Managing poor public perception of MACC
The Deputy Chief Commissioner (Prevention) Datuk Seri Mustafar Ali has publicly described the negative public perception of the MACC as “quite alarming!”
He is right; the public perception of the MACC and its effectiveness is indeed seriously negative and alarmingly so.
Worse still, this poor public perception is broadly perceived as actually justified.
As a previous chairman of the MACC Panel on the prevention of corruption, many of my colleagues and I had felt a deep sense of frustration in trying hard to improve the bad public perception.
I can therefore empathise with Mustafar’s sense of despair, and even hopelessness, in his determined and dedicated struggle against worsening corruption in our country.
After all, the Transparency-International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) has been consistently performing poorly, despite some relevant efforts by MACC to improve it.
Why is public perception so poor?
Instead of lamenting over the poor public perception of MACC, we should find out why this public perception continues to persist and perpetuate itself on almost a permanent profile?
I believe that the commission must know, after all these years of struggle against corruption, that the public perception is indeed bad and declining because, inter alia:
1. The public generally do not believe that the government is sufficiently serious, determined and fully committed to fight corruption to the end. Much of the public still say that if the government was really serious, more “big fishes” would have been caught by now.
2. The major cause and Mother of Corruption is widely deemed to be money politics. So far, the introduction of tougher laws to fight money politics has been soft and slow in coming. They must be made stiffer.
Otherwise huge gifts can be made unconditionally to those in high places as donations, which would normally be reasonably regarded as corruption. Why would anyone give such generous gifts, unless it is for some questionable reason and consideration?
It is incredible that anyone, especially foreigners, can be so magnanimous to give away so much so kindly. No one in his right mind would give gigantic gifts to those who hold low office, as they cannot get or receive favours in return. Only the rich and powerful can and will do so for some gain, at the expense of the people!
The MACC must Commission an independent and professional study to ascertain the reason people have such alarmingly negative perceptions. Make sure the study is transparent and made widely available to the public. Thus, the rakyat will develop more empathy and support for the MACC.
3. The MACC has been crying out for reforms of its laws and its organisation. One reform Mustafar has alluded to in his useful press interview is the old MACC appeal to institute an independent service commission.
This has been consistently opposed by the government. Hence, the people ask again, how serious then is the government in wanting to combat corruption?
4. Another important issue Mustafar referred to was the serious constraints suffered by MACC, that it has no powers to prosecute.
In other words, although Mustafar did not say so, the commission can do its best investigations, but the Attorney-General may take little or even no action. He can just close the case. MACC’s investigations can be left high and dry. In the public eye, wouldn’t they then be perceived as a toothless tiger?
5. The government, for all these reasons, should thus appoint a commission to revise, update and reform the MACC Act, to ensure it is much more powerful and effective. This is not difficult to do if there is strong political leadership and political will.
The Opposition should also push to introduce legislation against money politics instead of opposing some positive changes.
6. Finally, the Government must seriously consider introducing laws, like in some countries, where those suspected of corruption must bear the onus of proof, that they are not corrupt. Thus, those who “live beyond their means and have accumulated wealth they cannot account for will have to prove their innocence of corruption.
Corruption in Malaysia us perceived to have permeated our whole national system. Most Malaysians now have frustrations and fearful forebodings that our beloved nation can be eaten away by the ants of corruption in our fragile multiracial and multireligious society.
What I have said cannot be mentioned more pointedly without being rude and rough. I cannot speak crudely as a former senior civil servant and former Transparency-International Malaysian president. But I believe I have made my point strongly and can only hope the government will please listen to us, the caring rakyat.
We therefore, have to act fast, to reform MACC and our anti-corruption laws. Otherwise, we will face wider and uglier perceptions of corruption.
Article published in The Malay Mail.