Phone Taps Considered in Malaysia’s War on Graft

Paul Low, Malaysia’s minister in the Prime Minister’s Department overseeing graft and human rights. Photographer: Goh Seng Chong/Bloomberg

Merdeka Center political analyst Ibrahim Suffian doubted that electronic monitoring would help the government tackle graft. “The laws as they currently exist are quite ample,” he said yesterday by phone. “They don’t need to engage in additional surveillance. What the public is expecting them to do is to go after the major perpetrators that are generally publicly known but protected due to politics or so on.”

By Liau Y-Sing, Bloomberg

Malaysia may allow phone tapping and Internet monitoring as it steps up the war on corporate and government graft, which costs the country as much as $9 billion a year, a minister said.

It also plans legislation to make company directors liable for corruption involving staff and will appoint chief integrity officers in government ministries, Paul Low, the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of fighting graft, said in an interview. He said talks on electronic monitoring are in early stages and didn’t provide specifics on how sweeping powers might be or how they might be used.

“Does Malaysia want to be a failed state or does it want to rise up?” the former country president of Transparency International said in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. “Malaysia has lots of potential but hasn’t lived up to it.”

Malaysia’s move comes amid a global debate over the merits of state-sanctioned snooping after computer security contractor Edward Snowden exposed a secret U.S. government electronic-surveillance program designed to foil terrorism. President Barack Obama responded by saying he’ll ask Congress to amend legislation to increase transparency and oversight.

Bribe-taking was found to be the most rampant in Malaysia among 30 countries surveyed last year by Transparency International, even as it improved to 54th from 60th place among 176 nations in the institution’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Prime Minister Najib Razak responded by appointing Low to his cabinet to lead the war on graft, after his government was returned to power in a May election.

 ‘Ample Laws’

Almost half of Malaysians surveyed in a Merdeka Center for Opinion Research poll published in February said fighting graft was a more urgent issue for the government than taming inflation or boosting foreign investment.