Corruption Complex: Who Will Bell the Cat?

Corruption in Malaysia
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Event date: 28 April 2021

INPUMA (International Institute of Public Policy and Management) is organising a series of six (6) policy talks (3 in English and 3 in Bahasa Malaysia) under its INPUMA Policy Talk Series: The Corruption Complex in Malaysia.

INPUMA invited Datuk Ramesh Chander, Former Chief Statistician of Malaysia & Former Statistical Advisor, World Bank, Tan Sri Abu Kassim bin Mohamed, Advisor to the government and Ms.Rajni Bajpai, Lead Public Sector Specialist, World Bank Group, Malaysia as a guest speakers and moderated by Dr.Nungsari Ahmad Radhi, Former Chairman,Khazanah Research Institute. On the first policy talk Corruption Complex: Who will bell the cat?

The discussion open by Dr. Shakila Yacob, Executive director of INPUMA. On her opening speech she explained that INPUMA hope to develop a new set of recommendation to address the nation on going corruption. “We cannot just rely on the government, the government alone cannot eradicate the corruption”, she said. Instead she believe in society approach, this societal approach is crucial to pushed for popular movement, that will neither rationalise corrupt behaviours nor tolerate this dishonesty and injustice, values and believes that should be upheld, all citizen must inform of their rights and duty and also empowered with access to data and information.

She closed her remarks by saying “A corrupt government divides people, adjust government unites people, to pursue solidarity, building trust is critical. Trust indeed a decisive element for government to rule effectively”.

Datuk Ramesh Chander, Former Chief Statistician of Malaysia & Former Statistical Advisor, World Bank. Share his opinion that corruption can be trace, the emergence of corruption as serious problem can be trace to the emergence of money politic. Money politic started from political parties that constituted the government from a long - long period. He also share 5 methods on what can be done to address the issues:

1. Take the whole business of money politics, that's going to required legislation to some extent. Legislation that would control political financing of political activities.

2. We need to be more transparent about budgeting and how public fund are used to deliver the services that the public deserve by rights.

3. We need a package of legal reforms: the repeal of oppressive such as official’s secret act and transparent government and substitute by freedom of information act.

4. We need institutional reforms concerning GLC (Government Link Company) which it become an instrument in promoting corruption. First start, we need to accept, elected officials that should not be involved in position of power in the GLCs.

5. Strengthen MACC (Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission) with the commissioner being appointed by parliament and one who could not be removed without parliamentary approval.

Tan Sri Abu Kassim bin Mohamed, Advisor to the government. Share his concern for those who trying to bell the cat. “It is a dangerous job”, he said. A lot of my friend, some of them has been put into retirement immediately, after they get involved crossing certain time that might dangerous to the leader, and also some of them are very lucky, they will be taken out from chief commissionaire by getting promotion, so it’s professional way to take somebody out for doing a good job, and at the same time there are also anti-corruption officer who have been killed, injured, due to trying his best to fight corruption, he explained. He also added “Political funding and donation on General Election (EC) and party level is the mother of corruption”.

Malaysia's had such a reach history of lots of reforms: legislation, institutions, blue prints, so many documents put out there, nobody needs to tell Malaysia what needs to be done. Because everything is documented in the NACP (National Anti-Corruption Plan), so the solution for everything is implement the NACP. Now the question is how to implement NACP? Said Ms.Rajni Bajpai, Lead Public Sector Specialist, World Bank Group, Malaysia.

She further explained that the “biggest constraints is not just tackling corruption, but also tackling a lot of other things, like improve services delivery, digitalization, how do you improve life’s of people, provide social security, I think the gap stem with implementation”.

Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is a good indicator but with many limitation. Instead of looking at the ranking or numbers, are we increasing or decreasing, It’s not going to improve the life of people, even if you go from 52 to 55 it’s not going to make a big impact in the lives of people, she explained.

For her there are 2 kind of corruption: First, Petty corruption, that impacts days to days life of people, when people have to pay a bribe to get their child into school, or pay a bribe to get access to healthcare, driving license, etc. Second, Rank and more systematic corruption, this will be on political level (political funding, etc.)

She also share some tools to control corruption that had worked in a lot of countries and had a huge impact on corruption and service delivery. First, Technology, if human do not behave or misbehave, just replace them with machine who can automate and who automatically will do the job so it’s reduce human interface into less corruption. There are lot of services that automation has resulted that can reduce corruption. But technology has to be company with a lot of complimentary analogues and that would means you'll have to change policies, and procedure that go with that technology, it also meaning building skills in the public service. Second, Transparency, goes a very along way in reducing corruption, building trust, and there are so many thing likes, social audit, Citizen report card, etc. She was quite struck that she learn Malaysia star rating agencies, but then she question who is rating these people? Why don't we have citizen to rating? Because citizen are the one who are receiving this services. There no point government rating another government agencies. She think citizen need to be brought in that, and is one of the thing about civil society movement. Government can use providing information as a very powerful tool to build trust. Third, Asset and income declaration, from her organization work abroad, some countries has weak system and some has sophisticated system, but there is issue on what kind of information is going in there? Is it just the Member of Parliaments or their family? Or their extended family? Because there are so many ways to hide this assets, is the information being provided to public? There are countries that gone that far, that the information put out on public, so public become monitoring mechanism.

This is not a prescription to tackle everywhere, she stated. Based on her organization research there are a view things that worked very well: Building institution capacity and legislating things so they don't backtrack once the government takes decision and so the other one will not come back and reversed it, increasing transparency, improving incentive for people, using technology where ever possible,  and fostering collaboration at every level within the government, people, across the boundaries and across government and for all of these you do need political leadership but that does not mean small efforts cannot be started.

Corruption Complex: Who Will Bell the Cat?

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