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MACC should be under Parliament, not PM

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Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) believes it is best that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), currently under the Prime Minister’s Department or Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, be placed under Parliament.

This will allow it to become independent and more effective in fighting corruption, irrespective of whether the alleged perpetrator is Anwar himself, political leaders or politicians in the present government party or others.

Now, the MACC is perceived by some that to be a tool of the government of the day, which seems to target the opposition, ‘old enemies’ and critics of the prime minister or the government.

Enough of ‘promises’ with no follow-up action

On 18 June, Anwar ‘repeats’: The government will examine the implications of a proposal to place the MACC under the jurisdiction of Parliament.

Over 14 months ago, on 28 March, Anwar told Parliament that Putrajaya is willing to relinquish its discretion in appointing the MACC chief to Parliament as long as there is a mechanism decided.

Since then, the government did little (or nothing) to crystalise this mechanism for Parliament’s involvement or to amend the MACC Act to empower Parliament to decide on the MACC chief and thereafter the king appoints.

Madpet is disappointed over the false hopes, promises and assurances given by Anwar and Pakatan Harapan leaders for reform, which then is not followed up or is delayed until God knows when.

Worse, there is a total U-turn, for example, regarding the promise to repeal the Sedition Act and bad laws, and even to revive local council (government) elections. 

Amend the law to require prior approval of Parliament, before PM tenders advice to King or PM/minister directly appoints

Currently, the MACC Act stipulates in Section5(1):

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall, on the advice of the Prime Minister, appoint a Chief Commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission for such period and on such terms and conditions as may be specified in the instrument of appointment.

The amendment needed, which Madpet proposes to (5)(1) is:

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall, on the advice of the Prime Minister, after obtaining prior approval of Parliament, appoint a Chief Commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission for such period and on such terms and conditions as may be specified in the instrument of appointment.

That is all.

Prior approval through the parliamentary process will include vetting a process conducted by some parliamentary appointments committee.

This committee will comprise government backbenchers and opposition MPs, who will do a thorough examination of the nominees for the position of MACC chief to determine the qualifications and suitability for the positions.

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The process should also include a question-and-answer session, which is best telecast live. The recommendation of such a parliamentary appointments committee will then be voted on by Parliament.

The mere presence of public vetting procedures could also deter prime ministers from making unsuitable or unpopular appointments in the first place.

This process of parliamentary approval has legal precedence in other countries to determine that only qualified and suitable candidates are appointed to certain positions. It is practised also in the US, Ghana and other jurisdictions.

In Ghana, for example, such a process is practiced for even ministerial and deputy ministerial candidates.

Article 78(1) of the Republic Of Ghana Constitution says that ministers of the state shall be appointed by the president with the prior approval of Parliament from among MPs or those qualified to be elected as MPs, except that the majority of the ministers shall be appointed from among members of Parliament.

Article 79(1)(1): The president may, in consultation with a minister of state, and with the prior approval of Parliament, appoint one or more deputy ministers to assist the minister in the performance of his functions.

Hence, for the appointment of MACC chief and members of the three statutory monitoring bodies of the MACC – the anti-corruption advisory board (Section 13 of the MACC Act), the special committee on corruption (Section 14) and the complaints committee (Section 15) – a simple amendment requiring the prior approval of Parliament before the appointment is needed.

The same goes for the two other oversight bodies – the operations review panel and the consultation and corruption prevention panel – which are established through administrative order, whose members now are appointed by the prime minister.

Five oversight bodies – good on paper but does it work?

Azam Baki, the current MACC chief, disagrees that the MACC be placed under Parliament’s purview. He pointed out that the agency is already monitored by five independent oversight bodies.

The problem, however, is whether these five bodies – three statutory bodies and two established through administrative order – are even independent and functioning as required.

This was a question that was highlighted in the case of Edmund Terence Gomez, then a member of the consultation and corruption prevention panel. He alleged that he asked the then panel chair for a meeting to discuss urgent matters, presumably about the Azam Baki scandal. But the chairman failed to call the meeting, even when an alleged ‘whistleblower’ was ready to attend.

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Terence also wrote to the then MACC anti-corruption advisory board chairman on three separate occasions, but these also failed to elicit any response.

If a member of the panel cannot get the panel to meet on a matter he considered important, would others with relevant evidence be able to do so?

In short, Madpet believes it is useless to have such monitoring or oversight bodies in name, but in fact they fail to achieve their intended purpose, whether it is due to the wrong people being appointed, a lack of transparency and poor monitoring by Parliament or the people generally.

A perusal of the internet, including the MACC’s website, shows no public records of meetings, let alone decisions made or actions taken.

Something is wrong, and that is why one needs good chairpersons and members of MACC oversight bodies, and a requirement that oversight bodies’ actions and reports are transparent.

It is absurd that these five oversight bodies report only to the MACC (the entity being monitored) and the prime minister and not to the Malaysian public and Parliament.

Azam Baki’s scandal?

An important issue still unanswered is whether Azam Baki (a public officer) had violated the Public Officers (Conduct And Discipline) Regulations 1993, including the related Service Circular Number 3/2002 – Ownership and Declaration of Assets by Public Officials, which prevents a public servant from owning more than RM100,000 worth of shares in any company.

What was the decision of the relevant disciplinary board – as Azam Baki was alleged to have more than the amount of shares permitted to be held by a public officer? Did he declare his assets as and when required?

Recall it was alleged that between 2015 and 2016, Azam Baki became the owner of 930,000 shares in Gets Global Bhd as at 30 April 2015 and a further 1,029,000 shares as at 31 March 2016.

It was also alleged that Azam, as at 21 March 2016 owned 2,156,000 warrants in listed Excel Force MSC Bhd.

Azam ‘did not deny the stock transactions. Instead, he claimed the trades had been executed by his brother using Azam’s share-trading account.’

Some law enforcement agencies like the Securities Commission oddly said no crime was committed. But the question of whether Azam, a public officer, committed misconduct remains unanswered. The effectiveness of the five monitoring bodies also can be questioned.

Anwar appoints Azam as MACC chief for one years, then another year

After his term ended, surprisingly the new Pakatan Harapan-led government under Anwar reappointed Azam Baki for a one-year term, and again from 12 May, Azam was reappointed for a second one-year term.

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Parliament was not consulted. Surely, there would be other MACC officers who could have been appointed as chief commissioner.

Security of tenure – a fixed term with no contract extensions

Another issue is these short one-year terms. Would this not compromise the independence of the MACC chief?

Will Azam’s term be renewed one year at a time for so long as he remains ‘loyal’ to the prime minister? This compromises the independence of the MACC and may propagate the perception that the MACC is just another tool of the government.

This is why all these appointments to MACC positions of power should need prior parliamentary approval to restore the image and independence of the MACC.

The MACC should also be required to report to Parliament maybe annually at the very least.

Madpet calls for immediate amendments to the law to remove the role of the prime minister or any minister in the appointment of the MACC chief and the members of the various oversight monitoring bodies. All appointments should require prior parliamentary approval.

Madpet calls for security of tenure, so that the law fixes clearly the tenure of the chief commissioner, which could be the retirement age or a six-year term. There ought to be no extension of the term of office.

To restore the public perception of the MACC, it is best that the MACC be placed directly under Parliament. This is a must after former prime ministers and other ministers have been found to have committed crimes while holding office. Only after the fall of the Barisan Nasional in 2018 were these leaders exposed, investigated, charged, tried and convicted.

If Prime Minister Anwar commits a crime, we want him to be investigated, charged and tried now – not after he ceases to be prime minister.

This is why the MACC must be independent from the prime minister and the current administration.

Madpet also calls for the immediate removal of Azam as MACC chief to restore public confidence in an independent MACC. Another person can easily be appointed as MACC chief.

Madpet also calls for parliamentary approval, including public vetting, of all candidates before they are appointed as ministers and deputy ministers – as we want clean and efficient ministers. – Madpet

Charles Hector issued this statement on behalf of Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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