C4 Center: Replace Azam as part of MACC’s reforms

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Graft watchdog Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) called for the immediate replacement of MACC chief Azam Baki after he dismissed allegations of election bribery against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

C4 Center said Azam must be replaced as part of urgent reforms to ensure MACC’s independence in performing its duties.

“Urgent reforms must be implemented to ensure the independence of the MACC, including the immediate replacement of the chief commissioner, as Azam has shown repeatedly that the credibility of the MACC has dwindled under his leadership,” said the group in a statement today.

C4 Center argued that contrary to Azam’s remarks, there are legal grounds for MACC to probe Zahid’s recent announcement of federal grants for Terengganu youth groups, as there was an indication that the amounts might be increased depending upon the results of the state polls.

Specifically, the group cited Section 10 of the Election Offences Act 1954 (EOA) which covers the “corrupt practice” of bribery and includes the offering or promising of any money or valuable consideration for any elector or voter.

“Which could reasonably be interpreted in a manner which covers Zahid’s actions,” said the group.

Zahid, the rural and regional development minister, during a ministry event in Terengganu on June 28, announced allocations of RM250,000 to the Terengganu Youth Council and RM200,000 to motorcycle teams throughout the state.

He then asked the youths at the event to vote for the “blue and red wave” in the Aug 12 state elections, prompting critics including Muda president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman to accuse him of “normalising corruption”.

Azam, in response, reportedly said the grants were not an offence as they were approved by the federal government, and therefore had no element of bribery.

C4 Center also noted that Azam said there is no need to issue new guidelines to govern the provision of government aid and allocations during elections.

“Azam is right in stating that Section 10 of the EOA clearly stipulates the ‘do’s and don’ts’ which must be complied with by-election candidates.

“However, his firm belief that Zahid’s actions do not contravene any laws, without even conducting any inquiries into the matter, reflects a fundamental misreading of the very legislation he cites,” said C4 Center.

The group said certain offences under the election law are also deemed as “prescribed offences” under the MACC Act 2009 over which the graftbuster is empowered to exercise all investigative powers available to it.

“Azam’s assertion that allocations approved by the federal government have no element of bribery does not have any legal basis, and flies in the face of the spirit of both acts, i.e. to combat corrupt practices in their myriad forms,” said the group.

Further, C4 Center said it was highly disappointing that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim also defended Zahid with his statement that the federal government is still in operation and will continue to make important announcements.

“His (Anwar’s) bare assertion that the cabinet has decided that public funds shall not be used for election campaigning is meaningless when ministers seem to be allowed to do so anyway with no repercussions.

“Each existing check and balance mechanism is failing to take Zahid to task, which only serves to entrench and perpetuate improper practices during election campaigning – contrary to the Anwar administration’s stated commitments,” said the group.

As such, C4 Center said MACC must initiate investigations into Zahid’s announcement to ascertain whether an election offence has indeed been committed, and if not, the MACC must explain why it does not intend to address a potential offence which falls within its statutory mandate. – Malaysiakini