Battle against graft

2 Malaysian officials nailed in corruption crackdown

Spate of arrests seen as linked to looming elections, move to improve MACC's image

The former CEO of Tekun Nasional, Abdul Rahim Hassan, was charged in court with corruption on Monday. He claimed trial to corruptly soliciting and receiving RM36,000 (S$11,500) in cash.
The former CEO of Tekun Nasional, Abdul Rahim Hassan, was charged in court with corruption on Monday. He claimed trial to corruptly soliciting and receiving RM36,000 (S$11,500) in cash. PHOTO: BERNAMA

An officer who works with the Malacca Chief Minister and a Johor land officer were the latest targets of anti-corruption officials in Malaysia, in what some see as a crackdown on graft linked to an impending general election.

The latest arrests follow the agency's ramped up investigations into hundreds of civil servants in the last six months. Targets of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) include the secretary-general of a federal ministry and the former CEO of a government agency. The agency yesterday hauled in another four immigration officers over fraudulent applications for passports.

"It's near elections so the government needs to show it's serious about fighting corruption," said Mr Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Perception matters to fence-sitters and in seats where the vote difference is close, political analysts say. "Even if (the ruling party) can score a few points, it's better than not doing anything," added Mr Oh.

The image of Prime Minister Najib Razak has been dented in the last two years as he fends off allegations over financial mismanagement at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

To some, the sudden spate of arrests by MACC is also viewed as timely, after the agency was dealt a blow to its reputation following its move to peg a huge sum found in Datuk Seri Najib's account as a "donation". "MACC is looking to rebrand itself," said Professor James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania.

Despite scepticism over the agency's sudden energy, KRA Group political analyst Amir Fareed Rahim sees the arrests as a "positive development". "People are just sick and tired of corruption. It has been an endemic thing," he said.

On Monday, Mr Najib told civil servants that MACC's recent actions are a reminder "not to take what is the people's rights". His speech drew derision from a section of Malaysians who pointed to the unresolved 1MDB scandal, with many leaving remarks on social media.

MACC chief commissioner Dzulkifli Ahmad yesterday issued caution against corrupt individuals in a speech. He said even if the agency failed to pursue wrongdoers, the taxman would do so. "So I would like to warn all corrupt people out there, you would not escape."

Malaysia's taxman usually detects corrupt individuals when they make large purchases inconsistent with their salaries.

MACC's burst to investigate civil servants could also be seen as curbing financial leakages in a weaker economy as the government seeks to ensure public allocations are not stolen. "The government needs to stop leakages to save money," said Prof Chin.

Still, despite the arrests, some question why no politician has so far been snared. "He (Najib) needs to consolidate support within Umno. Now is not the time to anger the warlords," Mr Oh suggested, referring to senior politicians in ruling party Umno.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2017, with the headline '2 Malaysian officials nailed in corruption crackdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe