Commentary Local

Reasons for negative perception must first be understood


Written by Aziz Hassan


Recollections & Reflections – A commentary

WHEN looking again at the swift reactions to the recently revealed Transparency International Global Corruption Perception Index 2017, you can’t help feeling that some may have over-reacted.

In the first place everyone must be mindful that it is an index based on perception and hence may not be a true reflection of the actual situation. But as some like to say, perception is everything…..

The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary defines perception as “the act of perceiving; apprehension with the mind or the sense”. The latter says a lot.

TI says the index ranks countries by the levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people. It also deals with a government’s effectiveness in tackling corruption and includes the public’s experiences and views. It however doesn’t provide more details on the number of respondents surveyed or who they exactly were, especially the experts.

Datuk Paul Low, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department who oversees issues like integrity and corruption and a former president of the local chapter of TI, thinks the index is a fair reflection of corruption in the public sector and says the government will focus on prevention and enforcement.

He is also of the view that the success of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in arresting many high profile suspects may have contributed to this negative perception.

Those who have been tracking issues of corruption in Malaysia will remember well reports some years ago by the Public Complaints Bureau, in which major enforcement agencies perennially topped the list of public complaints on corruption. For unknown reasons, it has been years since the department last made its report public.

If you talk to friends and others you come into contact with, you can make a good guess as to the extent at which this sickness is held in contempt by Malaysians. It is real. People do have a lot of stories to tell, especially on their dealings with public sector enforcement personnel.

While the MACC can rightly claim to have done a good job so far, especially in arresting senior officials suspected of corruption, the perception issue also relates to whether the people are entirely convinced the agency is free from the clutches of the government. But so long as the chief commissioner, for example, is appointed on political recommendation and MACC personnel come under the purview of the civil service, it’s difficult to see how the poor perception can improve drastically.

The way to go is the model from Hong Kong or Indonesia, where the latter’s Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) is free of the president and is required to answer to Parliament only. Its commissioners are appointed independently after a thorough vetting process, including checks on each candidate’s finances. So effective has been the KPK that there have been attempts by Parliament to tighten the screws on its powers!

There is also a letter in the Star of February 27 from retired senior civil servant Tan Sri Mohd. Sheriff Mohd. Kassim on the historical perspective of the problem faced by Hong Kong and Indonesia, with Sheriff also talking about the big improvement in the world’s perception of the issue in Indonesia. I wish to correct Sheriff that while I am quite familiar with the progress made by KPK and admire its work, the country hasn’t improved significantly under the TI rankings, as stated by Sheriff. In the 2017 ranking Indonesia was at 96th place of 180 countries compared to Malaysia’s 62. In 2016 Indonesia was 90 of 178 while Malaysia was 55th. This is another example of how perception may not be a true reflection of how good an agency has been.

But you have to agree with Sheriff on the need for political will to bring about significant changes to Malaysia’s fight against corruption and for the MACC to be truly independent.

Until this is done, the MACC will have a tough task in trying to convince Malaysians and the world that it is giving its everything to try and make the country less prone to corruption.

Keeping mum on why a case against a former state Forestry director vanished into thin air after he had appeared in court only once in 2010 is not going to help.

So too being silent on the progress of investigations against the tan sri from Klang who was remanded after being suspected of trying to bribe the Sultan of Johor in an honorific-buying attempt and then released on bail after several days. That was in early April 2017.

But before the MACC goes any further and even takes the step of introducing a local ranking system, it may want to first find out why Malaysia dropped further in the 2017 TI index. Then only can it formulate strategies or policies to counter the negative perception and hopefully, go up the rankings. And honestly, having a local index is not going change anything significantly with the TI global rankings, which is the index quoted by the wolrd’s press.   



About the author

Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.