The anti-graft agency deserves support when it probes all bad apples, regardless of their colour and creed.
I HAVE met many graft-busters when I was the former head of the Consultation and Prevention Panel (better known as PPPR) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). I admire them for their courage and dedication. Many of them have to pay a hefty price for their commitment.
In many Third World countries, fighting corruption is not unlike taking on the task of Greek mythology’s Sisyphus, who has to push a boulder up a mountain only to watch helplessly as it rolls down again.
I am particularly impressed with Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK), Indonesia’s anti-graft agency. Fighting corruption is taking a new dimension there. Things have changed for the better of late.
Despite some pitfalls, KPK has the clout, the will and the freedom to act on alleged corruptors. But more importantly, KPK is taking the fight to the people. The people want to see that corrupt politicians, officials and corporate figures are investigated and charged.
When the Indonesian Parliament was hesitant to build a new KPK headquarters, the people rose to the occasion by collecting funds, coin by coin, to help build it.
“Koin untuk KPK” (Coin for KPK) became a new catchphrase.
Ordinary Indonesians from all nooks and corners of the republic gave what little they have in the hope that they could help make possible a new anti-graft building.
It matters little how much they succeeded. But the symbolism matters. It is People Power at work. Suddenly, fighting corruption is hip, crucial and even sexy. Everyone wants a piece of action.
T-shirts bearing slogans like “Sang Koruptor: Apa Agama Kamu?” (Mr Corrupt, What Is Your Religion?”) and “Bangun Negeri Tanpa Korupsi” (Building a Nation Without Corruption) are popular everywhere. But more important is the role played by the ever vigilant Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW), a non-governmental organisation.
KPK is not perfect. It has had its problems despite being given enough power to act independently. The recent episode of the removal of Abraham Samad, the fearless head of KPK, shows that politicians still meddle with the institution.
Despite President Jokowi’s pledge to leave KPK alone, he wasn’t there to defend the agency during the stalemate regarding the nomination of Budi Gunawan as police chief. With that, the fight against corruption was held back spectacularly.
Our MACC too is not perfect. It is on a learning curve and has gone through some tumultuous times. There were moments when the public’s perception of it was at its lowest ebb. And there were times when the respect for the institution was sky high.
The MACC, unfortunately, is being defined by perceptions. Everyone has his or her views about the MACC. There are those who are down-right cynical about the commission. There are even voices demanding to “deconstruct MACC” in order “to rebuild” it, from scratch, if you like.
There have been furious discussions on the need to relook at the MACC Act, which many believe is not comprehensive enough to deal with present and future challenges. It needs total institutional reforms.
The MACC must only be answerable to Parliament. Its chief commissioner should be constitutionally appointed, like how it’s done with judges.
Even the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Paul Low, strongly believes that the MACC should have an independent service commission. Such views are echoed by many NGOs and individuals.
There are times when the MACC needs tremendous courage in handling certain cases. The officers are guided by the demand to be professional in their undertakings. Integrity is paramount in handling such cases. The 1MDB probe, for example, is full of suspense, intrigue and lots of surprises.
The MACC is not an all-in-one investigator, judge and jury. It investigates. It doesn’t prosecute. Nor does it judge. Many people are not aware of that.
MACC chief commissioner Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed is stepping down, which is a pity. He has had his moments of glory as well as bouts of failure. But no one can fault him for not trying hard.
During his tenure, the MACC went through some very challenging times. But he was there rock solid behind his people. He was exemplary in his fortitude and pursuit of excellence. I tend to agree with Wan Saiful Wan Jan of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) that an insider should replace Abu Kassim. The MACC needs the continuity badly.
But it is more important that the institution is left alone to do its job. It is our moral duty to ensure that. It is critical to have a credible and independent MACC. That has always been the guiding principle of all the former panels associated with the commission, including the one I headed. which was made up of 14 prominent individuals.
The panel members have differing views on approaches but they are united in the belief that it is blasphemous to interfere with the MACC’s work.
However, there are those who believe the MACC is right only when it is investigating “others”; that is, the bad apples in the ruling coalition. When their own comes under the agency’s scrutiny, suddenly they sing a different tune.
It is proper and necessary to investigate alleged corruption practices of certain political parties, but when their leaders are investigated, phrases like “selective prosecution”, “politically motivated” and “sinister agenda” are thrown around.
Corruption is blind. It transcends creed and colour. Therefore, the rules apply to all. No one is spared. No one is above the law. Plain and simple.
Johan was a journalist, editor and for some years chairman of a media company, and is passionate about all things literature and the arts. The views expressed here are entirely his own.