If corruption was a disease, Malaysia is in stage four cancer — Nazir Razak

Corruption in Malaysia has long been endemic, and it is time for Malaysia to start a war against it, said prominent banker Tan Sri Nazir Razak on Monday (Oct 3).

(The Edge) – “I think we have no choice but we must start with a war on corruption, and at the core of it is for institutional reforms. Corruption is no doubt Malaysia’s most critical systematic issue.

“If corruption was a disease, it is stage four cancer, that’s where we (Malaysia) are,” Nazir said during the Malaysian Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ (MICPA) 64th anniversary commemorative lecture entitled “Towards a Better Malaysian Political Economy”.

Corruption, however, is not the only malaise which plagues Malaysia, said the chairman of Bank Pembangunan Malaysia Bhd, stressing that identity politics and the over-centralisation of power are also the root of much of the nation’s issues.

“The three heads to this monster: identity politics, endemic corruption, and over-centralisation of power. If you look at any of our ills, I would argue that they could be traced in one way or another to at least one or two of these heads.

“So to me, slaying this monster actually stands between us and a better Malaysia as a whole,” the former chief executive officer and chairman of CIMB Group Holdings Bhd said in the lecture entitled ‘Towards a Better Malaysian Political Economy’.

Nazir said he is working with parliamentary groups towards proposing legislation on institutional reforms, key of which is to see the total independence of enforcement agencies from the executive branch of the government.

“We’ve seen government after government use these enforcement agencies for their political gain,” he said, adding: “We need to bring trust and credibility back to this whole enforcement process, and that, I think, is a very key pillar to combating corruption in the country.”

Continuing on the lines of separation of powers, Nazir also noted that ensuring limitations of the government’s influence on government-linked companies (GLCs) will also help Malaysia attract investors, playing into their wish for certainty.

“Many countries change governments, but you don’t get holistic change in civil servants, head of GLCs, so then you get predictability.

“Say, Khazanah [Nasional Bhd], [its former managing director] Azman Mokhtar built this incredible global network of investors, and so did many of us, and yet when the government changed, global investors suddenly say ‘how come I don’t have the heads of these GLCs to even talk to, they’ve disappeared’,” he said.

“As an investor, you need policy predictability and political stability. This is very key, if you ask any investor, what they need is a certainty,” he added.

Nazir noted that while Malaysia does have an economic and political system, it is deeply flawed. In jest, he said the nation does not actually have an economy, only a political economy.

“When politics is dysfunctional, the economy becomes dysfunctional. So I think quite clearly when you add it all up, it’s very difficult to reform piecemeal because everything is so intertwined,” Nazir said, noting that his proposed non-partisan platform dubbed “Better Malaysia Assembly” would address structural reforms.

“Political partisanship, party lines and reelection priorities cannot be the basis for pinning what is best for Malaysia in the long term,” he added.

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