Reforming the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (5)

IDEAS working in collaboration with the Malaysian Bar, Transparency International Malaysia, Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) and the Citizen’s Network for a Better Malaysia have proposed a set of legal and institutional reforms to improve anti-corruption efforts in Malaysia.

The proposals are as follows:

  1. Creating the Independent Anti-Corruption Commission (IACC). A constitutional commission that has the full autonomy to determine strategy, policy, the recruitment and disciplining of staff in its investigative arm, the Anti-Corruption Agency (formerly the MACC).              
  2. Expanding the definition of gratification and the power to investigate individuals living beyond his/her means by amending the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act 2009.                                                                                                                                                    
  3. Amending other related legislation, namely the Official Secrets Act 1972 to allow for the declassification of documents that reveal corruption; enhancement of the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010, the Witness Protection Act 2009; adoption of a Freedom of Information Act and an Asset Declaration Law.                                                                                                                              
  4. Separating the offices of the Attorney General and the Public Prosecutor and a review of prosecution practices to ensure that a conflict of interest between the two roles can be prevented.

These proposals were discussed at the ‘Public Forum: Reforming the MACC’ on the 16th of December 2015 co-organized by the Advocates Association of Sarawak and IDEAS with speakers Steven Thiru, President of the Malaysian Bar and Tricia Yeoh, Chief Operating Officer of IDEAS. Leonard Shim, President of the Advocates Association of Sarawak (AAS), gave closing remarks.

Steven Thiru began by highlighting the public perception issue on the MACC’s independence. The MACC as an agency under the Prime Minister’s Department is vulnerable to executive interference, which has been clearly demonstrated in recent investigations plaguing 1MDB.

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Steven Thiru on reforming the MACC and related laws

As a statutory body the MACC’s functions can be changed by Parliament via a simple majority which renders the MACC subservient to the ruling party of the day.

To address this a constitutional commission should be created, i.e., the Independent Anti-Corruption Commission (IACC). As a commission guaranteed by the Constitution, the IACC will be free from executive interference including financial independence. The commissioners will also have security of tenure and have the autonomy over the selection and removal of staff.

Steven Thiru argued that the proposed reforms were not extraordinary as other countries also gave its anti-corruption commissions constitutional standing.

Steven Thiru went on to discuss reforms to other related laws like the Official Secrets Act (OSA), the Whistleblower Act and the Witness Protection Act – laws that are not conducive to fight against corruption in their current form.

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Tricia Yeoh, COO of IDEAS and Leonard Shim, President of AAS

Tricia Yeoh followed Steven Thiru by explaining the proposed structure of the IACC and highlighting the importance of Freedom of Information and Asset Declaration laws. The new composition of the IACC would include members of civil society to ensure greater independence of its commissioners. She concluded how these proposals are being considered by certain members of government including the MACC, although it was a matter of timing and support from the executive.

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Participants at the MACC Reform Public Forum in Kuching, Sarawak

Q&A Session

When asked about the role of the Attorney General, Steven Thiru described how many of these issues are systemic given how the Public Prosecutor and Attorney General’s offices are fused.

He further explained that these proposals are pitched in a non-partisan manner. No Member of Parliament should say that they do not support reforms as these proposals are about strengthening institutions. If we allow our institutions to be weakened we do a disservice to the next generation.

When asked about the role of civil society, Tricia Yeoh explained how expectations are growing. Civil society has a responsibility to educate not just public but also Members of Parliament.

Lastly, Steven Thiru asked that we not give up on the MACC. The MACC needs public support particularly during sensitive investigations involving the executive.

Leonard Shim ended the forum with his closing remarks.

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Speakers Tricia Yeoh, Steven Thiru and Leonard Shim with representatives from the organizing team of the Advocates Association of Sarawak and IDEAS.

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