10 things the MACC should be doing

By P. Gunasegaram (The Star)

There is a lot more that it should do to combat corruption instead of griping about less than ideal conditions for it to operate.

That suggestion from a senior Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission official that it stops investigating politicians is rather curious. One would have thought that the MACC would be made of sterner stuff than complaining that politicians, especially from the opposition, were calling the press in when they were about to be investigated.

Frankly, after the death at the MACC’s Selangor premises of a “witness”, anyone would be wary if they were going to be investigated. If a mere witness is interrogated late into the night (3.45am), how much longer would a real suspect be investigated? And what might be the pressures on him?

Can the MACC truly blame those who want it to be known that they are being investigated just so that they can have some assurance that no harm will come to them?

Let’s be frank, the MACC’s reputation right now is not really great. And so far it has not made a major impact on fighting corruption. Its reputation will leap skyward if it does something major about corruption.

Here are 10 things it can do to scrub and re-varnish its tarnished reputation and get some things done at the same time.

1. Be totally impartial. That means inves­ti­gating everyone who may have been corrupt without fear or favour, whether they are from the ruling party or from the opposition, and whether they are black, brown yellow, white or any other shade, race or religion in between. The MACC must not only be fair but must be seen to be fair. It would help too if it became more racially diverse, a problem that the police faces too.

2. Set priorities. The MACC has finite resources, limited manpower and expertise. Like any other organisation, it must learn to prioritise – it must learn to focus, using the Pareto rule, on the 20% of cases which account for 80% of the money. Running around trying to catch the ikan bilis which in real life are smart enough not to swim in schools is rather frustrating. Hauling in a shark or a tuna will be far more satisfying.

Why go for the thousand-ringgit cases when we have big ones like the Port Klang Free Trade Zone (PKFZ) which involve billions? The MACC must learn to make its efforts count.

3. Set procedures. The MACC has the same powers of the police to investigate. In the haste with which it was set up (Jan 1 this year), its procedures may not have been explicitly set out. It must do so now. Ques­tioning a witness from evening until 3.45am cannot be an acceptable method of investigation. Rules and procedures will avert such situations.

4. Set controls, checks and balances. The MACC, like any other organisation, should realise that not all of its members act within acceptable boundaries. It must therefore set up controls, checks and balances to ensure that they do.

Since there is no independent commission to oversee enforcement agencies, the MACC must police itself, and must therefore set up the mechanism to enable that.

5. Stick to the mandate. The clear mandate is to fight corruption wherever it occurs.

Politics or politicians are not the concerns. The overriding aim is to come up with good, effective ways of beating back the scourge of corruption and hence saving this country from descending into an abyss from which it cannot come out off. That’s as noble a mandate as anyone can get – and like one shoe company says, just do it.

6. Look for symptoms of corruption. If lowly politicians live in massive mansions and are driven by chauffeurs in colossal cars and are otherwise clearly living beyond their means, the MACC should swing into action. There are laws which require that people are able to account for their assets.

If skyscrapers sprout out in unlikely spaces, chances are someone is not doing his job or, worse, is being induced into stupor. If even public parks need periodic “renovation”, something is surely amiss. If companies with no expertise get contracts, is there not a sorry tale somewhere? The list is endless.

7. Don’t wait for reports before investigating. Whenever there are clear indications of possible corruption taking place, the MACC must swing into action – no need for reports to be made. For instance, is there a need for a report to be made over the PKFZ before the MACC gets the investigations going? A strange thing this – that a report has to be made before investigations start.

And then there is the question of why some reports continue to be ignored even after they are made.

8. Invite public complaints. This is not just about reports of other people engaged in corruption but also about its own officers as well.

This can cover instances of whether they are doing their job in a way beyond reproach and whether they have adhered to policies and procedures during the investigation itself.

9. Be quick to investigate and complete investigations. As the old axiom says, justice delayed is justice denied. Cases need to be investigated quickly and brought to prosecution and conclusion for public confidence in the MACC.

If cases take too long to be completed, then questions begin to be asked.

10. Be expert and efficient. Corruption is not easy to investigate. Crooks can leave a trail which is difficult to follow.

Whenever the need arises, the MACC should not hesitate to use experts to help. This is especially in the financial area where it may be necessary to get audit and accounting help to uncover misdeeds. The help of professional firms in this respect can be sought.

This is but a short list. The MACC can be doing other things. The legislation for the setting up of the body is not the best there is – there is insufficient independence and prosecution can be done only with the approval of the public prosecutor, effectively the Attorney-General.

But still, there is much that the MACC can do. If it does not, it will have only itself to blame, not anyone else.

> Managing editor P Gunasegaram says that a good watchdog not only barks at any intruder but bites if it has to.