Kua Kia Soong
The appointment of Lateefa Koya as the head of the MACC has raised questions of her independence and effectiveness for the job, and rightly so. Corruption, as every Malaysian knows, has been the scourge of Malaysian life for decades. Thus, the selection of an independent and effective head of this Anti-Corruption Commission is of paramount importance if we are to successfully curb this obstacle to our social and economic development. Lateefa no doubt has a range of valuable skills, experience and qualities, however her political independence is sadly not one of them.
First, heads of anti-corruption commissions should be appointed through a process that ensures their independence, impartiality, neutrality, integrity, apolitical stance and competence. That is surely the thinking that led Pakatan Harapan to stress the principle of non-political appointments in commissions in their GE14 Manifesto.
So, does the appointment of Lateefa abide by that principle? In such a role as head of the MACC, perception of and trust in her neutrality are critical to her success. In the public eye, Lateefa has for many years been known as a PKR stalwart and leader who makes political statements not only pertaining to other political parties but also to factions within PKR itself. The technical point about her resignation from the party on the eve of her appointment does not detract from the fact that she is seen as a PKR leader with a strong propensity toward a particular faction of PKR which is linked to the Prime Minister.
More significantly, both the leader of the Pakatan Harapan coalition and the leader of Lateefa’s erstwhile party PKR have been players on the Malaysian corporate scene for decades and as such, her connection to PKR and PH right up to the eve of her appointment does not say much for her independence or impartiality.
The degree to which the MACC is able to function truly independently is vital to its ability to fight corruption effectively. The principle that these agencies should be independent is as axiomatic. Being free from undue influence is generally stated in the form of ‘being free from politics’.
Political Independence and capacity to act
The ideal is that the MACC is part of an ‘apolitical’ law enforcement system and implements a clear set of laws to bring about the apprehension, conviction and punishment of offenders. There should in fact be a statutory or constitutional basis for a claim to independence, asserting autonomy and limiting the powers of the executive. Other mechanisms relate to appointment, continuity, removal and remuneration of AC officials.
In Singapore, which has risen to third place in annual ranking of least corrupt countries, the head of the anti-corruption bureau is nominated by Cabinet but appointed by the President. Moreover, one section of the Singapore Constitution on the powers of the President (Article 22G) provides that the director of the anti-corruption bureau can continue to investigate any minister or senior civil servant even if the PM does not consent, providing the director secures the President’s approval.
Singapore has a prosecution success rate in corruption cases in excess of 90 per cent; between 2007 and 2011, the success rate was 97 per cent. (The Straits Times 2013) Their judiciary generally imposes the toughest available sanctions and there have been successful prosecutions of senior figures associated with the ruling party. Needless to say, the existence of an independent judiciary is a key component of the eradication of corruption.
This concerted effort to root out corruption requires strong leadership and commitment, and it also requires skilled investigators and the ability to collaborate with other investigative and prosecuting bodies, not forgetting the possession of sufficient powers and resources to make its operations effective. Independence therefore means freedom from interference as well as the capacity to act.
To conclude, eradicating corruption from our midst involves enhancing the citizens voice, including press freedoms; judicial reform, especially the creation of an ‘independent’ judiciary; civil service employment reform; removing unnecessary layers of bureaucracy; tough anti-corruption laws and politically independent law enforcement agencies.
Kua Kia Soong is advisor to SUARAM, a human rights organisation in Malaysia created in 1987 after Operation Lalang, when 106 opposition, unions, activist leaders were detained without trial under the Internal Security Act.