“Project cartel” only exposed recently as whistleblowers feared for safety

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The cartel monopolising the bulk of government contracts had not been exposed until recently as the whistleblowers feared for their safety, says the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

MACC chief commissioner Datuk Seri Azam Baki said the investigation was challenging as the issue was “external and internal”, reported the Malay Mail.

“This is what I said, and as the chief commissioner, it made me doubt. Why? When I was interviewed recently, I said it is impossible; to me, it is not logical that everyone does not know about this. If it’s just one or two people, it is okay,” said Azam.

He had said when interviewed on TVAlhijrah’s Analisis programme that it was impossible that senior officers or department heads did not know about the goings-on.

Azam said the cartel may have been active before 2014, and that several officers have been complaining to their department heads “for (a) long (time)”.

“But I understand that when they complain too much, they fear that action or retaliation from those concerned parties will happen against them,” said Azam.

“So, they are mostly silent, and when they are silent, this is when we do not know much,” he added.

Several individuals, including the syndicate’s boss, were recently remanded by the MACC in their investigations into the cartel.

The “project cartel” is believed to have been awarded 345 tenders with an estimated value of RM3.6bil from different ministries and agencies nationwide since 2014.

Azam also claimed that there has been no political interference in his agency since he took office.

He said some politicians “enquired” about investigations, but not with the intention to interrupt or influence the outcome of the probe.

“I regularly mix with ministers or other politicians. They ask, but I say that those are merely enquiries and will not influence our decisions when carrying out investigations.

Norafifi Ehsan/The Star

“We will investigate the cases, and it is up to the Attorney-General whether to charge them or not,” he said.

Responding to TVAlhijrah host Syafinaz Yunus who asked if the rising number of cases exposed meant corruption in Malaysia was severe, Azam said corruption in the country was alarming but not yet at a critical level.

“We cannot say that it is bad. But I can say, as someone who has been in the line of fighting corruption for a long time, it is at a rate that is worrying me, personally, but it is not till it’s a pandemic.

“Maybe some in the community opine that it has gotten grievous and that it is pandemic. However, if we look at it from another angle, because of the awareness among the masses, this is what led to exposés on the many issues now.

“If there is no information from the public, and also maybe with technological development now also exposes many corruption issues. Especially those involving the authorities or civil servants. Surely these issues would now be exposed,” he said referring to both public tip-off and technology.

During the interview on the Analisis: Barah Lama @ Polemik Baru? programme, Azam added that civil servants the MACC arrested for corruption are usually those in senior positions and financially comfortable.

He said this meant greed and not desperation was the motive for their corruption.

“When this integrity value decreases because of non-trustworthiness, then it is very easy for corrupt activities and breach of trust to happen. That’s why if you ask me why this happens, there are many reasons under the corruption theory. It is the same from those days till now. That is, there will be space and opportunities and from one’s own greed.

“Based on our experience, we can say almost all (corruption) cases happen not because of life’s desperation, but it is more to greed, and also lack of faith and also the space and opportunity for it (corruption),” he added.

Azam said that without integrity, corruption cannot be tackled regardless of how good a system is put in place to address the problem.

When asked if low salaries contributed to the problem of civil service corruption, Azam said that some of those detained by the MACC were those earning the “Jusa C” and “Jusa B” grades.

Azam attributed the problem to the environment, peer influence and lifestyle.

“Now we have even caught those who are Jusa B recently, Jusa C also. Last time this was unheard of.

“Simple answer, because this has got to do with the personal values of a person. So maybe other crimes, such as theft because one does not have much to eat, I understand. But corruption is done by those who have power, by those who have the opportunity,” he added.