UNODC clarification that it was not passing judgment about corruption in Malaysia welcome

I welcome the clarification by the chief of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)’s corruption and economic crime branch, Dmitra Vlassis to dispel perceptions that at the recent 6th International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities (IAACA) Conference and General Meeting, he was commending and passing judgment about the Malaysian government’s efforts to fight corruption.

had issued a statement last week questioning news reports about his commending the Malaysian Government for its “serious efforts” in fighting corruption.

I had pointed out at the time that anti-corruption campaigners in Malaysia had been horrified by such a commendation as “they regard this as a major blow by the United Nations anti-corruption agency undermining their efforts to get the Najib government to have the political will to really walk the talk to fight corruption, in particular ‘Grand Corruption’ involving VVIPs, especially top political and public personalities”.

I had also said:

“Furthermore, they are mystified as to how the Malaysian government could merit praise for its anti-corruption efforts when from the 17-year history of Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Malaysia’s ranking and score for 2011 on both counts is lowest on record – ranking No. 60 and score of 4.3 when in 1995 Malaysia was ranked No. 23 and attained a score of 5.32 in 1996.

“In simple terms, TI CPI 2011 underlined the brutal fact that corruption in Malaysia under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is worse and more intractable than at any time under his predecessors, whether the five years under Tun Abdullah or the 22 years under Tun Mahathir.”

In his clarification on what he had said at a press conference during the IAACA gathering, Vlassis said:

“Unfortunately, some of my comments and responses during this press conference were misunderstood or taken out of context. Consequently, they were misinterpreted and may have created erroneous impressions.”

Vlassis said he was asked about corruption in Malaysia. He said:

“I responded that I was not in a position to pass judgment on the matter because it was beyond my mandate and, therefore, inappropriate to evaluate a country's performance.”

I welcome Vlassis’ clarification that he was not passing judgment on corruption in Malaysia.

I want to make it very clear that I am not saying that Vlassis or any UN or international anti-corruption body or officer should not pass judgment or evaluate Malaysia’s anti-corruption efforts, but such judgment or evaluation must stand up to public scrutiny and examination.

Even without referring to Malaysia’s current worst ranking and score in the 17-year history of Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, it is completely unthinkable that any rational or right-thinking person could praise Malaysia’s anti-corruption record regardless of what criteria is used for the evaluation.

In fact, the credibility of MACC has sunk to its lowest ebb after suffering fatal pre-IAACA and post-IAACA blows.

The thousand-odd “movers and shakers” of the world-wide anti-corruption battle who attended the 6th IAACA Conference comprising prosecutors, investigators, ex-judges and experts with experience in anti-corruption research and practice cannot be unaware that they were meeting under the most embarrassing circumstances for the host country and organisation.

This was because the 6th IAACA Confrerence was held two days after the highly-publicised syariah case where the Sarawak Chief Minister, Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud was described by his former daughter-in-law, Shahnaz Abdul Majid, as the richest person in Malaysia and possibly in South East Asia, and that her former husband Abu Bekir Taib was worth in excess of RM1 billion, with 111 accounts world wide with deposits worth an estimated RM700 million.

Three weeks before the 6th IAACA Conference, the Swiss-based NGO Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) dropped a “bomb” when it released in Brussels a report which estimated Taib’s family assets at US$21 billion (R$M64 billion) and that of the wealth of Taib himself at US$15 billion (RM46 billion).

There can be no doubt that for the thousand-odd participants at the 6th IAACA, the chief topic in their off-conference chats and conversations would not be any official item on the IAACA agenda, but the impotence of the host organization – the MACC – highlighted by the BMF revelation of Taib’s fabulous fortunes in his three decades as Sarawak Chief Minister and the Prime Minister’s “hands off” warning to MACC when Datuk Seri Najib Razak issued a clear directive not to entertain probes and questions about the BMF report.

As if the Sarawak Chief Minister’s immunity from accountability for his fabulous wealth is not enough to demolish MACC’s credibility and expose its impotence in combating “grand corruption”, MACC suffered an immediate post-IAACA blow when when Parliament was told that the RM40 million cash in Singapore currency a Sabah businessman was caught with in trying to smuggle into Malaysia from Hong Kong in August 2008 were political contributions to Sabah Umno and not for Chief Minister Musa Aman and that “no element of corruption was proven”.

This is why I said in Parliament during the debate on the 2013 Budget that MACC and Najib administration have not been able to pass the “test of the trio” in the battle against “grand corruption” – referring to serious allegations of corruption against the Chief Ministers of Sarawak and Sabah as well as the Attorney-General Tan Sri Gani Patail.

In the circumstances, the clarification by Vlassis, the UNODC corruption branch chief that he was not passing judgment about Malaysia’s anti-corruption efforts is most wise and timely as otherwise the international body will be dragged down and itself lose credibility in the eyes of Malaysians and anti-corruption campaigners in Malaysia and the world.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Ipoh Timur