New watchdog C4 aims to tackle explosive corruption issues

Gabriel (second from left) shares a light moment with other members of C4 during the group’s launch recently. – January 20, 2014

By Jennifer Gomez, The Malaysian Insider

There is a new anti-graft watchdog in town, and its focus is on public institutions such as the judiciary and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

Known by its acronym C4, the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism is co-founded by human rights activist Cynthia Gabriel, part of the team from seasoned rights group Suaram who raised issues about Malaysia’s submarine purchase from France.

Gabriel told The Malaysian Insider recently that scrutinising the judiciary as well as cooperating with the MACC will form part of C4’s efforts to strengthen public institutions to ensure the corrupt are held accountable.

“More and more people are concerned that the public institutions have failed us and major issues remain unresolved,” she said, citing prominent cases involving the National Feedlot Corporation, Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ), as well as the controversial Scorpene submarine purchase from France.

“Who will account for the RM12.5 billion embezzlement in the PKFZ fiasco now that former ministers Tun Ling Liong Sik and Tan Sri Chan Kong Choy have been acquitted by the courts.  Who pocketed the money in the Scorpene deal?” asked Gabriel.

“And in the NFC case, it was the whistlblower who was dragged to court.”

Others involved in C4 include former vice-chairman of Suhakam Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, Islamic Renaissance Front director Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa and former Transparency International executive director Richard Yeoh, alongside prominent personalities as advisors such as Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan and Edmund Bon, the former Bar Council president.

Fully funded by Malaysian donors, the first phase of C4’s operations will be run by its co-founders and several volunteers.

According to Gabriel, C4 is civil society’s response to corruption which she said is the primary problem plaguing the country.

She said although MACC was entrusted to investigate corrupt practices and individuals, there is not enough being done, especially in probing government and political leaders.

She added that C4 is also a response to the rising cost of living affecting the public.

“We have a situation where certain people in power are having lavish birthday and wedding parties, using government jets for private use and purchasing a RM100 million penthouse in upscale New York,” said Gabriel, referring among others to the birthday party for Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi at a 5-star hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

“At the same time, they are telling the rakyat to tighten their belts to deal with rising costs, so we need to know if these people are living beyond their means and whether taxpayers money are being misused or abused,” she said.

Dismissing any suggestion that C4 might not be well-received by Putrajaya, Gabriel said the group’s intentions were in line with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s aspirations to combat corruption under the National Key Result Area.

She pointed out that Najib’s seriousness in combating corruption was also seen in the appointment of former Transparency International Malaysia president Datuk Paul Low as  Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, to help Putrajaya in its battle against corruption.

“We urge the ruling government to receive us with an open mind. We see no reason for them to discredit us even before we hit the ground running.”

And to show their commitment in cooperating with Putrajaya to combat corruption, Low was invited to attend a forum on January 16 on “Delinking Power and Corruption”, held in conjunction with its launch.

However, Low changed his mind and did not turn up, said Gabriel.

C4 will among others follow up on the Auditor General’s Report which documented wastage of public funds, bad procurement practices and power abuse in the public service.

“We need to improve  public sector accountability and spending,” she said.

On the choice of the group’s acronym, Gabriel said they were “very strategic” in settling for C4.

“We wanted it to be catchy, something people will remember, as it points to a very disturbing mega unresolved corruption scandal in the country and if we leave things to rot away, it is going to lead to a situation which is even more explosive,” she said.

She added that C4, conceived months ago following grouses over spiralling corruption and other misdeeds, was inspired by several countries, including Hong Kong and India.

While Hong Kong used to be a corrupt country, there was now good law enforcement strengthened by the province’s highly successful Independent Commission Against Corruption, said Gabriel.