DAP calls for review of Anti-Corruption Act 1997 as to why in the past six years it had failed to net the “big sharks” as promised in Parliament but instead had marked a further decline in Malaysia’s world ranking from 29th position in 1998 TI CPI to the present 37th placing

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(PenangTuesday): The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim, is both right and wrong when he said there is no need for more amendments to the Anti-Corruption Act as its provisions are adequate enough.

Rais said on Sunday  that there is no need to change any law as “the Anti-Corruption Act, Criminal laws, Criminal Procedure Code...all of these are complete” and that the problem was implementing the law in a way that was orderly, professional and fair.

"We should be more efficient and create the mechanism for the law to have the best effect and there should also be more monitoring," he said.

The 1997 Anti-Corruption Act is adequate to make a significant impact in an all-out war against corruption, as in restoring Malaysia to her earlier 23rd ranking among the world’s  least corrupt nations in 1995, but not strong and stringent enough if Malaysia wants to take the quantum leap to be internationally recognized as among the world’s ten least corrupt nations.

If Malaysia aspires to be a world leader for “clean, incorruptible, modest and beyond suspicion” government, the 1997 Anti-Corruption Act must  be further strengthened, and this was why I had proposed 29 amendments to the Anti-Corruption Act when it was presented as a bill  to Parliament in July 1997.  All the reasons which I had given at the time for the 29  amendments to create a new political culture of zero tolerance for corruption and a  strong, independent,  professional Anti-Corruption Agency to spearhead the battle against corruption remain valid today.

Although I still believe that the Anti-Corruption Act should be amended to make it a stronger piece of legislation to ensure a more effective battle against corruption, I fully agree with Rais that amendments to the Anti-Corruption Act is not the top priority at the moment.  What should immediately concern all Malaysians committed to an all-out war against corruption is to ensure the enforcement of  existing provisions of the Anti-Corruption Act 1997.  

The 1997 Anti-Corruption Act was an improvement on previous anti-corruption laws but unfortunately, it has remained a dead letter as its new and stronger provisions were never invoked and  enforced to fight corruption.

When the Anti-Corruption Bill 1997 was presented to Parliament in July 1997, the nation was told  that it signalled the government’s seriousness in combating corruption as it will ensure that “big sharks” who carry out corrupt practices involving millions of ringgit did not escape conviction.

Parliament was told that there was no need to amend laws merely to act against those who gave or accepted RM20 or RM200 because the laws were adequate, but the question was how to net the “big sharks”  of corruption.

In the past six years, however, not a single “big shark” had been netted under the Anti-Corruption Act 1997. What is worse, Malaysia’s international ranking on corruption has worsened over the years from 29th position in the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in 1998 to the lowest-ever 37th ranking in nine years for the 2003 CPI announced only last month.

There is a new provision in  the Anti-Corruption Act 1997 which provides that it is a corruption offence for any public official, including Cabinet Ministers, to have assets and wealth disproportionate to his or her  known sources of income, entailing  a maximum sentence  of 20 years’ jail and not just confiscation of the  ill-gotten gains, but also a fine which could be five times the value of the excess of the  unlawful assets.

Why  has there not been a single case of prosecution or confiscation of such ill-gotten gains involving public officials whose assets and wealth are disproportionate to their known sources of income – when it should not be difficult for the Anti-Corruption Agency to launch many such arrests and prosecutions, including very high-profile ones?

Rais  said on Sunday that  with the proposal by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to set up a Public Ethics Institute and National Integrity Plan those inclined towards corruption would have a cold chill passing through their backbone.

I do not believe that “a cold chill passing through their backbone” will be any more effective than previous reliance on “the fear of God” visited on the corrupt in the “big sharks” league.

DAP supports the establishment of a Public Ethics Institute and a National Integrity Plan, but these, like amendments to strengthen the Anti-Corruption Act, are efforts for the future which should not be used as an excuse for inaction on the anti-corruption war front in the immediate present.

Furthermore, we should be aware that there are many countries with National Integrity Plans whose ranking in  the annual  Transparency International CPIs are even lower and more dismal than that of Malaysia.   I am also not aware that the ten countries ranked as the world’s top least corrupt nations in the TI CPI, namely Finland, Iceland, Denmark, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, Netherlands, Australia and Norway have to depend on Public Ethics Institutes to maintain their positions.  

For these reasons, DAP calls for a serious review of the Anti-Corruption Act 1997 as to why in the past six years it had failed to net the “big sharks” as promised in Parliament but instead had marked a further decline in Malaysia’s world ranking from 29th position in 1998 TI CPI to the present and unprecedented low of  37th placing.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman