By Salahuddin Hisham
Oct 7, 2017
THE issue over the plan to start the National Integrity and Good Governance Department (JITN) has died down as other more exciting current and political issues emerge.
The core issue needs to be clearly understood and not be simplified with the conclusion that the Chief Commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) had breached the general order for questioning the power of the Minister under the Minister Act.
Still, although it was elaborately exposed with details by an informative and well-sourced blog, one should not jump to conclusion and accuse the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Paul Low Seng Kuang of having an elaborate plan for his retirement.
The recently-approved proposal to upgrade the unit to a department to look into matters of the MACC, Integrity Institute of Malaysia (IIM), Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) and perhaps, other agencies, may have its merit.
The timing, purpose and suitability, however, may need to be reviewed.
It is bad timing to put aside budget for enforcement agencies, even though it is claimed that it is not much. As the Chief Commissioner Tan Sri Dzulkifli Ahmad told the media, budget for enforcement agencies, especially the police was severely slashed.
The cut across the board without any prioritising has made enforcement work difficult. Enforcement is a key role of government and should be the priority over ministries and agencies.
The purpose of JITN sounded big and ambitious. It was also not a well-thought-through proposal. The Cabinet has to withdraw the approval and review the proposal.
For one, JITN has no business monitoring any wrongdoing by MACC or its management and staff. There is already in existence an Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission Act and the commission.
Secondly, Paul Low reported in Utusan Malaysia on Sept 18, 2017 to have said that JITN will play the role to strengthen the focus and core responsibility of MACC. Power abuse and corruption must be investigated more thoroughly and more effective prosecution.
This elicited a response from the Chief Commission: Who is he to do so?
Under the law and current practices, that role is clearly mentioned and spelled out under an existing law that it is under the purview of MACC and the Attorney-General Office. With that proposed role, it means interference by the Minister-led JITN!
Third, the role of MACC is clearly stated under the MACC Act to investigate, prevent and educate on matters of corruption.
This means that the role of MACC is beyond investigation to include the various programs such as integrity pledges, and placing Integrity Officers in ministries, state governments, agencies and related bodies
It makes one wonder why then is there a need to have all those Integrity officers placed by MACC under JITN? To create an operation to justify their existence?
That is wasteful of resources, double work, and wrongly perceived as stealing the efforts of others.
After his second term as Senator, Paul Low’s term as Minister is due to expire. It does come off as bit too late.
It brought out speculation by the blogger that the 20 PTD officers to be appointed as Integrity Officers to replace those from MACC will need training and external consultant services.
If these consultants are being readied for this plan and Paul Low has interest, then only could he be accused of feathering his nest for retirement.
So it came as a surprise that an activist like Paul Low should contemplate such a maneouver. Nevertheless, having SUHAKAM, MACC, and IIM into one stable does empower any future minister in charge of JITN.
Fourth and not the last, JITN may have missed out the speech by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Abdul Razak at Invest Malaysia in July for Government-linked Companies (GLCs) to establish Integrity and Governance Unit supervised by MACC.
Surely, it means that there is no plan by PM to have any JITN to do such role.
In fact, MACC has in place through one of their wings – Malaysia Anti Corruption Academy (MACA) in the areas of corporate liability. MACC could do training, consulting and international certification for private sector on Anti Bribery Management System (ABMS).
Putting in place such system, companies could save themselves from being liable for corruption. This would be an area pursued by foreign consultants and MACC stands as a potential threat for competition.
As a former Transparency International Malaysia (TI) president, Paul Low may have been too guided by his previous work there. TI is known for their Corruption Perception Index (CPI) but they are not the only McCoy in the rankings of corruption.
For instance, there is the Global Corruption Barometer in which Malaysia has a respectful ranking. It is contrary to the excessively negative CPI ranking, which makes no sense, given MACC relentless effort.
CPI is based on perception but not a measure of the effort and subsequent performance. Corruption only has 20 per cent weightage and there are 8 sectors being surveyed but it is corruption that is being excessively highlighted by TI, then and today.
Corruption is a problem but proper assessment has to be made to enable the right policies, initiatives and resources be put in place to combat it. By having CPI as guideline, it will be a fruitless effort as the desired result of individuals’ perception is a perpetually changing target.
Paul Low’s TI comment tended to be myopically negative and lacked a comprehensive outlook. Such impractical thinking is a sure formula for failure in government and Paul Low should have stuck to NGO.
Before the appointment of current chief commissioner, Paul Low made a statement insisting that the new appointment must come from inside. That is not his prerogative as it is the Prime Minister’s.
It is the conduct unbecoming of a minister to talk outside his area of authority, more so his own superior. For that failure to abide by proper decorum, he should then not pull his rank against a government servant and expects the same.
His only chance of a saving grace would be to do something for IIM.
Frankly, the public has no inkling as to what they do even though at one time, top government officers are expected to read and able to recite the National Integrity Plan (or the Malay acronym, PIN) to qualify for promotion.
God forbid, hopefully it was not IIM that prepared the Cabinet paper on JITN.