LAST_UPDATEThu, 21 Jun 2018 2pm

New Hope To Fight Graft

THE reactivation of the Cabinet Committee on Integrity in Governance as the Cabinet Committee on Anti-Corruption is an important step.

One of its first decisions was to establish the Centre on Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption (GIACC), which will report directly to the prime minister.

GIACC will also encompass human rights. The Department of Integrity and Governance, the Institute Integriti Malaysia, the Public Complaints Bureau and the Integrity Commission on Enforcement Agencies will be placed under GIACC.

The aim is to reduce duplication and public expenditure as the government intensifies the fight against corruption.

A national Anti-Corruption Plan is going to be formulated. Ministries will be asked to identify three weaknesses related to laws, policies and procedures that should be reviewed to reduce corruption. They have been given a month to submit their findings to GIACC.

The government is planning to introduce a law that will enable punitive action to be taken against officers who cause wastage and leakages or are extravagant in the administration of public funds.

Ministers right down to political secretaries will be prohibited from accepting gifts.

A more important measure is the promulgation of a law on political financing. A proposal on this exists, which makes it so much easier to expedite this legislation.

In announcing these initiatives, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said ministers would have to declare their assets to him and to present the same report to the anti-graft authority.

This is not what groups have been campaigning in the last few decades.

The declaration of assets and liabilities of ministers and deputy ministers, and menteris besar, chief ministers and executive councillors, should be made public.

The Penang and Selangor governments have been doing this since they came to power a decade ago. Three ministers in Dr Mahathir’s cabinet from Parti Amanah Negara — Mohamad Sabu, Salahuddin Ayub and Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad — inked statutory declarations which detail their assets and their debts.

These declarations are accessible to the public. The Amanah leaders and the Penang and Selangor governments should be commended for setting the right example.

Political leaders and public officials declaring their assets and liabilities to the public is a principle of accountability that has gained tremendous momentum in the last three or four decades.

It boosts people’s trust in their leaders. It not only gives citizens an honest picture of the financial worth of their leaders, but also deters those who wield power from using their office to accumulate wealth at the expense of the people.

Different societies have evolved different mechanisms for making their leaders’ financial status known to the people. In our case, declarations of assets and liabilities at federal and state levels can be lodged with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which will verify the information before posting it on a website accessible to the public.

Leaders and officials will be required by law to update the information on their finances at regular intervals.

A bold and brave move of this sort is imperative at this stage because of what the nation has gone through in recent times.

The magnitude of the betrayal of the people’s trust is so horrendous that confidence in the elite will be restored and sustained only if it demonstrates that it has the moral courage to put into practice principles of integrity and accountability.

In similar vein, our constitutional monarchs should, in accordance with their position, allow their emoluments and other perquisites to be made known to the people. In a genuine constitutional monarchy, there would be hardly any dissension about such a practice.

Indeed, it is a practice that will boost people’s love and affection for their monarchs.

There are other proposals that have been made over the years by some of us to strengthen accountability and integrity that should be rearticulated at this stage in the hope that the government will respond positively.

To strengthen accountability in our nation, we should bar the kin of ministers or executive councillors from bidding for government projects or contracts; eliminate agents and proxies in procurements involving the state; ensure open tenders across the board with some exceptions linked to defence purchases; and make MACC answerable to Parliament.

For a nation that was the first in the global south to enact a law against corruption and to establish a separate agency to fight the scourge, we have sadly fallen into the abyss.

Only a leadership and a people driven by a single-minded passion to combat corruption can lift us out of this morass.

This is what Malaysians are hoping for after ousting the previous venal regime.

Will Pakatan Harapan, the Pact of Hope, strive to realise that hope?