s first public response to these allegations against him raises extremely alarming questions:
Azam claims that the company shares he owned belonged to his brother. Is Azam not aware of the need to declare ‘beneficial ownership’ when holding corporate equity in trust?
Azam must be aware it is not sufficient to inform his superior, the then MACC chief commissioner whom he did not name, of his ownership of this corporate equity. Did Azam also declare his ownership of this corporate equity as required by government regulation? Why did the then MACC chief commissioner approve Azam’s form of corporate ownership when he may have violated beneficial ownership-related legislation?
Were the company warrants that Azam owned also held in trust for his brother? If so, how did Azam obtain the funds to acquire these warrants?
Why did Azam not address any of the other serious allegations raised in the reports by the whistleblower that I had sent to Abu Zahar?
These questions draw attention to issues pertaining to conflict of interest, dereliction of duty, and possible violation of legislation and regulations by not just Azam, but other MACC officials, indicating a deeply disturbing trend within this institution.
Azam’s public response indicates why it is now imperative to institute an independent investigation into these allegations. Abu Zahar’s failure to address this issue indicates an urgent and imperative need for institutional reforms within the MACC.
It is now vital for Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to publicly speak on this issue. The MACC falls under his jurisdiction. The prime minister is also duty-bound to address this matter, as the press conference by the MACC’s leading officials has further tarnished the integrity and image of this institution.
Dr Edmund Terence Gomez is a political economist who recently resigned from the consultative and corruption panel of the MACC