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“Let us put it generally: if a regime is immoral, its subjects are free from all obligations to it.” ~ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The facts are clear enough. Azam Baki, the head of the nation’s anti-corruption agency was found to be in possession of millions of shares in publicly listed companies. Faced with demands for an explanation, Azam has been nothing but evasive. Whether or not malfeasance is involved, enough doubt has now been raised to call into question both the integrity of the anti-corruption agency and its chief. 

One would have thought that the sensible thing to do would have been for Azam to step aside and a thorough enquiry conducted to determine if malfeasance had occurred. But sensible is not a word commonly associated with Putrajaya these days. Instead, we see the sorry spectacle of a government running around like a headless chicken, trying to shake off yet another scandal. No one takes leadership or responsibility. All involved pass the buck, shrug their shoulders or look the other way. None seem willing to do their duty or act with integrity or stand up for what is right.

What it tells us is that the Ismail Sabri administration is now completely dysfunctional and disconnected from reality. All the usual institutional checks and balances have broken down. Instead of upholding the law and demanding the highest standards of integrity from public officials, there is a rush to cover up, explain away or ignore egregious allegations of misconduct. The whole of Putrajaya is now becoming a fetid swamp of corruption, malfeasance and dishonesty.

Based on Azam’s laughable explanation (that the shares were not his but purchased by his brother in his name), the Anti-Corruption Advisory Board chairman, Abu Zahar Ujang, quickly cleared him of any wrongdoing. The Securities Commission, which not so long ago successfully prosecuted someone less politically protected for a similar offense, said that it was “not able to conclusively establish” if Azam had violated the law on the use of trading accounts. It then clarified that Azam did in fact own and operate the account and thus no laws had been broken.

Shamefully, Parliament too went along with the charade. Calls for the Select Committee on agencies under Prime Minister’s department to summon Azam for questioning were stymied by the committee chairman, while the speaker refused to entertain calls for a debate on the issue. In any case, Azam himself thumbed his nose at Parliament and there was nothing that anybody could do about it. 

Seizing upon the ‘findings’ of the Securities Commission, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri declared the matter closed and urged everyone to “just accept the decision”. In the meantime, minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament & Law) Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told the press that the cabinet discussed “the pros and cons” of the case and then decided to let either the Finance Ministry or the Securities Commission address the matter. In other words, the cabinet – the highest political decision-making body in the land – shamefully passed the buck to someone else.

And of course, PAS leader Hadi Awang felt obliged to inject his usual incoherent, half-baked, quasi-religious rants into the whole narrative. According to media reports, he attacked the media for highlighting the case and lamented what he saw as “media freedom practiced by western countries [which was] akin to putting the people’s voice on a pedestal”.  And for good measure, he added that secular societies do not understand the concept of dosa (sins) and pahala (blessings). Don’t even try to figure that one out!

Typically, while the government is slow to act against malfeasance in high places, it is quick to act against peaceful protesters. The formidable power of the state was on full display yesterday morning as LRT stations were shuttered, protest leaders detained and hundreds of police officers deployed to disrupt the ‘TangkapAzamBaki’ (Arrest Azam Baki) demonstration and intimidate protesters. Was it a case of the state protecting its own against the ire of ordinary citizens? As human rights lawyer and activist Siti Kasim remarked, “If only they investigate Azam Baki with the same efficiency, there won’t be any protests.”

The Opposition is not without blame either. They have hammered away at the government on the issue, and rightly so, but remember that it is their MOU with Ismail Sabri that now sustains this morally compromised and dysfunctional government in power. It is the height of hypocrisy for opposition parties to join anti-government protesters on the streets while at the same time keeping the same government in power. They either leverage the MOU to obtain genuine and immediate concessions from the prime minister – including a transparent investigation into the Azam Baki affair – or pull the plug on this useless, clueless, worthless government.

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur | 23rd January 2022]