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Published: Sunday March 9, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday March 9, 2014 MYT 9:14:52 AM

Combating graft – it is everybody’s fight

Fighting corruption is not the work of one agency or a few agencies; it’s the work for every single one of us, a United Nations advisor says.

fIGHTING corruption is the responsibility of every citizen and not just that of a few government agencies, says United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) Regional Anti-Corruption advisor Shervin Majlessi.

“It is very important for the public to remain informed and engaged, and for them to realise that it’s not the work of just one agency or a few agencies; it’s work for every single one of us,” he says in an interview with Sunday Star.

Malaysia seems to have fared well in its first UNCAC review on anti-corruption compliance.

In its report published early last month, UNCAC commended Malaysia for its 23 best practices in its fight against corruption.

These include Section 25 of the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act 2009, which establishes a duty to report any bribery or attempt and criminalises non-compliance; the absence of statute limitations which helps maximise the possibility of prosecutions; and the establishment of 14 specialised anti-corruption courts, where judges are instructed to hear cases within a year and can be held accountable for non-compliance.

(The executive summary and the published full report is available at http://www.uncaccoalition.org/uncac-review/official-documents )

The UNCAC is a multilateral convention negotiated by members of the UN. Currently, about 170 states are party to it. Malaysia signed the convention in 2003 and ratified it in 2008.

The convention requires that state parties implement several anti-corruption measures to prevent corruption, criminalise certain conducts, strengthen international law enforcement and judicial cooperation, provide effective legal mechanisms for asset recovery, technical assistance and mechanisms for the implementation of the convention, among others.

“Each country that has joined this convention has to be reviewed once in a five-year cycle. For this round, we are only looking at Chapters III (Criminalisation and Law Enforcement) and IV (International Cooperation),” explains Majlessi.

Malaysia was among eight out of 35 countries which had completed its review for the 2012/2013 period and was reviewed by experts from the Philippines and Kenya.

Apart from best practices, the review also highlighted several areas of improvement which Malaysia should address, including:

> Consider eliminating the requirement for a prior investigation before an illicit enrichment case can be pursued.

> Consider criminalising trading in influence distinctly to provide for greater legal certainty in cases of real and supposed influence.

> Enable confiscation and forfeiture of instrumentalities destined for use in corruption offences.

> Make transformed or converted property liable to confiscation.

> Addressing the replacement or dismissal of the Chief Commissioner of MACC, which could pose a risk to the independence of MACC. The MACC Act currently does not address this issue.

“The review is not to point fingers at countries, to rank or sanction them. Financial investigations can be quite complex. Safe to say that all countries face challenges with financial investigations as you don’t always have physical evidence.

“You’re dealing with financial trails and cash transactions, and there are lots of ways that people can cover up their tracks. I am sure Malaysia also faces these same challenges,” says Majlessi, who previously managed UNDP’s Accountability and Transparency Project in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Why is the fight against corruption so crucial?

“We have enough evidence to show that corruption seriously undermines development. From petty corruption like bribing a traffic policeman to grand corruption schemes, they undermine development and the rule of law in a country. They take away resources that should be invested in service delivery in areas like health, education, or basic amenities like water and electricity,” says Majlessi.

“A few years ago, the World Bank reported that US$1trillion is paid in bribes around the world per year. Just imagine how much could have been achieved with that money,” he adds.

Just last month, the European Union’s Home Affairs Commissioner admitted that corruption across the EU could account for as much as ‚160bil lost every year.

“That gives us a perspective of how serious the problem of corruption is, and how much in resources it’s taking away. Besides financial resources, it also erodes confidence in a government. The very fabric of society can be affected, and it can lead to instability, uprising and unrest and we saw examples of that in the Arab Spring.

“So, the fight against corruption is very important for sustainable development for a democratic process, and for good and clean governance,” he says.

Majlessi adds that while it’s important to have good strategies and policies to tackle corruption, as Malaysia does, what’s more important is the implementation and monitoring of those policies.

“I have been exposed to many countries where they have very interesting systems in place, but there is no follow up. I think that’s where many countries fail. There has to be political will to do so.

“Confidence in the system can be built by having the right approach and rhetoric, but more than that, by actions that go with it – such as having strong and independent anti-corruption institutions to show that a government’s actions match its words… there is indiscriminate and consistent application of the law, where no one has immunity and it is not affected by political influences.”

Majlessi says these institutions need the backing of a credible system at a national level – such as having an independent and effective judiciary system.

Common citizens also need to be educated on their rights and responsibilities.

“They have a right to be served by a competent government, but they too have a responsibility to contribute to that good government and that they themselves do not expect preferential treatment.”

He adds that it is ironic that people often demand for their governments and leaders to be clean, but hope to be let off easily themselves when stopped by traffic police, for example.

“People do not live in isolation. If you are living in a neighbourhood which is falling apart, you will lose too. There will be less security, less effective services. It’s not a sustainable situation. If you think it is, that’s a short-sighted view,” he warns.

“What we strongly encourage in this review system is for countries to compare with themselves. This is just the first review. Hopefully, in the next review, Malaysia can look back and see how much progress she’s made.”

Tags / Keywords: Government, People, Corruption

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