Extending the war against graft

A key part of fighting corruption is to put everything under the same standards of investigation and prosecution.

P. Gunasegaram, The Star

IT is good that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) Operations Evaluation Panel instructed the commission to continue its investigations into PKR vice-president Azmin Ali for allegedly owning excessive assets and property not befitting a civil servant.

If indeed he owns such assets, then he has some explaining to do. If he does not, then he has nothing to fear. He will be cleared and he will be able to continue with his life like a normal citizen.

In fact, that is what the MACC is supposed to do, is it not? It is supposed to uncover corruption wherever it happens and bring the culprits to book. And what better indication of corruption than an ostentatious show of wealth which cannot be explained?

That in fact is an excellent way of getting the corrupt because all you need to show is that they have amassed wealth beyond their capacity to explain how they got it.

The natural assumption is that they must have got it through corrupt means because their earning capacity can’t explain it.

You don’t have to go through all the nitty-gritty of how they obtained the ill-gotten gains and then show it was corruptly accumulated. All you have to do is simply show that they are living way beyond their ordinary means and you have got your crook and you can put him away.

But here’s the catch. If it is as easy as that, how come we don’t see many people behind bars, because going by anecdotal evidence there are many people living way beyond their means?

Oh, yes, they will say they made it on the stock market or by investing their money, like the family of a former top officer of the law who was fighting over an inheritance of nearly RM50mil, but if they did, they must have a paper trail to show that.

It really is not that difficult for the MACC to get the evidence, provided it shakes of the mentality that it needs a police report to investigate and someone else to dig out the evidence initially. You can have a vigorous, proactive investigation going on 24/7 for 365 days a year.

How? It’s not rocket science or quantum physics or even additional mathematics. It’s basic common sense combined with the willingness to nab everyone who is living way beyond their visible means.

It’s just checking conspicuous consumption and bank accounts. If the crooks are sophisticated enough, they may have moved money surreptitiously overseas, in which case it may be difficult to detect.

But even so, there are laws against money laundering all over the world and the police in all developed countries keep a very close eye on the money sloshing about in the coffers of international banks.

But many don’t take such precautions. They buy expensive houses and luxury cars. They throw big parties, they travel in style and live in the most expensive hotels. But let’s just stick to houses and cars because there are records.

Check those who live in luxury houses. See if they have records at the Inland Revenue Department. Check the amount of tax they pay. Does it tally with the kind of assets they have? If it doesn’t, check further. What are their bank balances? How many shares do they own?

And then ask them how they got all that money. And if they can’t explain, press charges. Ditto for cars. But I am sure the MACC knows how to do its job; let it get on with it.

Let it investigate and start with politicians first, but investigate those from both sides of the divide. And why limit it to politicians? Everyone is subject to the same laws. Investigate all who seem to be living way beyond their means, no matter who or what their status.

In the Azmin Ali case, the MACC has hit upon a very useful way of fighting corruption. Truth be told, it’s always been there but for some reason seems to be rarely used.

Perhaps now is the time to use this not-so-secret weapon on all the corrupt and strike fear deep into their cheating, conniving hearts. Extend the investigations far and wide and let no one be immune to such investigation and prosecution.

Increase the quality of personnel and give them more powers to investigate and, eventually, we may find that the struggle against corruption will bear some fruit.

A key part of fighting corruption after all is putting everyone under the same standards of investigation and prosecution.

What use is corruption to the corrupt if they can’t enjoy the fruits of their endeavours? But when they do with their conspicuous consumption — flashy cars, expensive houses, legendary shopping sprees, jets, lavish parties and 1,001 other visible things — let the MACC act.

Then the public will be convinced that the MACC acts without fear or favour and that everyone who lives beyond his means cannot hide from the law and will face its wrath eventually — and equally to give true meaning to the concept of equality under the law.

Let the Azmin Ali case be the standout one where the MACC now begins in earnest its fight against corruption.

Independent consultant and writer P Gunasegaram likes this quote on corruption: It is true that nobody is above the law, but power can make somebody invisible. – Toba Beta, in My Ancestor Was an Ancient Astronaut.