PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is sometimes blamed for tolerating corruption and the rise of cronyism during his first stint as prime minister, launched on Tuesday (Jan 29) an ambitious plan to make the country corruption free in five years.
The eight-month old government, which stormed to power amid voter anger over the massive 1MDB graft scandal and other corruption cases, unveiled the wide-ranging National Anti-Corruption Plan (NACP).
Tun Mahathir said at its launching that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government will review how appointments to key government posts are made, introduce new laws on political funding, and will require politicians and high-ranking civil servants to declare their assets.
He said the plan is about curbing corruption and not about punishing past wrongdoings.
“Before May 9, 2018, many Malaysians were sick with the instances of widespread corruption taking place in the country involving the government, which has been labelled internationally as a kleptocracy - a very shameful label,” he said in a speech. “This label was not created by me or my government. It was given by the foreign media when the foreign authorities had discovered the involvement of past leaders in money laundering, graft and cheating.”
To be sure, this wasn’t the first time the government had launched an ambitious move to curb corruption.
The Tun Abdullah Badawi administration in 2004 launched the five-year National Integrity Plan (NIP) and gave more powers to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, projects that were passed to the next government led by Najib Razak.
But Dr Mahathir said on Tuesday that the NIP had failed to reduce the “culture of corruption”.
Dr Mahathir himself has sometimes been accused of tolerating corruption and the rise of cronyism in his 22 years as prime minister until 2003, with the rise of tycoons associated to his administration.
But this time around, he is leading a different government, with some of the PH leaders in his Cabinet known for their strong reformist credentials.
Reflecting the wide support of the anti-graft fight, the two biggest opposition parties attended the NACP’s launching in Putrajaya - Parti Islam SeMalaysia president Abdul Hadi Awang and Umno’s acting president Mohamad Hasan.
The previous Najib administration was toppled in the May 9 general election after being embroiled the scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
Najib is facing a slew of graft-related charges, as is former deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, former Federal Territories minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, and former chief of the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) agency Isa Samad.
Meanwhile, Transparency International Malaysia president Akhbar Satar said on Tuesday that Malaysia has edged up one position in the organisation’s latest global index on corruption to 61st position among 180 countries.
Critics of PH, however, have expressed concern over reports of graft within the ruling coalition itself. A recent by-election in Cameron Highlands in Pahang state was marred by accusations of vote-buying. Mr Mahathir responded last week (Jan 21) by saying that the reports over graft cases are on the rise because people feel freer to report such shady incidents.