IF the Prime Minister’s unilateral decision to appoint Latheefa Koya as the new chief commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) goes unchallenged, she will be the first woman leading the nation’s war against corruption.
This will also add to the list of women appointed to key leadership positions in the government’s bid to reform key institutions.
If the groups and individuals who see the PM’s appointment of Latheefa as an unconstitutional flouting of his prime ministerial prerogative fail to take the matter to court, the chief commissioner’s position is secure for at least two years as specified in the contract.
To an observer of anti-corruption and integrity matters like me, Latheefa’s situation seems both tenable and untenable. Tenable because under the new leadership, more impactful strategies can be put in place and executed; untenable because numerous corruption issues will remain clandestine and unresolved.
It is not as if the new MACC chief has a miracle whip that can turn Malaysia’s corrupt society and rakyat around with one fell swoop. Assuming that Latheefa will be accepted by the MACC staff and other supporting agencies, her task will still be immensely daunting as she digs deep into the labyrinth of bribery and corruption, including the bottomless pit of the underworld and a thriving black economy.
Having been appointed to the MACC Advisory Board for two terms, I must confess to having a little insider knowledge about how the anti-corruption bureaucracy works. During my first term, the Advisory Board was made up of some of the most able and upright appointees and chaired by a woman with the highest credentials and professional integrity.
As ex-officio, the chief commissioner, deputy chief commissioners and their teams reported developments in the Commission’s work at the monthly board meetings and were on standby to answer probing questions from members of the Board and explain or clarify unresolved issues of the day, especially those involving the law. Occasionally, there was a need to see the higher-ups, including the Attorney-General and Prime Minister.
In my experience, the MACC personnel reporting to the five oversight panels seemed forthright and earnest enough. They were regular civil servants carrying out their duties and responsibilities like their colleagues in other government departments. Whether all of them were incorruptible, honest and truthful, we could not tell. We could only take their reporting at face value.
Meetings with the then AG and PM were understandably polite and decorous but big question marks remained when we left their rooms. We could only conjecture what was really on their minds because their overriding response was: “We are doing it in the interest and security of the nation”.
Perhaps the real challenge for the Pakatan Harapan government in fighting corruption lies not just in institutional reform but also in tightening of laws and regulations, appointing a committed, incorruptible leadership, ensuring strict enforcement, and in rounding up the receivers of monetary inducements.
I believe it also lies in a concerted witch hunting of bribe givers who corrupt our enforcement agencies and their personnel. Expose them as examples of the most rotten apples in Malaysia’s tree of hope side by side with the takers. Only then would there be effective balance, fairness and justice in the anti-corruption system.
Perhaps the new MACC chief should focus on getting to the bottom of the pit and unearthing the syndicates that block enforcement efforts in a huge way.
Perhaps she needs to study in detail the relative success of Hong Kong’s anti-corruption efforts in cleaning up the island state’s triads and secret societies that preyed on businesses and the government.
The Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was established in 1974 at the time when Hong Kong was one of the most corrupt cities in the world.
There were close business associations between law enforcement agencies and organised crime syndicates, and corruption was a way of life across all levels of
society. Within three years, the ICAC had smashed all corruption syndicates in the government
and prosecuted 247 public officials, including 143 police officers.
The MACC already boasts of a comprehensive strategy much
like the ICAC’s three pronged approach – deterrence, prevention and education. With the strong political will shown by the Pakatan leadership, a dedicated anti-corruption body and the correct zero corruption strategy, endemic corruption among Malaysians can be drastically reduced and the nation will be transformed into a clean society.
It will take an iron-fisted female chief commissioner with the highest integrity and a no-nonsense approach to do this.
And I believe, God willing, Latheefa can. She must arm herself with the all-encompassing management skills and lateral thinking that women effectively use in managing the diverse facets of their life and instilling the most upright values in the home and workplace.
Latheefa can mobilise the country’s women to join her in the fight against corruption, but she must polish up her act and ensure that she executes her duties with finesse and not just brute force.
DATUK HALIMAH MOHD SAID
Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason