Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) needs strong finishing

Biggest seizure: A case that caught the attention of the nation was the seizure of cash, jewellery and other expensive items from the homes of two former top Sabah Water Department officials in October last year.

ONE need not go far to see how effective the Government can be when dealing with highly problematic issues involving people who blatantly do not comply with the rules.

After the National Higher Education Fund Corp (PTPTN) issued a warning to loan defaulters that they would be blacklisted and may not be able to travel abroad, the repayment of their loans increased. There is almost a 300% jump in withdrawals from the Employees Provident Fund’s (EPF) account for education purposes – rising from RM578mil in 2015 to RM1.48bil last year.

According to officials from the EPF, the bulk of the money withdrawn has been channelled toward the repayment of loans owed to PTPTN.

Clearly, the prospects of being blacklisted – a record that will remain forever – and the possibility of being stopped at the airport before leaving overseas for a holiday are reasons enough for them to repay their loans.

The lackadaisical attitude of those who have taken student loans is just another sign of apathy. The former students who are now young working adults know very well that they have an obligation to repay the loans.

However, they do not bother to do so until measures are put in place to hit them hard where it matters.

On a larger scale, corruption is a big problem in Malaysia. It is a major problem that has reached a state where most companies set aside a certain amount to “grease” key people to get jobs.

Everybody knows the danger of getting caught but the practice continues. Towards this end, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has, in recent months, been on overdrive to nab those suspected of corrupt activities.

But has the message that the MACC means business been drilled down?

In South Korea, former president Park Geun-hye was detained on April 1 ahead of her trial. Prosecutors said the allegations against her were grave and the other suspects in the case, including her confidante Choi Soon-sil and Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong, have already been arrested.

In that country, it’s clear that corruption will not be tolerated. Those being investigated will be put behind bars even before the trial starts.

In the last few months, a regular feature in newspapers is the string of high-profile personalities who have been arrested for allegations involving bribery or money laundering.

They include politicians, civil servants, heads of government-linked funds and businessmen. Those who solicit bribes and the parties that give the money or even facilitate bribery have been arrested and remanded.

Some of them have been charged before being let off on bail.

Pictures of the persons involved are all over the newspapers and social media. In some cases, names are mentioned.

The “shaming and naming” of the people hauled up and being investigated is damaging. It is the talk of the town – especially among the private-sector businessmen.

However, there are some reservations on whether the efforts by the MACC would pay off.

At the end of the day, what would matter is seeing how many get prosecuted successfully; how many are handed down custodial sentences.

And most importantly, the speed in which these cases are disposed of by the courts.

For now, most of these MACC cases are already being filed in court and some have been charged. But the trial proper is a process that is likely to take a long time.

And the danger is the momentum will slow down when there is no speedy end to the cases.

There is also the issue of managing perception when there are delays in the outcome.

For instance, two senior officials of the Federal Land development Authority (Felda) were charged with criminal breach of trust involving RM47.6mil for a sturgeon-breeding project in March this year. The offences were allegedly committed between January and July 2014. The hearing will probably start in a few months.

In the meantime, Felda continues to fight the battle to improve its perception on improving governance and returns on its investments.

The share price of Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd is a far cry from the valuations it fetched during its listing in 2012. The returns from the RM2bil that Felda has invested in Felda Investment Corp is nothing much to shout about.

One case that has caught the attention of the nation was the seizure of cash, jewellery and other expensive items from the homes of two former top Sabah Water Department officials in October last year.

According to reports, it took 30 MACC officers and 15 hours to count the cash of more than RM53mil that was seized.

The display of the stacks of bank notes seized from the homes is still an image that is popular on social media. The case, touted as the nation’s biggest corruption case involving RM61.4mil in cash and other assets, has been fixed for hearing in July and August this year. According to reports, some 200 witnesses will be called for the case.

When the case will be concluded is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, it leaves many wondering if the MACC would be successful in its efforts.

Corruption affects the country as a whole. It is estimated that there is a leakage of about 20% of the annual spending for projects and procurement. For instance, the Federal Government development expenditure for 2016 was about RM50bil and 20% is easily RM10bil.

Larger sums are budgeted for government agencies that are not part of the Federal Government balance sheet. This includes the likes of Mass Rapid Transit Corp Sdn Bhd that handles the rail infrastructure projects running into 10s of billions of ringgit. The government-linked companies are another set of entities with big budgets.

What the MACC needs now is a speedy end to such high-profile cases.

Whether the prosecution is successful or otherwise, a quick closure to such cases will help MACC instil public confidence in it. A strong finish to the investigations is much needed.

By M.Shanmugam The Star

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