Dennis Ignatius: All-out battle against corruption or another phoney war?

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Nowhere is the need for reform more urgently needed than at the MACC, the primary agency charged with fighting corruption.


Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has made good governance and the war against corruption one of the defining features of his administration. Such is his zeal for fighting corruption that he promised to fight corruption even if it meant losing his job.

Acting on his resolve to fight corruption, he immediately terminated RM7 billion worth of contracts that were awarded directly under the Jana Wibawa scheme by the previous government and will retender RM15 billion worth of flood mitigation projects. Anwar also pledged that from now on, all government contracts will be transparent. A new law to plug government procurement leakages is expected to be tabled in Parliament soon.

As everyone knows, negotiated tenders, long a mainstay of government procurement, have been nothing more than state-sponsored corruption designed to enrich politicians and their cronies.

The new measures, if adhered to strictly, will go a long way to preventing the scandals of tomorrow while saving the nation billions. For this, the Prime Minister rightly deserves our praise and support.

The Prime Minister also acknowledged that corruption is now systemic; in other words, it’s widespread, deeply ingrained and affects all our national institutions. The culture of corruption has become so commonplace that holy men excuse it away as “willing-giver-willing-taker”.

Such a deeply rooted culture cannot be easily changed. Systemic corruption can only be eradicated by systemic reform of structures, legislation and institutions sustained by strong political will.

Nowhere is the need for reform more urgently needed than at the MACC, the primary agency charged with fighting corruption. The fight against corruption must be predicated upon a strong and independent MACC, one that is not beholden to the government of the day. And it must be led by someone of unimpeachable integrity.

The current MACC chief has long since lost the respect and confidence of the public. The recent statement of the Chief Justice, issued on behalf of the Federal Court, is a telling indictment of the MACC chief and the way he has carried out his responsibilities. It is another reminder that all is not right at the MACC.

Besides, the Prime Minister’s acknowledgment that corruption is now systemic must, ipso facto, imply that the MACC and its chief have done a miserable job in containing it. That alone is reason enough to replace him.

If the Prime Minister wants to send a strong signal of his determination to confront corruption, his first order of business must, therefore, be to replace the current MACC chief and bring in someone who can restore public confidence in the agency.

The Prime Minister also opined that it’s time to go after the big fish. All Malaysians fervently want to see this happen. Getting it done will be the Prime Minister’s biggest challenge as well as the single most important test of his sincerity and commitment.

There are presently plenty of cases that are in the news that provide ample opportunities for him to demonstrate his commitment to go after the big fish. The LSC scandal is a good example. Billions cannot be accounted for. Such things cannot happen without connivance and complicity at the highest levels of government.

Disconcertingly, Defence Minister Mohamad Hasan in responding to a question about the project, said “We will ensure that the ships are built; no point talking about history. That is important because it (LCS) is a strategic asset of the armed forces”.

No point talking about history because that history might involve the current deputy prime minister (who was defence minister at the time the LCS contract was signed)?

The LCS scandal is a major test of the government’s sincerity in fighting corruption, in acting in an open and transparent manner, in willing to go after the big fish. By all means save the LCS project if it is still needed but by no means let it pass without a full and transparent inquiry into the huge loss of public funds.

Expeditiously investigating and prosecuting all those responsible for wrongdoing in the LCS and other scandals will exponentially boost public confidence in the government; conversely, allowing it to fester in unending “investigations” that go nowhere will result in yet more cynicism and distrust of the government.

The Prime Minister should know that all Malaysians are rooting for him. He is our last best hope for ending the scourge of corruption. The nation waits with bated breath to see if it’s going to be an all-out battle against corruption wherever it may be found, or just another phony war with big speeches and little action. – Dennis Ignatius