Catch the 'big fish' in Malaysian anti-corruption crackdown: The Star

Chief commissioner Abu Kassim Mohamed left ahead of mandatory retirement in 2020.
Chief commissioner Abu Kassim Mohamed left ahead of mandatory retirement in 2020.PHOTO: BHM

In its editorial on Aug 17, the paper encourages the nation's anti-corruption Commission to crackdown on corruption.

Whether we know it or not, we are anglers at heart.

We tend to be dissatisfied when the small fries are the authorities' catch of the day, and we are ever ready to cheer when a regulator lands a big fish.

This is not unique to Malaysia; people all over the world have more confidence in the enforcement agencies when they see those agencies going after the rich and the powerful without fear or favour.

But what is different about the situation here is that the body that spearheads the nation's war against corruption has been under intense scrutiny of late, and there is a clear need to win hearts and minds.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has gone through many leadership changes in the past month.

Its three top officers served their last day at the commission at the end of July.

Chief commissioner Abu Kassim Mohamed left ahead of mandatory retirement in 2020 to become a consultant at Universiti Teknologi Mara.

The deputy chief commissioner of operations Mohd Shukri Abdull retired, while another deputy chief commissioner, Datuk Seri Mustafar Ali, is now the Immigration Department's director-general.

New chief commissioner Dzulkifli Ahmad came over from the Attorney-General's Chambers, where he was director of the national revenue recovery enforcement team.

And on Monday, the MACC announced that 20 people had been appointed as new members of its Consultation and Prevention of Corruption Panel and Operations Review Panel.

These two panels are among the five external oversight bodies that form a check-and-balance mechanism to monitor the commission's roles and functions.

With so many new faces at the helm, people naturally wonder about the MACC's effectiveness and independence.

After all, in the words of Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim, chairman of the Anti-Corruption Advisory Board (another external oversight body), Mr Kassim has transformed "a largely moribund outfit into an effective corruption-fighting force that has gained public admiration and respect both at home, and in the international anti-corruption community".

Through an interview with Bernama last weekend, Datuk Dzulkifli issued his statement of intent. He called on those involved in corrupt practices and abuse of power to give themselves up in exchange for lighter sentences. Otherwise, he warned, be prepared to face the full brunt of the MACC's enforcement.

On Monday, as if to underscore that message, the MACC picked up high-ranking officials, including a Datuk and a Datuk Seri, in Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and Kuantan, and froze bank accounts with balances totalling RM13 million.

This looks like a major haul. It is a promising step towards convincing people that the MACC has not changed direction. People will certainly look forward to a continuing crackdown on corruption.

But it should also be recognised that the MACC alone cannot win the anti-graft fight. There have long been discussions about how other changes such as legislative amendments and reinforcing the MACC's independence can help Malaysia in the war against corruption.

We cannot hope to keep hooking big fish if we do not have the right tools and expertise, and access to rich fishing grounds.

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The Star is a member of The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.