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5:19pm 28/01/2022
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Sliding corruption index a stern warning sign

Sin Chew Daily

In the just released Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2021, Malaysia’s score and ranking both fell for a second consecutive year.

In 2020, we were ranked 57th while the ranking slipped further to 62 last year.

Among the 180 countries and territories, we only managed a score of 48, lower than the 51 a year earlier. We were also among two-thirds of countries in the world with a score of 50 or lower.

In Southeast Asia, we nevertheless ranked third, after only Singapore and Brunei.

We used to improve our positioning in 2019, up an impressive ten places to 51st, from 61st in 2018, thanks to the reforms carried out by the new Pakatan Harapan administration in good governance as well as investigations launched against several high-profile corruption cases.

Unfortunately, from 2019 to 2021, the country was in a constant state of political turmoil which had negatively impacted the said reforms. As a result, our ranking started to fall.

On two consecutive years of the country’s poor performance in CPI, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission issued only a statement saying the agency would look into this matter seriously and hoped with the support of the public, the anti-corruption effort could be enhanced in future.

Apparently, the MACC has treated this matter rather lightly and has paid little heed to what happened lately that is poised to deal a further blow on the country’s CPI ranking in 2022.

It was exposed late last year the alleged involvement of the agency’s chief commissioner Azam Baki in a shareholding scandal.

Despite tremendous public outcry and calls from NGOs to stage a protest rally to pressurize the government to seriously look into this incident, the Securities Commission investigation found no wrongdoing in Azam Baki, while PM Ismail Sabri urged Malaysians to accept the investigation outcome.

So, we assume no further action is expected from the government.

This and several other cases of fund misappropriation involving senior government officials have bruised the country’s corruption-busting image. The ant-corruption agency urgently needs a thorough overhaul and drastic reform, especially in its internal structure as well as relevant supervisory mechanisms in order to change the perception of the international community of this country’s effort in fighting corruption.

When Tun Abdullah took over as prime minister, he propelled the anti-corruption bill which was subsequently adopted in the parliament and was enacted.

Today, the MACC is once again thrown into a confidence crisis, and this speaks volumes of the need for the agency to constantly making adjustments and changes to fully optimize its functionality.

MACC has indeed produced some shortlived encouraging results since the reform, and even Azam Baki himself has been credited with outstanding performance in the investigation of the 1MDB scandal, confiscating and reclaiming some RM4 billion in cash and assets.

That said, power often makes a person corrupt, and as such external supervision is utterly necessary to ensure checks and balances are in place.

Ismail Sabri cannot turn a blind eye to the country’s downward CPI ranking, and must seriously look into the problems encountered by the MACC and listen to the feedback from the rakyat.

There are already calls for Azam Baki to take leave from his duties and cooperate in the parliamentary select committee’s probe. In addition, the MACC is also urged to revamp its existing personnel structure.

Bare in mind that the CPI also serves as a confidence index of the international community in this country. It will serve as a yardstick for foreign investors and experts to decide whether they should come to this country.

Malaysia is currently working very hard to revitalize its bruised economy post-pandemic. However, if we are bogged down by our poor CPI showing and lose our competitiveness, we will find ourselves trailing far behind our regional competitors.

PM Ismail and the MACC must do their utmost to ensure that the country’s institutional reform is more than just lip service or superficial glossing effort. Measures related to corruption-battling must be enforced as soon as possible, including hastening the investigation of corruption cases involving heavyweight politicians as well as other serious perennial issues such as human trafficking activities.

More importantly, it is time to expedite the amendment of the country’s whistleblower protection act. We cannot afford to see a repetition of Azam Baki suing his exposer in the future.

The sliding CPI is a stern reminder to the country that we need to put the national anti-corruption plan (NACP) into full implementation in a bid to salvage our declining reputation in good governance and integrity. To succeed in this program, the government must fulfill its pledges of reform and enforceability.

We have now come to a crucial moment for Ismail and the MACC to show their determination in fixing things up.

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