Is Azam Bracing For The Coming Storm


 

From Edmund Terence Gomez
Why would Azam Baki, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief commissioner, denounce the highly regarded Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) by Transparency International?
Azam is quoted as stating that since the CPI is based “on perceptions about public sector corruption”, this index “is neither factual nor based on evidence”.
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The statement, coming from the chief commissioner of an anti-corruption agency, is both embarrassing and outrageous.
Azam’s remarks were his response to a question about his plans to improve Malaysia’s standing in the CPI.
Malaysia had fallen five rungs in Transparency International’s 2021 CPI ranking. This was the second consecutive year that Malaysia had fallen in the rankings.
There is a possible reason for such an inappropriate statement by Azam.
When the CPI rankings were released this year, MACC announced its intention to assess what had contributed to this fall. When doing this assessment, it would obviously have considered the method employed by Transparency International to measure corruption in a country.
When Transparency International prepares the CPI, it evaluates a government’s ability to contain corruption in the public sector and if public officials disclose their finances and potential conflicts of interest.
The CPI also appraises if a government can prevent bribery and whether legal protection is provided for people who report cases of corruption.
A review of events in Malaysia over the past six months would indicate that the government has fared badly on all these issues.
On the issue of disclosure of potential conflict of interest by a public official, it has been alleged that Azam himself did not do this.
He reportedly owned a vast amount of corporate equity which he had not publicly disclosed.
The person who reported Azam’s alleged conflict of interest has not been accorded any legal protection, and the government – specifically the Cabinet – has not acted firmly to ensure that this allegation is properly investigated, nor has the parliamentary select committee (on agencies) interviewed Azam about this serious allegation.
As for the government’s ability to contain corruption in the public sector, when the incident about the Pandora Papers occurred late last year, among the Malaysians mentioned were Umno president and former deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, current finance minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, and former government economic advisor Daim Zainuddin – reputedly also one of Malaysia’s wealthiest business figures.
The others mentioned include several MPs and Hanifah Taib, daughter of former Sarawak chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, whose family has vast business interests.
It was only after much public discussion about the exposé by the Pandora Papers that MACC announced its intention to investigate the matter. There has been no update on the investigation.
Serious repercussions
A similar situation of apparent reluctance by MACC to act immediately on allegations of financial impropriety occurred over the past month.
During Zahid’s corruption trial, it was revealed that a company, Ultra Kirana Sdn Bhd (UKSB), had covertly channelled funds to a number of politicians, including former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, as well as sitting Cabinet members Hishammuddin Hussein and Khairy Jamaluddin.
It was later revealed that MACC was aware of the allegations against these politicians before they were named during the court case. Only after a public outcry emerged over the issue did MACC issue a statement that it would open investigation papers on those named in court.
Muhyiddin was prime minister when Azam was appointed MACC’s chief commissioner.
This week, it was revealed that another former prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, received RM2.6 million from UKSB. The funds were reportedly meant for Bersatu, then led by Mahathir and Muhyiddin.
These incidents, tainted with allegations of corruption, will have serious repercussions on Malaysia’s CPI ranking next year.
Other important questions arise.
Was the Cabinet reluctant to act on the issue of Azam’s possible conflict of interest because MACC was aware of allegations of corruption involving some of its members?
Is MACC reluctant to investigate prominent politicians for corruption because the position of its chief commissioner has been deeply compromised?
These three incidents and questions are emblematic of the close interactions between MACC and the executive arm of government, also because this agency falls under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Department.
Azam’s statement to discredit Transparency International is probably in anticipation of what the CPI rankings will indicate next year.
However, his statement cannot shield MACC and the government from a clear fact – Transparency International’s CPI correctly reflects that trust in public governance is extremely low because high-level forms of corruption are endemic in Malaysia. - FMT
Edmund Terence Gomez is former Professor of Political Economy at Universiti Malaya.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.


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