A great international shame if Malaysia should lose out to Thailand in any international corruption perception index after allowing South Korea and Taiwan to overtake it in the PERC rankings in the past decade

Speech (4)
on the Royal Address 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Wednesday): The biggest disconnect between rhetoric and reality in the past 17 months  is the battle against corruption, as the government, through the Royal Address,  has painted a glowing picture and claimed “numerous successes in combating corruption” when this is one important area where the “feel good euphoria” which resulted in the unprecedented landslide Barisan Nasional victory  last year is being replaced by a general sense of “feeling not good” at the lack of action and results. 

The Royal Address said: “It is evident that the punitive and preventive approaches used in combating corruption have succeeded”. However, such evidence escape the majority of Malaysians, as little  concrete results have been achieved in the battle against corruption apart from media events like the launching of the National Integrity Plan and the Integrity Institute of Malaysia, which by themselves do nothing to advance the fight against corruption. 

There had been thunderous silence in the past two weeks in Malaysia on the 2005 corruption ranking of the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd. (PERC), whether by the Malaysian media, the anti-corruption agencies like the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) and the Integrity  Institute of Malaysia or the government - – casting a most adverse reflection not only on the anti-corruption commitment of the new Prime Minister and his administration, but also on the parlous state of the media and freedom of information, and the commitment of Malaysia to a K-based economy where knowledge is the most critical factor of production. 

In the latest PERC annual corruption table in Asia  released on 9th March 2005,   which every year is based on a poll of expatriates working in Asia on their perceptions on corruption,  Malaysia had fallen two places and ranked No. 6 as compared to 10 years ago, when Malaysia was ranked No. 4, losing  out to South Korea and Taiwan in the past decade, as well as having a worse corruption score, as follows: 

Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) Corruption Survey 

  1996       2005  
  Rank Score  Rank Score
Singapore 1.09 1 0.65
Japan 1.93   3.46
Hong Kong 3 2.79 3 3.50
Malaysia 4 5.00 6.80
South Korea 5 5.16 6.50
Taiwan 6 5.53 4 6.15
Thailand 7 6.55 7 7.20
India 8 6.86 9 8.63
Philippines 9 6.95   11 8.80
Indonesia 10 7.69 12 9.10
Vietnam  11 7.78 10 8.65
China 12 8.00 8 7.68

(Grades are scaled from zero to 10, with zero being the best grade possible and 10 the worst) 

With a grade of 5.0 ten years ago, Malaysia just passed the corruption score, but today, Malaysia has failed the corruption score with 6.80 grade. 

In actual fact, Malaysia’s grade of 6.80  in the 2005 PERC Corruption Survey is an improvement from last year’s grade of 7.33, which was a serious deterioration from the 2003 PERC score of 6.00 – which was explained by PERC last year as “largely due to the willingness of the government under Prime Minister  Abdullah Badawi to admit that the problem of corruption exist, compared with the rule of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad”. 

In releasing its 2004  Corruption Survey last year, PERC clarified on the deterioration of Malaysia’s score from 6.00 in 2003 to 7.33 in 2004: 

“It does not mean that corruption has actually increased this much in the past year but the latest grade is a correction from underestimates in earlier years.” 

The consultancy held Malaysia was an example of a country where the perception grade has worsened but the problem of corruption was being addressed more decisively. 

What is the explanation for Malaysia’s inability to improve on its grade in the latest  PERC Corruption Survey to before the assumption of the premiership by Abdullah, or to get a passing grade of below 5.0, despite the anti-corruption campaign  being elevated as a top priority agenda? 

In releasing its 2005 survey, PERC noted that the Prime Minister has generated strong public support with his anti-graft stance, but allegations of internal corruption in the ruling coalition have resurfaced. 

Having lost out to South Korea and Taiwan in the PERC 2005 ranking as compared to a decade ago in 1996, Malaysia now runs the risk of losing  out to Thailand in the near future, as Thailand has narrowed its difference in the PERC score with Malaysia from 1.55 points to  0.40 points in the past decade.

It would be a  great international shame if Malaysia should lose out to Thailand in any international corruption perception index after allowing South Korea and Taiwan to overtake it in the PERC rankings in the past decade. 

Malaysia received dishonourable mention in the Transparency International’s Global Corruption Report 2005 released yesterday, with Sarawak’s Bakun dam listed in its  “Monuments of corruption” in its study focusing on how corruption in the construction sector undermines economic development.

Malaysia’s slide from 37th position in 2003  to 39th position in the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index  (CPI) 2004 – which coincided with Abdullah’s first full year as Prime Minister – should be grim warning that the anti-corruption drive is not making any significant headway  and the urgent need for  drastic measures if the battle against corruption is not to be lost altogether with Malaysia slipping  further in the 2005 TI CPI.

It is most disturbing that there is a prevalent denial syndrome about  the complex problem of corruption in Malaysia when the country has even fallen below the target set by the National Integrity Plan (PIN) launched by the Prime Minister last April, i.e. to improve on the 37th placing in 2003 to  attain the 30th ranking in 2008  in the TI CPI ranking, or a very modest goal of improving by  seven placings in five years or  a betterment of 1.4 positioning per year.

However, in the first year of the 2004-2008 PIN target, Malaysian had fallen behind two places instead of making a modest advance.

This denial syndrome was on demonstration during question-time in Parliament  yesterday when Nazri accused the Opposition of being “deaf and  blind or does not read newspapers” about the government’s anti-corruption campaign – reminding me of Hans Andersen’s fairy tale about The Emperor with No  Clothes but claiming to be best clothed.   Nazri wants Parliament and the country to believe that anti-corruption is the government’s top priority agenda, but this perception is not shared either by the international community or even by Malaysians themselves.

Malaysia had fallen 16 places in 10 years from 23rd ranking in 1995 to 39th placing last year in the TI CPI.  There are legitimate and widespread concerns that this downward spiral is not being arrested, let alone reversed.  Instead of addressing the problem of such poor international corruption perception rankings, the government has decided instead to draft its own Corruption Perception Index instead, which is going to face grave credibility problems if its primary objective is to counter the adverse international indices.

Anti-Corruption should be top priority agenda in Parliament, not only with an urgent  legislative amendment to make the ACA answerable only to Parliament, but also for a parliamentary resolution to revise the very modest target of the National Integrity Plan to attain the 30th ranking in the TI CPI in 2008 so as to regain  Malaysia’s No. 23  placing in 1995 as well as  the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on National Integrity to monitor the anti-corruption drive.

The time has also come  for Malaysia to have a Grand Coalition against Corruption comprising political parties, NGOs, mass media  and anti-corruption entities in government  to ensure that Malaysia can avert the corruption crisis presently rocking Kenya for the failure of the Kenyan  President Mwai Kibaki  to deliver his election pledge two years ago to clean up the rampant corruption during former President Daniel arap Moi’s 24-year rule. 


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman