Sep 3rd, 2015
Minister Paul Low, if you have just sat quietly with your head buried under the sand, I think many would have perfectly understood and tolerated you. After all, we have not expected much from you. You were not even elected and no one for sure knew what you stood for except from during your short tenure in Transparency International- Malaysia.
Your problems start when you start talking. When you try to defend the indefensible, explain the unexplainable, justify the unjustifiable, and rationalise the most bizarre, that is when many are annoyed.
No one is asking you to be a ‘loose cannon’, much less to make accusations without evidence or proof. So it is not necessary for you to defend yourself in that regard. But as the minister in charge of integrity, we expect you to protect the honour and robustness of any investigation. Have you been able to do that?
Can you show us evidence that you have diligently, dutifully and fearlessly defended the investigation process regardless of the target of investigation? Please, we want an honest answer from you, no more and no less.
You said at the 16th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) that you have to wait for investigation to be completed before disclosing details to the public. This is just too convenient a ‘tai-chi’ tactic. First, how sure are you that the investigation is still on-going? Second, what is the time frame of that investigation, if not already derailed? And third, if ever the investigation is completed, will it be made public?
Many of us have every reason to be pessimistic; after all, as the minister, have you read the auditor-general’s interim report on 1MDB that was completed in June, 2015? When will the report be made public?
You are on record to have said that too much openness is akin to pornography. I do not want to accuse you for being distasteful because that is your choice of words and analogy. But you have to define for us the meaning of openness. If I’m mistaken, are you implying that our transparency standard is already too high and therefore any further improvement would make us completely naked? I think you are probably confusing inputs with outputs.
You must be thinking that if Malaysia has an anti-corruption commission, our integrity standard must be higher than say Singapore which only has a bureau. If Malaysian has a minister in charge of integrity, our governance standard must be higher than other countries which have none.
If Malaysia has numerous advisory panels formed to watch over the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), our fight against corruption must be more robust and stringent than others. And don’t forget, if Malaysia presents its audit reports three or four times a year, our transparency standard must be higher than other countries which present their reports only once a year.
I am sure you have heard of the saying – the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It is useless to claim we have done great things when unexplained 1MDB debts, political ‘donation’, the wheeling and dealing of government lands, personal bank accounts, and Cayman Islands are tanking the country right now.
A separate service
Now you want to make MACC a separate service out of the purview of the civil service and the tenure of its chief commissioner more secure. You also want the auditor-general to report to a bi-partisan special committee in Parliament. All these proposals seem reasonable but they may be too simplistic and too late in the day.
As you may be aware, the civil service, too, has a Public Services Commission which is supposed to safeguard civil service neutrality and independence. But do we have a civil service that is neutral and independent today?
On the security of tenure of the MACC chief commissioner, I suggest we look at judges, the auditor-general and the attorney general. Right now, they enjoy security of tenure under our constitution but do all of them behave independently, professionally and without blemish?
I hope you have considered holistically how a separate service commission for MACC and how a secured tenure for its chief commissioner would make a significant difference to our fight against corruption? Sometimes we think there are simple solutions to complex problems. Usually they don’t.