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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Are we really independent?


QUESTION TIME As we move into a year short of 60 years of independence tomorrow, one thing is certain: the way we deal with corrupt practices in an efficient, honest, straight and incorruptible way is at a new all-time low, despite recent high-profile cases reported prominently in newspapers.
If we can’t have unfettered, free, fair and honest investigations and the means to carry out independent enforcement of the law arising from the investigations, can we claim to be independent?
True there are other factors to assess for what constitutes independence of a country - and there are too many to discuss in a short article like this - but this will constitute one of the critical success factors for independence. If we don’t have it, we are not independent. Period. 
The recent crackdown by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, or MACC, on some Kuala Lumpur City Hall officers and a government-linked bank are of course most welcome, although the reluctance to name those detained for investigations puzzles, especially when assets have already been seized.
But the public will wonder about the lack of continuing investigations and detention of people connected with a number of other cases, of which the most famous - or more correctly infamous - is the issue of over US$3.5 billion (some RM14 billion) stolen from our “strategic development company” 1Malaysia Development Bhd or 1MDB.
This theft has been extensively documented in court filings by the US Department of Justice, or DOJ, which seized over US$1 billion of US assets procured by the US$3.5 billion embezzled. Most of the work has already been done for the MACC by the DOJ - it is just a matter of verifying the information.
But no action has been taken against those named by the DOJ, including what appears to be the mastermind, Jho Low, into whose accounts (either his accounts or those operated by his proxies) all the over US$3.5 billion stolen was moved into initially.
Such movement of funds from 1MDB into accounts which were not related to the transactions concerned could not have been done without collusion from 1MDB officials. The DOJ outlines their roles without naming them but it is easy to infer who they are. They include a former CEO of 1MDB, a former executive director and a former legal counsel.
Leaving aside the role of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak for the moment, surely nothing can prevent the MACC from continuing to investigate the losses at 1MDB, call in those involved for questioning, detain them if necessary and if they can’t be found, to enlist the help of Interpol to track them down and bring them back to Malaysia as wanted fugitives from the law.
Press reports, quoting the auditor-general’s report on 1MDB have also said that as much as US$7 billion (RM28 billion) at 1MDB cannot be accounted for. The requisite police reports have been made, so why is 1MDB not investigating?
Status of investigations unknown
Yes, we know that eventually it is up to the attorney-general, and up to him alone, whether prosecution takes place but surely it is the job of the MACC to investigate and lay out the case for prosecution. Surely the MACC should remember if the attorney-general changes, a case can be revived because there is no time limit for criminal prosecution.
It is clear that the new attorney-general appointed under dubious and questionable circumstances when the previous one was removed suspiciously does not think there is a case for Najib to answer despite indications that previous MACC investigationssuggested otherwise.
But surely, that does not mean that the MACC stop investigations of losses at 1MDB completely. The DOJ says US$3.5 billion has been misappropriated (a polite term for stolen, which the US attorney-general was not squeamish about using) while the auditor-general says that US$7 billion cannot be accounted for - missing in other words.
Even if the new attorney-general feels there is no case for Najib to answer, the MACC can build a detailed case for others to answer in relation to the US$3.5 billion stolen and the US$7 billion that cannot be accounted for.
Ah yes, the MACC was quick in getting the dope on Lim Guan Eng, the Penang chief minister, and getting agreement from the attorney-general to prosecute, so it must be able to do the same for 1MDB, no? At least it should try.
And 1MDB is not the only one. Remember the RM100 million scandal at the Youth and Sports Ministry? And the minister’s reply that it was done in bits and pieces? Well, we have not heard much more about the case. That’s a lot larger than Guan Eng’s case. So what’s taking so long? What’s the progress? Is the corruption extensive or limited to a few? MACC owes it to the public to answer some of these questions.
And one more is the scandal at the Immigration Department in May/June where at one stage as many as 100 officers were being investigated for suspicion of sabotaging the department’s system to enable entry of illegal immigrants. Such sabotage is a strong indication of corruption at the department which would have required MACC investigation. What is the status of investigations now?
Yes, MACC by all means do your job to bring in the lesser culprits but don’t forget it is your job to investigate the big boys too and lay out the case for them as well.
On the eve of another year of Merdeka, we are not independent. How can we be when our judicial services, which I will take to mean both judging and enforcement, is not independent of the executive and our legislature routinely rubber stamps executive decisions?
The question that still hangs heavy over the head of every Malaysian as we complete 59 years of “independence” is how are we going to get genuine independence from a regime that is set on denying our rights as citizens of an independent nation so that they can continue to indulge in their corrupt practices.
How do we ensure that our system investigates and prosecutes corruption from the bottom to the top with neither fear nor favour to finally bring them to account for their many wrongs and transgressions?

P GUNASEGARAM can be contacted at t.p.guna@gmail.com - Mkini

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