Following the historic results of the 2018 general election, a renewed sense of hope for reforms against corruption towards better governance emerged, following the scandal-ridden days of Barisan Nasional and Najib Razak’s administration.
The Pakatan Harapan government sought a holistic solution to corruption by launching the National Anti-Corruption Plan 2019-2023.
However, with just a year before the plan’s stated date of completion of December 2023, not only is Malaysia regressing in its reforms but also performing disastrously in keeping to its reform agenda. Throughout this process, the Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) has tracked the developments of a select 11 out of the plan’s 115 initiatives through our MyGovt Reform Tracker. These findings have been compiled into a report, allowing readers to observe the various promises made and ultimately discarded by successive governments since 2019.
Alongside the 11 major areas of reform, C4 Center has included two other initiatives that we believe are also important to the overall reform plan of Malaysia: the anti-‘party hopping’ law and environmental governance.
The areas being tracked by C4 Center are:
- Whistleblower Protection Act 2010 (Reform)
- Freedom of information act
- Independent police complaints and misconduct commission
- Asset declaration law
- Separation of the attorney general’s office and the public prosecutor’s office
- Establishment of parliamentary select committees
- Parliamentary service act
- Ombudsman act
- Reform of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission
- Political finance law
- Public procurement act
- Anti-party hopping law
- Environmental governance
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The MyGovt Reform Tracker has demonstrated how all three governments since the 2018 general election have failed in different ways and times to implement the anti-corruption plan.
Having risen to power with promises of reform outlined in their Buku Harapan (Book of Hope), the Pakatan Harapan government seemingly followed through on many of these pledges.
Among their efforts would be the establishment of the council of eminent persons, the institutional reform committee and the 1MDB investigative committee alongside the national anti-corruption plan to correct the many ills that endured within Malaysia’s administrative system.
However, this appetite towards reforms eventually receded. PH under Dr Mahathir Mohamad stumbled through numerous contradictions and reneged pledges, such as the decision not to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the appointment of Azhar Harun as chairman of the Election Commission and Latheefa Koya as the chief commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission without obtaining Parliament’s approval.
Concerning the 13 major reform areas outlined by C4 Center, PH successfully initiated 11 of them, with the anti-party hopping law and environmental governance being the notable exceptions.
Overall, PH successfully tabled the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission Bill while also creating two parliamentary select committees on elections, major public appointments and the national budget.
Nevertheless, PH failed to table the ombudsman bill and a political finance law in October 2019’s parliamentary sitting as promised. Noticeably, PH was not able to follow through on several of their other vows to enact certain laws and constitutional amendments such as the parliamentary service act as the coalition collapsed in 2020.
After the downfall of PH, the new unelected Perikatan Nasional government, led by Prime Minister Mahiaddin Yasin, came into power.
PN law minister and Pas secretary general Takiyuddin Hassan later announced that all MPs who do not hold positions in government would be made heads of government-linked companies, essentially declaring the reemergence of patronage politics openly.
The Mahiaddin-led administration’s reign over Malaysia was marked by accountability and good governance being cast aside in favour of clinging on to power. Remarkably, Mahiaddin chose to completely do away with parliamentary oversight as billions of ringgit were spent without the august house’s approval, before completely suspending Parliament following his emergency declaration.
In terms of reform, the PN government would initiate the Environmental Quality Act and climate change legislation while also engaging in several consultation processes about the 13 key areas tracked through the MyGovt Reform Tracker. Despite this, they failed to enact any laws or constitutional amendments concerning the key reform areas, even going on to withdraw the tabling of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission Bill.
BN plus PN government
Consequently, Ismail Sabri Yaakob from Umno took over as Prime Minister after Mahiaddin was spurned by coalition partners and opposition members alike, and entered into a Memorandum of Understating (MoU) with the PH coalition to ensure political stability in the country. The historic MoU on transformation and political stability was signed on 13 September 2021 by the government and the opposition.
This agreement paved the way for a slew of reforms to be enacted such as automatic voter registration (Undi 18), the anti-party hopping law, equal representation of parliamentarians in select committees, equal funding for MPs from the ruling and PH bloc as well as the constitutional amendment on the definition of states in the Federation involving Sabah and Sarawak related to the Malaysia Agreement 1963. On top of this, the National Forestry Act 1984 was successfully amended to better protect forests in the country.
Despite making progress on a few fronts, it is notable that Ismail Sabri’s government completely failed to legislate on police accountability, replacing the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) Bill with a watered-down Independent Police Conduct Commission IPCC Bill.
Three years of power struggle
Between the three governments in power throughout the national anti-corruption plan’s timeline, the PH government has shown itself the most willing to initiate and propose institutional reforms but ultimately failed to truly commit to sweeping changes.
The short-lived PN government showed a distinct lack of interest or desire to change Malaysia’s governance for the better. Instead, Mahiaddin as PM was clearly more interested in holding on to power at all costs, at the expense of any accountability.
Ironically, Ismail Sabri’s joint BN and PN government remained true to its commitment to the MoU, allowing bipartisan efforts to carry out reforms. This proves that reforms to our democratic institutions can be achieved if there is political will to do so.
In summation, the past three years have been characterised by an overall lack of will to implement the reform agenda. As the country heads towards a general election, the constant sidelining of Malaysia’s reforms should be a catalyst for the people to seriously consider their choice of election candidates and the parties that deserve to be in government and protect their interests. – C4 Center