By: Murray Hunter
After 72-year-old Anwar Ibrahim’s appointment as Malaysia’s prime minister on November 24, he said the fight against corruption would be one of his administration’s top priorities, with the country’s reputation not only affected by one of the biggest financial scandals in Asia. history, but by endemic filth in the coalition that had ruled the country for 70 years.
Anwar, recently in his first return to Penang, where he grew up, stated The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is the body responsible for investigating corruption. However, the current chief commissioner of the MACC, Azam Baki, has been the subject of heavy criticism over personal shareholdings that appeared to be worth far beyond the statutory limits prescribed by his position, and indeed suspiciously large for an individual in a civil servant job. More The MACC itself was the subject of an exposé involving the relationships that some executive officers had with business entities.
In addition, the agency sat on several major investigations during the reign of former prime minister Najib Razak, who is serving a 12-year prison sentence, most famously – or infamously – the investigation into the spectacularly corrupt 1Malaysia Development Bhd, which collapsed in incompetence and scandal with a loss of 5, 6 billion USD and left the government in debt for billions more. These allegations have tarnished the integrity of the MACC, which has been credibly accused of selective investigation and prosecution not only under Barisan Nasional, which lost power in 2018, but also during Mahathir Mohamad’s reign as prime minister between 2018 and 2020, and with stories that circulates about general corruption in the organization.
These criticisms have all been made by critics outside the MACC until now. But according to some within the anti-corruption agency itself, there is much discontent among the rank and file, with many suffering from poor morale due to abuse of power by a few at the top who bypass their efforts, especially with cases involving so-called VVIPs. Officers become disillusioned when they see politically connected cronies shielded from investigation and/or criminal action against them. This is sometimes aided and abetted by politicians who lead some investigations. Some claim that these activities are carried out under the direction of Azam himself.
Some senior MACC officials are said to be involved in the senior management of major companies to suppress investigations and gain financial benefits to protect them. Tactics such as removing key evidence are said to be used to sabotage potential prosecutions. Other officers are said to protect entertainment venues in exchange for money and gifts.
MACC officers also behave corruptly with their own Anti-Corruption Academy, with contracts given to cronies. Most government departments follow suit with this practice. Officials complain that many state-level cases are blocked at headquarters, and State Department investigators are forced to drop investigations.
Soon after Anwar became prime minister, Azam met with Anwar, although what was discussed is not known. It is widely known that Azam is very close to the new Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, a member of Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat. Many critics fear Azam’s contract will be renewed later this year and the MACC will continue to be plagued by corruption and remain ineffective.
Some officers worry that the agency is once again becoming selective about who it investigates and prosecutes. There are rumors that the MACC under Azam may even turn against Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in an attempt to eliminate him from the future political equation. They are disillusioned with being used as a political tool, rather than a real anti-corruption watchdog.
The MACC itself risks becoming corrupt, with selectivity in prosecutions leading to a total meltdown of its true function, which was based on Hong Kong’s famous Independent Anti-Corruption Commission but has failed to live up to its mandate. Many inside the MACC have told the Asia Sentinel that Azam must be removed immediately, and a sweep out of the top management. Some believe it is already too late and that the MACC should be disbanded and a new independent anti-corruption body rebuilt instead. MACC is in crisis and Anwar must focus on solving this.