A pipe dream to be ranked among top 25 in CPI Index?

Datuk Dr Kassim Mohd Noor, NST

Much has been highlighted and debated about Malaysia’s ranking in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Transparency International’s flagship research product, also the leading global indicator of public sector corruption.

Malaysia ranks at 61/180 in the index with a score of 41/100.

Recently, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced a challenge to improve Malaysia’s ranking to be among the top 25 within 10 years. This may not be an impossible feat.

However, all parties and stakeholders must take responsibility and act in a multilateral effort to achieve this goal.

Most importantly, the challenge should not be placed solely in the hands of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

The views, experiences and problems of the people and businesses must be taken into account, analysed and given priority to devise strategies and policies towards a more sustainable direction.

Although it is called the Corruption Perception Index, the crucial point is that in every one of the nine studies used by the CPI, not one caters to matters on corruption, abuse of power and embezzlement.

A strategic plan that needs to be renamed without giving emphasis to corruption should be drafted.

The shortcomings in plans and policies, such as the National Integrity Plan and the National Anti-Corruption Plan, are that they do not focus on the diversity of issues studied and emphasised in the CPI Report.

However, if the issue comes from the lack of press freedom and social injustice, the political leadership that suppresses these freedoms will continue to influence perceptions negatively.

This will render the dream of making Malaysia a high-ranking CPI almost impossible to realise.

One should also look at changing the perception that key enforcement agencies, such as the MACC, are not independent, especially whether they can investigate freely.

So the independence of these agencies must be strengthened.

There needs to be a three-pronged strategy to achieve this:

FIRSTLY, security of tenure of the MACC chief commissioner or the inspector-general of police needs to be established.

Otherwise, if these key positions are changed every time there is a regime change, inadvertently, they will be railroaded into being subservient to the prime minister and his government;

SECONDLY, key enforcement agencies like the MACC must have its own Service Commission, not dependent on the Public Service Department for the recruitment of staff.

So it must have the power to hire and fire its own staff;

THIRD, its budget should come directly from a percentage of the gross domestic product.

In this way, it is not dependent on the Finance Ministry, which is helmed by a minister.

The ministry’s portfolio is held by the prime minister, which raises the perception that the MACC is controlled by the prime minister.

If these three steps are taken to fortify the independence of the enforcement agencies, it will command more respect from politicians, corporate members and people.

The selection and appointment of heads of enforcement agencies should be based on merit and not political affiliations.

They must be selected from within agencies according to skills and seniority.

On at least two occasions, the MACC chief commissioner was appointed by persons from the outside.

This affected the morale of those in the organisation.

Nothing beats experience and the tradecraft skills of those who have knowledge of the inner workings of law enforcement.

Potentially, we will face challenges in boosting the independence of enforcement agencies. However, the biggest challenge is political will.