Datuk Paul Low has been a respected civil society leader at the forefront of preaching transparency and accountability while he served as the President of Transparency International Malaysian Chapter (TI-Malaysia). His appointment to the Cabinet has hence raised expectations that Datuk Paul Low will continue his pursuit of reforming all necessary institutions to ensure that his causes while he was the TI Malaysia President will be realised the soonest possible.
It is hence heart-wrenching to see Datuk Paul Low repeatedly unwind the various positions after being appointed as a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, ostensibly to boost transparency and accountability in the BN administration.
He has given excuses why a Minister should not be required to make public declaration of assets on the basis that if a Minister’s son with RM20 million of assets may have his safety compromised. This was despite his earlier praise for the Penang and Selangor state governments for implementing public asset declarations for all its state executive councillors as a mark of transparency and accountability.
He has deflected criticisms of the lack of transparency in Petronas as reflected in the Revenue Governance Index (RGI) where Malaysia scored a weak 46 out of 100 marks, ranking us below countries like Azerbaijan and Indonesia. Datuk Paul Low argued that Malaysia ranked poorly because of Petronas’ non-disclosure agreements with foreign countries. However, when it was pointed out to him that the RGI report pointed clearly to weaknesses in local disclosures, Datuk Paul Low gave a “no comment”.
What was most disheartening however was Datuk Paul Low’s refusal to endorse the Indepependent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC). He has earlier been reported to have said that there isn’t a need for an IPCMC because there is already an Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC). He then “backtracked” from his comments 2 days later claiming he was merely pointing out an existing mechanism in the form of the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) for death in custody victim N Dharmendran’s family when asked on the need for the IPCMC.
Despite his supposed reversal, the fact remains that he has refused to endorse the IPCMC, giving the flimsiest of excuse that he “did not want to get into a tit-for-tat match over the matter”. In 2009 however, the then TI-Malaysia President has presented in the Global Corruption Report:
The implementation of the watereddown Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to a Special Complaints Commission (SCC) indicates the inability of the government to regulate gatekeepers. The IPCMC, which was the recommendation of the 2005 Royal Commission, was diluted after open revolt from the top brass of the Royal Malaysian Police.
As of yesterday, there are now 3 deaths in Police custody over a period of just 11 days, and 7 in 2013 alone. No one has been punished, and the Minister of Home Affairs, Dato’ Seri Zahid Hamidi has refused to have the officers who are suspected of foul play suspended. 3 deaths in 11 days, 7 in 5 months are statistics which cannot be ignored. Justice needs to be served and it cannot be served if there are no independent regulatory bodies to check the powers of the police force.
We appeal to the conscience of Datuk Paul Low who has often spoken up without fear or favour on issues of transparency and accountability in the past, to be the conscience in the BN cabinet. While he was a former MCA member, today he does not belong to any political party and he is not beholden to anyone but his own moral sense of right and wrong.
Datuk Paul Low has taken the brave and bold decision to accept the Cabinet position in an attempt to do the seemingly “impossible” task of “reforming from within”. However if he is not even willing to stand up on his own convictions that transparency and accountability are prerequisites to good governance which cannot be compromised, and to pursue justice for the victims of abuses of power, then whatever little hope the nation still have left will be lost.