LAST Thursday, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), the agency in charge of fighting corruption, congratulated the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) on their 71st anniversary.
Umno is the biggest component party of Barisan Nasional (National Front), Malaysia’s ruling coalition.
There were Malaysians who were upset with this because they felt the agency was being overly chummy with the very organisation that they were suppose to be the watchdog of. Some asked if this meant the MACC was taking a break from the fight against corruption.
I, on the other hand, disagree with the assumption.
Because following the congratulatory message was a blunt reminder to Umno to be responsible and accountable. The MACC said Umno members are to be reminded to stay away from any form graft and abuse of power and to support their anti-corruption initiatives.
Seeing as Umno is the biggest component party in BN and that, by default, the BN chairman and Umno president is also the country’s prime minister, the MACC’s reminder is essentially directed at the government and its leaders.
Some might say that as we enter mid-2017, it seems as though the war on graft and corruption, once on an overdrive, is slowly coming to a grinding halt. News reports on corruption cases are fewer and rarer these days.
It wasn’t the case last year, when there seemed to be cases nearly every day, many of which involved ridiculous sums of money.
Case in point: In October last year, several government employees were caught with RM52 million (US$12.5 million) in cash hidden in closets and cabinets in their houses and offices. What a way to stash their cash! And another RM60 million was found in their bank accounts.
Early in the year, the secretary-general of the Rural and Regional Development Ministry Mohd Arif Ab Rahman and his two sons were arrested for alleged corruption in a case involving foreign currencies and gold bars amounting to over RM5 million (US$1.1 million).
But of course, all these pale in comparison with one of the biggest money scandals in Malaysia and the world – the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal. Everyone in Malaysia is familiar with the now infamous sum RM2.6 billion (US$600 million) and mere mention of the digits ‘2.6’ is enough to cause mirth in the streets.
For those unfamiliar (which is highly unlikely!), the scandal has been in the headlines for years now. 1MDB is a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund and money from it was allegedly siphoned off into an individual’s personal account, namely Prime Minister Najib Razak.
When it first exploded in the media, it was reported around the world as well as by local media outlets. But months and months have gone by since and it seems only the international media have the stamina to stay on the case.
In Malaysia, Najib has been cleared of all wrongdoing. Parliament Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia has declared any discussion on the issue in chamber off limits.
But last month, Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali, in a media interview, said his office did not in fact close all investigations on the money that entered Najib’s accounts. He said that the investigations will continue if any new evidence to suggest wrongdoing surfaces.
I don’t think the war on corruption in Malaysia is over. Nor will it be for a long time.
It is so ingrained in the system and in society that it’s almost running joke among Malaysians that corruption permeates daily life; from the taxpayer to the taxman, everyone has either engaged in or experienced corruption in one form or another.
So I think the MACC did right when it reminded Umno to stay away from graft… and it shouldn’t just be a reminder to Umno, but to everyone.
But the MACC needs a reminder of its own too.
They need to be reminded not to rest on their laurels and to continue to pursue cases and to publicly expose culprits. They also need to be reminded that there are both small and big fishes in the sea so their net must be wide enough to catch them all.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent