Speech by Lim Kit Siang on Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Bill in Parliament on Monday, 15th December 2008: 

If Abdullah has no political will to conduct an all-out war against corruption in his heydays as Prime Minister in the past five years, will the MACC Bill he is putting on the statute book in his last three months in office end up as a lame-duck law?  

I stand up with four images about the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Bill following the day-to-day developments in the country after the first reading of the Bill last Wednesday:

(1) First the pervasiveness and the far-reaching effects, including lethal consequences, of corruption:

(a) Malaysiakini (10/12/08): “Landslide survivor: We are victims of corruption” –

“A furious Ungku Farid Ungku Abdul, 54, did not hesitate in identifying the cause – and culprits – of last Saturday’s landslide in Bukit Antarabangsa.

“’We are victims of the corruption in Malaysia’, alleged Farid, a businessman, whose house was one of the 14 destroyed in the incident.”

Another tragedy that comes quickly to mind was the latest road carnage in the express bus North-South Expressway (NSE) crash in Tangkak which killed 10 and injured 14 the previous Sunday.

(2) The irrelevance of the MACC.

(a) Malaysiakini (13/12/08) “Law: Time for Supp oldies to ship out”

I am not referring to the SUPP deputy president, Tan Sri Law Hien Ding’s speech at the SUPP triennial delegates conference (TDC) on Saturday to ask the “old-guard leadership” of SUPP to have the courage to let go of power before SUPP reaches a point of no return, but his open admission of the corruption of money politics in the country’s election system, when he said:

“The 2006 Sarawak election and the 2008 general election struck a blow at old politics, and left us confronted with its legacy. A legacy of the old way that said elections had to be bought; spending could be reckless; there was no need to invest in the future because the present was all that matters.

“That is one legacy which we don't need and must get rid of. In its place, we must acknowledge ourselves and tell the people that money politics is corruption and that vote-buying is a ‘No No'. Tell them that their future and that of their generations to come should not be sold for it has no price.”

The MACC Bill before Parliament has absolutely nothing to say about curbing the corruption of politics particularly in general elections and by-elections.

(3) Malaysiakini (11.12.08): “Dr.M: Vision 2020 now doubtful”

I do not want to debate here the former PM’s pessimism that Malaysia could become a developed nation in 12 years’ time – I had said in Parliament in April 2006 in the debate on the Ninth Malaysia Plan that Malaysia has gone “off-track” with regard to the economic growth targets of Vision 2020 – or the Vision 2020 objective to create a Bangsa Malaysia. I refer to the Vision 2020 objective of Malaysia as a fully moral and ethical society, which must mean a corruption-free society.

(4) After the first reading of the MACC bill last Wednesday, New Straits Times carried the headline: “Abu Kassim: Lapdog tag won’t stick any more” quoting the ACA deputy director-general Datuk Abu Kassim Mohamed when commenting that five bodies will scrutinize the MACC. On the same day, was news of the indictment of former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian and his family members on a host of corruption charges. The question that cropped up is whether with the MACC, the anti-corruption laws and systems would be strong enough where such “big fishes” could be arrested and prosecuted?

For me, this debate on the MACC was a déjà vu for eleven years ago in 1997, the country was lifted up by the hope and even euphoria that at long last, there was going to be an all-out war against corruption with new anti-corruption laws and repeated assurances that not only the “ikan bilis” but the “big fishes” and “sharks” would be brought to book for “grand corruption”.

The national media and relevant stakeholders, including Umno MPs and Ministers, were excited by the proposed anti-corruption reforms which was spearheaded by the then Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim during the two-month leave of the Prime Minister, Datuk Ser, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.

A remarkable consensus and even unanimity on an all-out war against corruption was reached after three civil society initiatives in the heady month of July 1997 on a proposed new anti-corruption law to give bite to the campaign to eradicate corruption:

(i) the first Round Table Conference on Corruption and Assembly of Voices in Petaling Jaya on 13th July 1997, which I had convened as Parliamentary Opposition Leader, to create a new culture of integrity in political life and public service with zero tolerance for corruption. It was a distinguished gathering of Malaysians (though many have now left us), personages who had been concerned about corruption and integrity over the decades, including people like Tan Sri Ahmad Nordin, the most famous Auditor-General in Malaysian history; Tan Sri Harun Hashim, the first and most famous Director-General of the ACA when it was formed four decades ago; Dr. Syed Hussein Alatas, Malaysia’s most famous authority on corruption and others like Tunku Abdul Aziz, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, Tan Sri Samad Ismail, Datuk Param Cumaraswamy, Dr. Jomo K.S., Gurmit Singh, Prof Hamdan Adnan and Ruhanie Ahmad, then Chairman of the Barisan Backbenchers’ Club.

On 19th July 1997, a second important civil society initiative towards the same objective to strengthen the national integrity system was taken when the Barisan Backbenchers’ Club, together with Institut Kajian Dasar (IKD), Asian Strategic and Leadership Institute (ASLI) and the Centre for Leadership and Development Studies (CELDES), brought together political parties, government agencies, the private sector, trade unions, the consumer movement and NGOs in the historic "Consensus Against Corruption" Conference. MPs from both sides of the House attended this meeting, which was declared open by the then Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak and closed by the then Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi .

The third civil society initiative was the Round Table (II) on the Anti-Corruption Bill on 27th July 1997.

But by the third civil society initiative in a matter of fortnight, the promise of a new “dawn for national integrity” was crushed, with the arrival of sudden “spring” not only ended, but saw the onset of immediate “winter”.

This was my observation in my speech in Parliament on the Anti-Corruption Bill on 28th July 1997:

“Overnight, however, the climate seems to have changed, and this can be discerned from the changed atmosphere in a space of a few weeks – from the first Round Table Conference on Corruption held in Petaling Jaya on July 13 and the Consensus Against Corruption Conference held at Putra World Trade Centre on July 19 on the one hand and the Round Table on the Anti-Corruption Bill yesterday on the other.

“It would not be wrong to say that the climate appears to be quite "wintry" and I know for instance of mass media which have scrapped plans to provide full support to the all-out war against corruption because of the sudden change of climate, and the enthusiasm they have shown for this crusade seems to have withered away.

“In Malaysia, spring is very short before winter sets in. This is very sad.

“However, this is the challenge to all Malaysians who are committed to the cause of integrity in political life and public service – that they must be able to sustain their commitment regardless of the season, whether spring, summer, autumn or winter.”

Why did the 1997 “spring” for anti-corruption proved to be so short-lived? This was because Dr. Mahathir Mohamad returned from his two-month leave on 23rd July 1997 and he made it very clear his disapproval for Anwar’s campaign to push for a effective and meaningful Anti-Corruption law.

In fact, Anwar’s Anti-Corruption Act effort was one of the grounds which resulted in his subsequent sacking as Deputy Prime Minister, malicious prosecution and persecution by Mahathir.

Whatever Anwar’s personal trials and tribulations, why did the 1997 ACA failed to live up to its promise to be an improved anti-corruption law to combat corruption in the country?

When the 1997 ACA was debated in Parliament, Malaysia was ranked No. 32 in the 1996 Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI). In the past 12 years, Malaysia had plunged 15 places to No. 47 in the 2008 TI CPI. In this period, Malaysia’s CPI score had hovered between 5.02 in 1996 and 5.1 in 2008 (10 perceived as “highly clean” while 0 perceived as “highly corrupt) – while other Asian countries have either improved both their rankings or scores or bothz, viz:

Nation                           1996             2008
Singapore                    7 (8.80)         4 (9.2)
Hong Kong                18 (7.01)       12 (8.1)
Japan                         17 (7.05)       18 (7.3)
Taiwan                       29 (4.98)       39 (5.7)
South Korea               27 (5.02)       40 (5.6)
Malaysia                     26 (5.32)       47 (5.1)

In fact, Malaysia’s CPI score in 1996 at 5.32 was the best in the 14-year series of the TI CPI from 1995 to 2008, i.e. better than any time after the passage of the 1997 ACA. Why is this so?

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi wants to fulfill three reform pledges on anti-corruption, restore the independence of the judiciary and establish an efficient and professional world-class police service before he steps down from office next March.

DAP, just like the other component parties in Pakatan Rakyat, would want to give as much support as possible to ensure the accomplishment of these three reforms. However, we cannot give blanket support or endorse proposals which are inimical to these reform objectives.

I have given notice to move five amendments to the MACC to provide greater fire-power in the battle against corruption, strengthen the independence of the MACC from the Executive and reinforce the oversight powers of Parliament.

However, the question before the House and the nation is If Abdullah has no political will to conduct an all-out war against corruption in his heydays as Prime Minister in the past five years, will the MACC Bill he is putting on the statute book in his last three months in office end up as a lame-duck law?

* Lim Kit Siang,  DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor