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          Behind every great fortune is a great crime ~ Honoré de Balzac

We are certainly seeing things we never thought we’d live to see – the big man’s houses being raided and police trucks taking out a stunning amount of treasure from them, former high-flyers being blocked from leaving the country or summoned to appear before investigating committees, and once mighty officials being probed for dereliction of duty, if not outright malfeasance.

Day of reckoning

It is certainly so encouraging to see our new government putting the fight against corruption at the forefront of its priorities.  For too long the corrupt have plundered the nation with impunity; their day of reckoning is now at hand.

Hopefully, we will now see a proper accounting of the billions and billions that were looted through hundreds of shady deals involving many cronies and corporations. We should prepare ourselves for a series of shocking revelations in the weeks ahead.

But even as we rejoice to see justice being done, we might do well to remember that fighting corruption is like fighting termites. You cannot kill off 90% of the termites, for example, and declare “mission accomplished.” Termites, after all, have a way of coming back. The only way to solve a termite infestation is to eradicate it completely.

Likewise, if we truly want to rid our nation of corruption, there has to be an absolute commitment to zero tolerance of corruption. The singular message that must go forth is that those who are corrupt will be hunted down and prosecuted no matter who they are, how long it takes or where they stash their ill-gotten gains.

After the excesses of the Najib administration, the people will not settle for anything less.

Litmus test

We now have a new MACC chief. He certainly has both the credibility and integrity that were so obviously absent in his immediate predecessor. He courageously, and at risk to himself, took a stand against Najib’s malfeasance and suffered for it. He comes across as an outspoken, no-nonsense kind of guy. No doubt, all Malaysians will be in his corner cheering him on as he wages  war on corruption.

Understandably, the immediate focus is on Najib and his cronies given the staggering sums involved and the urgency in recovering the billions stolen from public funds.  However, Najib is also an easy target now that he’s out of office and the object of much public vilification and anger.

The real test of the resolve and political will to fight corruption is what comes after.  How far back will the new MACC chief go in rooting out corruption? How wide a net will he cast? Will he be able to summon the courage yet again to go after any and every one who is corrupt, particularly those in high places?

The litmus test of the MACC’s commitment to eradicating corruption might well be the way it handles long standing allegations of corruption involving Sarawak Governor Taib Mahmud, among others. Both the Swiss NGO Bruno Manser Fund and Sarawak Report, for example, have alleged suspicious financial transactions involving the Taib family going back many years. The nation will, no doubt, be watching with bated breath.

Whatever it is, unless the net is cast further and wider, and sooner rather than later, there is a danger that the on-going investigations against Najib and his cronies might be seen as a one-off affair  rather than the beginning of a sustained, all-out offensive against corruption wherever it may be found.

Strengthening the MACC

To ensure that the kind of unbridled corruption of the Najib years never returns to our shores again, at least three things need to happen:

  1. Empower the MACC with all the tools it needs to get the job done, including independent prosecutorial powers. The MACC should also be made accountable to parliament rather than the executive. Some countries have even given their graft busters  legal authority to demand that suspects explain suspicious wealth; it is something that should be seriously considered.
  1. Build a culture of zero tolerance of corruption. Whistle-blowers like Rafizi Ramli should be fully protected. In fact, citizens should be encouraged to see it as their patriotic duty to report corruption. And, let every mosque, every temple, every church, every school and university constantly remind people that corruption is a sin against God and a crime against the nation.
  1. Establish a commission to enable those who have stolen public funds to confess their crime and make restitution in exchange for a full pardon. Those who are repentant can have their freedom; those who refuse should face the full wrath of the law.

Watching & waiting

To be sure, these are still early days. Mahathir has already chalked up an impressive list of achievements, arguably accomplishing more to change the political culture of our nation in a week than others have in their entire term of office.

He will need time to put in place all the reforms, including tackling corruption, that Pakatan Harapan committed itself to in its manifesto.

But people are watching and waiting. They do not want the nation to miss this golden opportunity to rid itself, once and for all, of the culture of corruption that has hobbled our nation for so long.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 24thMarch 2018]

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