On July 27, 2015, representatives from civil society groups gathered in Putrajaya to deliver a memorandum outlining proposals to strengthen the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act.
That 21-page document was prepared by the Malaysian Bar, in collaboration with the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4), Citizens’ Network for a Better Malaysia (CNBM), and Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M).
But it was an exercise in futility. In the morning, Bernama issued a statement quoting the then chief secretary to the government Ali Hamsa as saying that Abdul Gani Patail’s services as the attorney-general were terminated early due to the latter’s “health problems”.
Almost immediately, the three top guns in the MACC were replaced and it marked the week of the long knives – the darkest period in Malaysia’s fight against corruption. Any and every civil servant, especially enforcement officers who had knowledge about the wheeling and dealing in 1MDB and related agencies, were forced to clear their desks.
That document from the civil society was delivered but it suffered like other evidence – untouched and ignored.
While there were a series of exposés by the media – local and foreign – on what the government of the day under Abdul Najib Razak was covering up, it was not until the court cases began in 2019 that Malaysians understood the reasons behind the black operation to get rid of top graft busters.
The change of government in May 2018 saw the return of former MACC deputy chief Mohamad Shukri Abdull to helm the commission and after him, lawyer Latheefa Koya for a short spell.
But following another change of government in 2020, a raft of criminal charges was withdrawn and as expected, many read into these actions and the MACC, being the investigating body, bore the blame. When civil servants escaped with fines, MACC was seen to be influenced by the social status and political hierarchy of the perpetrators.
Hence, it was the assumption that the prosecution did not push for custodial sentences.
Other ominous signs began to appear. It is difficult to fathom how low a once acclaimed and highly-respected institution has dropped.
The MACC has transcended into an organisation which is now making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Its series of howlers has now become the perfect example to illustrate the idiom “it never rains but it pours.”
This month, it has been besieged with issues starting with the withdrawal of 27 charges against Felda director Noor Ehsanuddin Mohd Harun Narrashid. When confronted for an explanation, MACC said that the “bribe had been returned before investigations started”.
Then came the muddle which did more damage – the MACC advisors claiming that investigations were “unprofessionally conducted and were influenced by political considerations.”
But the key question remained unanswered: Is it legal and acceptable for any person to accept gratification and later repay the money and call it “advances” to escape prosecution?
Yesterday’s announcement by the MACC chief Azam Baki that three of its officers had been remanded was stale news.
The remand took place one week ago – last Tuesday, Sept 14, to be exact, and the matter was hushed up until the news appeared in a blog, Edisi Siasat, on Saturday.
Within these events lies the only certainty in this desperate affair – an apparent attempt at covering up the case of the missing money; a lot of money, at least RM6 million.
The money was from the case of former Malaysia External Intelligence Organisation (MEIO) chief Hasanah Abdul Hamid who stood trial for criminal breach of trust involving a sum of RM50.4 million belonging to the government. In April, she was given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal during her trial.
Already, there are accusations of cloak and dagger operations to protect the guilty.
Among others, the blog claimed that one of the alleged perpetrators is a close aide of Azam and hence it became an internal investigation.
Indeed, a riveting story is to be told when and if it goes to court, and the MACC’s tattered image is likely to turn the worst way imaginable.
In Parliament yesterday, Puchong MP Gobind Singh rightly raised two pointed questions: Theft falls under the jurisdiction of the police and not the MACC. So why is MACC the one making the arrest and detention? This involves MACC officers. Is the MACC going to investigate itself?
Newspaper publisher, former MACC advisory panel member and head of Rasuah Busters, an anti-corruption platform, Hussamuddin Yaacub called on Azam to accept responsibility for the debacle and resign and allow a special police team to investigate the alleged theft.
As Malaysians begin to digest the course of events, shenanigans and goings-on in the MACC, it will be a good time to have a re-look at the civil society proposals which must be gathering dust in either the AG’s Chambers or the MACC headquarters.
With MPs now in the mood to propose private member’s bills, will some caring lawmaker take up the cause for a better Malaysia? We need a MACC that is helmed by people of integrity, and one which is totally independent and apolitical.
R NADESWARAN is a veteran journalist who has written extensively on governance issues including corruption.
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