Prosecution of “tigers” and “crocodiles” are common in anti-corruption campaigns in China and Indonesia, but why not a single “shark” successfully prosecuted for corruption in Malaysia in over three decades?

When UMNO General Assembly was being held in the last week of November, the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research was carrying out a 10-day opinion survey from November 26 to December 5, 2014 and it found that public perception towards corruption in Malaysia remains unchanged since 2005 with at least 77% of Malaysian voters this year agreeing that corruption in the country is serious.

The survey done jointly with BFM Radio for World Anti-Corruption Day yesterday showed this perception appeared unchanged compared to similar polls conducted in August 2005 and June 2012 which found 76% and 78%, respectively, saying that corruption was seriously prevalent.

The survey found that 49% of Malaysians reported that corruption had increased, 20% felt it had remained unchanged while 21% felt it had decreased compared to one year ago.

The same survey also saw a majority, or 56%, of Malaysians perceiving the government’s fight against corruption left much to be desired despite recent successes by the anti-corruption commission.

These views were more apparent among younger voters and those with Internet access.

Could the Merdeka Center opinion survey on corruption perceptions be reliable or credible, – that it was unchanged since 2005 with seven out of 10 Malaysian voters still think Malaysia corrupt as well as the finding that 49% of Malaysians report that corruption had increased, 20% felt it had remained unchanged while 21% felt it had decreased compared to one year ago.

This is because these survey results fly in the face of the euphoria in the past few days, generated by government propagandists led by none other than the Prime Minister himself, that the country had achieved a major breakthrough in the fight against corruption resulting in Malaysia moving up to 50th spot among 175 countries in the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2014 ranking up from 53 last year.

Joining in the celebrations, Najib said: “Although an encouraging achievement, we must not rest on our laurels.”

What is this “encouraging achievement” and what “laurels” have we achieved in the fight against corruption, when the Merdeka Survey has found that there has been no change in the past 10 years with seven out of 10 Malaysian voters still think Malaysia corrupt?

The UMNO mouthpiece, the New Straits Times, even claimed that Malaysia’s ranking in the TI CPI 2014 is “the country’s best in 10 years” which is of course utter bunkum and balderdash.

The TI CPI 2014 is the country’s best in six years under Najib’s premiership, but the worst compared to Tun Abdullah’s premiership with TI CPI from 2004 to 2008 ranging from 39th to 47th ranking and even worse in the nine years of Mahathir’s premiership from 1995 – 2003, ranking from 23rd placing in 1995 to No. 37th placing in 2003.

With such poor results both in TI CPI rankings and public perceptions down the years, confirmed by the most recent Merdeka Center survey, how could Najib and his platoon of anti-corruption publicists, claim credit for “laurels” achieved in the field of anti-corruption, when corruption under Najib was even worse than both Mahathir and Abdullah?

The annual TI CPI series in now 20 years old.

Studying the TI CPI 2014 ranking and score for the 175 countries and the 20-year series of TI CPI from 1995-2014, there is no reason or ground for anyone to believe that the target of Malaysia being ranked in the top 30 of TI CPI in 2020 is a realistic or achievable one.

In fact, come 2020, Malaysia faces the risk of being overtaken by China and even Indonesia in both in TI CPI ranking and score, when in the first TI CPI in 1995, Malaysia was ranked No. 23 out of 41 countries with a score of 5.28 out of 10, while China and Indonesia were ranked as the last two bottom countries with CPI score of 2.16 and 1.94 out of 10 respectively (i.e. hovering in the lowest 90 percentile of the CPI score).

If Malaysia is to occupy the top 30 percentile of the CPI index in 2020, we must achieve at least the top 35 percentile of the CPI score and not just 52/100, as the score of Bhutan, ranked No. 30 in the TI CPI 2014 index, has a score of 65.

However, in the last 20 years, Malaysia achieved the dubious distinction as one of the few countries which had been downgraded both in TI CPI ranking and score, and losing out to countries which had lower CPI ranking and score in 1995 as well as now at risk of being overtaken by countries including China and Indonesia which had been at the bottom of TI CPI in 1995.

For instance, Malaysia ranked No. 23 with CPI score of 5.28/10 in 1995, was ahead of Taiwan (Rank 25 Score 5.08), Spain (R 26 Sc 4.35), South Korea (R 27 Sc 4.29) Hungary (R 28 Sc 4.12) but in the 2014 TI CPI have lost out to Taiwan (R 35 Sc 61), Spain (R 37 Sc 60), South Korea (R 43 Sc 55) and Hungary (R 47 Sc 54).

Unlike Malaysia, which has achieved a lower percentile score in the past 20 years, i.e. 5.28/10 in 1995 to 52/100 in 2014, all other countries in Asia have improved on their percentile score in the past 20 years from 1995 to 2014, eg. Thailand from 2.79/10 to 38/100; India from 2.78/10 to 38/100; Philippines from 2.77/10 to 38/100; Pakistan from 2.25/10 to 29/100; China from 2.16/10 to 36/100 (dropping from 40/100 last year) and Indonesia from 1.94/10 to 34/100.

What should concern all Malaysians is that from these trends, Malaysia runs the risk of being overtaken by both Indonesia and China before 2020 in the annual TI CPI both in ranking and score unless Malaysia quickly buck up and show its seriousness on the anti-corruption front.

In Indonesia, the new President Joko Widodo is personally leading the campaign against corruption while in China, though it had dropped four points in the TI CPI score last year, its corruption campaign against “tigers and flies” have seen a tremendous improvement in China’s i TI CPI score in the past two decades.

Corruption arrests and prosecutions against tigers and crocodiles, whether ministerial rank or equivalents, are now a common scene in the anti-corruption campaigns in Indonesia and China, but there had not been a single “shark” successfully prosecuted for corruption in Malaysia in over three decades.

How are Malaysians going to hold their heads high when in the coming decade, the world perceive Malaysia as being even more corrupt than Indonesia and China?

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah