Facts vs agenda in assault on MACC

Dr Kassim Noor Mohamed, Malaysia Now

Here we go again. It looks like the knives are out to tarnish the reputation of MACC chief commissioner Azam Baki in another round of what many would argue are unscrupulous attacks and a smear campaign.

One reads with intrigue and confusion in the same vein of how it seems that certain parties will stop at nothing to remove the incumbent chief commissioner from the hot seat that is in many aspects both the envy and a thorn in the flesh of those who have a hidden agenda.

Based on the incessant propaganda, especially on social media and some news portals, it could be argued that those who fall under that category are on the prowl to save their own skins, even if it means that principles are compromised and thrown out the window for the sake of their survival.

But then again, principles, decorum and sense of fair play are not qualities one can expect from those who are compromised and tainted with issues of integrity. What is most saddening is the length to which those on both sides of the political divide will go in attacking the chair of the chief commissioner, and by extension, the institution of MACC itself.

Maybe we should step back for a moment and try to dissect what the motives here might be.

I have written on how some have taken potshots at the MACC and I do not wish to highlight those points again. In summary, I explained that we are witnessing enormous pressure from politicians and others calling for the chief commissioner to take a leave of absence or so-called “garden leave”, and most currently demanding his arrest.

The argument is that the chief commissioner must take overall responsibility and be accountable for any alleged wrongdoings or criminalities committed by him or officers of the commission. What is laughable is that some politicians and a number of commentators are clamouring for this when they or those under them are under investigation or facing charges themselves. We do not see DAP or Amanah even the Muda leadership going on garden leave while their cases are being investigated by the authorities.

The hypocrisy is glaring. It is interesting, thought-provoking and almost comical too that many supposed civil society movements that champion and fight for transparency, justice and so on seem to withdraw into their shells when the personalities above are being incriminated. Their silence is deafening. But when a civil servant is investigated based on flimsy allegations, all weapons are out to attack, condemn and take down the institution he or she represents. So much for the platform of fighting cronyism and corruption for which they profess to fight.

One needs to question why the allegations against Azam surfaced at this critical point in time. What seems to be the agenda here? It could be that the ongoing cases against various “personalities” in the political arena are leading to a crescendo. MPs and others of the same ilk and cluster who are under investigation are on tenterhooks, petrified that their political careers will be enter into destruction mode once the courts decide on their fate.

One may argue that the timing is eerily coincidental. By launching a concerted onslaught on the credibility of the chief commissioner with accusations of corruption and personal interests in business and utilising whatever arsenal they can, one could argue that by using a number of personalities who seems to have some semblance of credibility, they are out for blood in a do-or-die mission.

What many may not have realised or refuse to acknowledge either by design, ignorance or inanity is that the two million shares or so under the chief commissioner’s name were held way back in 2015. What is more dubious is the focus on the number of shares but not the value of those shares. Omitting this fundamental point is mala fide, to say the least.

It is making it seem as if the chief commissioner had at least RM2 million worth of shares. In fact, as revealed by law minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, when the shares were first purchased in 2016, they were only valued at RM330,000– approximately priced between 30 sen and 33 sen per share – which is not unaffordable for many.

The omission of the value is deliberate, maybe to instigate the imagination of uninitiated readers concerning the value. As one commentator stressed, “the shares held are low in value and do not represent a suspicious store of hidden wealth”. Half-truths disseminated in the public domain are very dangerous – as the adage goes, “Half a truth is even more dangerous than a lie. A lie can be detected at some stage, but half a truth is sure to mislead anyone for a long time.”

Another farcical comment that stokes the fire in the allegations is that Azam is in possession of hundreds of million of ringgit in shares. What is laughable is that this comment came from a very learned MP.

My question is whether it is unlawful for close family members of senior government officials to have companies or to be actively involved in business. Are the brothers, sisters, sons and daughters of government servants not allowed to be involved in business? Obviously, they can as long as there is no misuse of position or undue influence by their relatives in government service.

Fundamentally, one needs to ask whether those companies and businesses related to the present chief commissioner’s family members managed to get MACC contracts or those of other agencies, or were even under investigation by the MACC at the material time. Is there any evidence implying that Azam had misused his position to procure contracts or projects for those companies? Are there any allegations from ministers or anyone that there was undue influence to persuade, convince or force anyone with regard to any contracts or project-related issues? If there were not, one should be very sceptical about all the accusations of corruption being hurled at Azam.

What many fail to explain or even understand, more importantly, is that the chief commissioner may have declared the details of all transactions and purchase as well, and the eventual transfer of the shares to his younger brother, with his superiors back in 2016. Again, these allegations are about what happened in 2015/2016 when Azam was not even the chief commissioner.

As we now know, the inquiry held by the Securities Commission (SC) is complete. As the allegation involved trading in securities, the SC is the one entity with the mandate to investigate such matters, however baseless. What the masses need to understand, too, is the authority of the SC. The Securities Industry (Central Depositories) Act 1991 (Sicda) is administered by the SC, which is the highest authority to administer the provision. It is not Bursa or any other body.

According to the SC, Azam did not commit any infringement of Sicda Section 25(4). In fact, it has released two statements to clarify. There have been some reports in the media that Azam is the beneficiary owner of the trading account, but the SC did not indicate this and neither did Azam. The SC actually cleared Azam and closed its file because there was no offence committed. Even the prime minister affirmed that the SC had cleared him, and the Parliament speaker rejected two motions to discuss the matter in Parliament.

Some commentators say that this is a case of revenge. The argument is that those with interests in saving their own necks or that of their family members are trying to shift the focus from their own more dire situation, by way of deflecting and questioning the integrity of the chief commissioner and by proxy attacking the MACC.

What the public needs to understand is that the deception and lies by those still at large and the apparent slander must not be tolerated and go unpunished. The chief commissioner and MACC will have no choice but to take the necessary legal action to clear their reputations as we all know that those who are intimidated by the integrity of MACC will use whatever means to tarnish its reputation with the hope that others will not find MACC appealing.

What we are also seeing here, worryingly, is that the assault has shifted to other regulatory institutions, the SC being the latest target, when decisions are not in the favour of the detractors.

Dr Kassim Noor Mohamed is a criminologist at Nottingham Trent University.