Support MACC in anti-graft fight

By Wong Chun Wai, The Star

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission cannot carry out its work effectively without strong political will and public support.

HERE’S the good news – public perception of the Government’s efforts in fighting corruption has improved sharply since last year, according to the Transparency Global Corruption Barometer 2010.

The survey involving 1,000 respondents nationwide revealed that 48% felt that government action was effective, compared with just 28% last year. The survey found that 32% of respondents were neutral on the Government’s moves in fighting graft while only 20% thought the measures were ineffective. It’s a huge leap because positive reaction was only 28% last year.

The bad news is the police force has been perceived by Malaysians to be the most corrupt – beating civil servants, those in the business sector, judiciary and even politicians, according to the survey.

It’s certainly one top rank that the police do not want. Until the day comes when traffic policemen just issue the tickets after they stop motorists for traffic offences, instead of cajoling them to “settle” the fines on the spot, we will continue to think of them as dirty.

We will probably think differently when there are no cops lurking behind a tree, waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting motorist or a foreign worker.

We will also have a higher regard for the force when we walk into a police station and find that touts and tow-truck operators are not acting as if they run the station.

Respect is earned, not demanded. There are many good cops out there but unfortunately there are enough corrupt policemen to give the force a bad name.

We certainly feel sorry for the dedicated ones, and there are many whom we know. Are our cops corrupt because they are underpaid in comparison to their counterparts in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia? Or are they just greedy and part of the top-to-down supply chain, as some would perceive?

What was unusual about the survey results, according to Transparency International, was that in most countries, it was politicians who topped the list, followed by civil servants and then the judiciary. This could perhaps be due to the fact that most Malaysians have dealt with policemen at one point or another. There is probably less interaction with civil servants and the judiciary.

Nine percent of the respondents said they had bribed a policeman in the past year.

Another surprising fact is that the percentage is the same as Singapore’s and higher than Hong Kong’s (at 5%), according to news reports.

Credit must certainly be given to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the push by Pemandu to deliver the targets set by the Government. The hard work is beginning to produce results.

However, there is still plenty to be done, as 27% of the respondents think corruption will increase next year while a high 41% believe the problem will remain the same. Only 25% think that graft will be reduced, the report said.

In short, Malaysians feel that corruption has become entrenched and is in danger of becoming a way of life. We have come to the point where many believe, rightly or wrongly, that palms need to be greased to get a government contract. Perception is everything, unfortunately. People make judgments based on what they hear and, perhaps, see. Police officers, civil servants and politicians should not be flaunting their wealth or living beyond their means.

We shouldn’t be surprise that the respondents felt grand corruption has increased. Come on, how many sharks have we hauled up since we declared war on corruption?

Arresting and charging a suspect for corruption is one thing but the Attorney-General has to complete the job. We have already read of too many instances of the prosecution losing in the courts. Whether it is due to lack of strong evidence or witnesses turning hostile, it does not instil confidence.

Charging a person with corruption only to see him or her walking free, smiling and waving at the media later, would be counter-productive. That’s when the public would feel nauseated and start questioning if the whole exercise had been a charade.

The powers of the MACC and its right to prosecute have remained a contentious point. The Federal Constitution states clearly that only the Attorney-General’s office has the jurisdiction to prosecute. Then there are those who want the MACC to report directly to Parliament.

But to be fair, the MACC has taken clear steps to improve. Never in the history of the then Anti-Corruption Agency was it made to report to several bodies as a check-and-balance mechanism. The public comprising academics, retired judges, former top civil servants and businessmen now sit in panels to question officials from the MACC.

They get to grill the officials about the progress in investigations and even see videos taken by the investigating officers. No enforcement agency has to face so many levels of questioning as the MACC.

The Teoh Beng Hock incident and the high failure rate in prosecution have affected morale at the MACC but they need to soldier on. History will eventually judge them well if they persevere with patience and dignity in the face of criticism.

Clearly the MACC alone cannot carry out its work effectively. It needs a strong political will and public backing. Besides making the fight against graft a National Key Result Area, other efforts include the enforcement of the Whistleblower Protection Act, which will be enforced on Dec 15, the formation of 18 special corruption courts, and amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code to expedite trials currently in progress. But more needs to be done. We have heard loud pronouncements of plans to have open tenders but until today we have yet to see that happening.

Malaysians long for the day when the tender bids will be put up on the Internet and in newspapers as a legal requirement, so that taxpayers will know that their money is well spent. Let’s give our support to the initiatives that have been carried out to fight corruption. Give the MACC a chance to prove its worth.