Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s calls for the directors and heads of government-linked companies, government-linked investment companies and members of the judiciary to declare their assets is welcomed by the Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center).
However, Zahid Hamidi’s shocking acquittal at the High Court for all 40 graft charges in the foreign visa system (VLN) case demonstrates that the fight against corruption is still a long road ahead and, as such, C4 Center remains unconvinced at the current administration’s alleged commitment to the anti-corruption reform agenda.
A complete proposed framework for asset declaration must be presented, and this is just one of many reforms needed in order to overcome the ever-growing threat of corruption.
From this recent UKSB scandal to the Pandora Papers’ revelations, Malaysians have been left helpless for years as top government officials and elected representatives scurry happily away with millions of ringgits worth of undeclared assets floating about in bank accounts and under the names of proxies and cronies.
C4 Center believes that far more stringent measures are needed to enhance the accountability and transparency of Malaysia’s administration.
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This call was thought to have been heeded in 2019, when the national anti-corruption plan clearly outlined the need for such a law, and was further enforced when Parliament successfully passed a motion that compelled all members of Parliament to declare their assets publicly in July that year.
Despite this unanimous decision, not only have several obstinate representatives failed to comply, but the enforcement of this motion has been seemingly swept under the rug by successive administrations, with all records of assets vanishing from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s website.
Referring to the original motion passed by the Pakatan Harapan government, MPs that fail to declare their assets would be brought before the parliamentary Select Committee on Rights and Privileges, rather than face any real legal repercussions.
Therein lies the problem; as of now, even after the prime minister’s pronouncement, there remains no law in place to oblige politicians and public servants to declare their assets.
This in turn has allowed several figures in key positions to amass wealth well beyond the knowledge of taxpayers at their own expense.
Already we have seen how Zahid Hamidi, a former home minister, can be accused of procuring sums of cash illicitly for his own personal gratification through the UKSB case, with witness testimonies corroborating these sordid details.
Notwithstanding his guilt [or otherwise] in the matter, the fact that a former home minister and deputy prime minister can even form the subject of investigations for procuring millions in public funds demonstrates that an asset declaration law would have shone some light on this issue much sooner without having to go through a protracted and lengthy legal process.
The need for an all-encompassing anti-corruption framework that includes other laws such as a procurement act and a freedom of information act becomes that much more urgent considering the fact that as a former defence minister, Zahid Hamidi was privy to defence contracts worth billions in public funds.
Once again, it bears reminding that Zahid Hamidi’s role in the littoral combat ships procurement scandal has not yet been investigated either – despite the slew of evidence and connections that suggest his involvement.
Any measures taken should not end here. With the appointments of spouses and family members littering the boards of allegedly corrupt companies, it is C4’s firm belief that the mandate for asset declaration be expanded onto family members and close associates of politicians.
This reach must also be widened to include the heads of public institutions, with an independent regulator at its centre. The case of the MACC chief commissioner’s share scandal is a bone-tingling example of how even the country’s anti-graft agency can be implicated in an alleged case of unexplained wealth and potential corruption.
On top of all this, to ensure that accountability is consistently upheld, C4 Center is proposing that a set timeframe be placed for asset declarations to be made, such as at the start and end of each parliamentary term.
C4 Center further recommends the following:
- Prime Minister Ismail Sabri must put word to deed and prioritise the enactment of an asset declaration act as a matter of immediate urgency to assure the people that such a law will come into force in the near future
- As a measure of commitment, following his acquittal, Zahid should declare his assets and convince public opinion that he is indeed a worthy leader
- All 13 state governments must enact their own asset declaration act and [this should be] be enforced upon those who take up public office, as well as on members of their families
- All elected representatives must declare their assets publicly in line with Parliament’s resolution in 2019, before the dissolution of Parliament
- Parliament must see the anti-corruption agenda through in enacting reforms as declared in the national anti-corruption plan. A mere suggestion of asset declaration is not enough; it would need to work in tandem with further reforms such as a procurement act and a freedom of information act
- The MACC must open investigations and proceedings into the big culprits and offenders who have shown obscene levels of unexplained wealth. As the nation’s primary body in the fight against corruption, their continued inaction does not inspire confidence. – C4 Center