By Wan Saiful Wan Jan. First published in The Star 2 August 2016
Last Friday saw three top officers leaving the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). Chief Commissioner Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed asked his contract to be terminated early, while his deputy Datuk Seri Shukri Abdull retired. Another Deputy Chief Commissioner, Datuk Seri Mustafar Ali, was transferred to head the Immigration Department.
Some friends have likened the day to the beginning of a purge. Given this leadership revamp at the agency, such a perception is understandable.
I, too, was hoping that such a massive change would not happen. I would have preferred if Mustafar was appointed as the new Chief Commissioner. This would help create continuity in the transformation that the MACC initiated under Abu Kassim.
Alas when the time came, the person named as the new Chief Commissioner was Datuk Dzulkifli Ahmad, who was head of the National Revenue Recovery Enforcement Team at the Attorney-General’s Chambers, where he reported directly to the Attorney-General.
Just over a week ago, I issued a statement in which I specifically stated that I felt it would be wrong to appoint Dzulkifli as Chief Commissioner. I still feel that this is a wrong decision because it places a very heavy burden on his shoulders.
Let us get one thing clear. In terms of ability and skills, I don’t think there is any reason to doubt Dzulkifli. He has moved up the ranks over time and he is well experienced in many relevant areas. His background will definitely help him to do the job in MACC.
But I do feel that the burden given to him this time is unfair. Even though his prior experience will help him in the new job, it is that same history that will become his biggest hurdle.
It has only been one day since Dzulkifli stepped into his new office. Yet, social media is already full of pictures of him sitting next to the Attorney-General at a press conference in January announcing that there is no illegality in the Prime Minister’s receipt of a RM2.6bil donation.
Critics are also very quick to allege that with a history of working under the Attorney-General, Dzulkifli will not be able to exercise independence in his new role. Some are even suggesting that Dzulkifli will quickly close any ongoing MACC investigation on 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) because he would side with his former boss.
These are big accusations. They may well be wrong, but it will take many months for Dzulkifli to change that perception.
The allegations will be a big distraction to the important work of the MACC that Dzulkifli must now lead. And that is why I still feel that he has been given an extraordinarily heavy burden to shoulder and that this move is rather unfair to him.
Neverthless, now that he is already in office, he needs to quickly prove his critics wrong. If he moves quickly and correctly, gaining public support should not be impossible.
The first issue he needs to address is the trust deficit that exists simply because he was previously a high-ranking officer in the Attorney-General’s Chambers. He needs to find a way to show the country that as the MACC’s new chief, he can act independently.
This will not be an easy task because in reality, the MACC does not have the powers that many people assume it does. In particular, it does not have prosecutorial powers because this is the sole prerogative of the Attorney-General.
Somehow, Dzulkifli will have to navigate through this limitation without reinforcing the perception that he is subservient to the Attorney-General.
This will be the most difficult task and I really hope he will get all the support he can to overcome this hurdle.
The second thing Dzulkifli needs to do is to quickly build relationships with civil society and other stakeholder groups that have become friends of the MACC under Abu Kassim.
The level of trust and public support enjoyed by the MACC thus far was not built overnight. Abu Kassim invested time and energy to hold frank discussions with the stakeholders in order to gain their trust. Dzulkifli must not wait too long before calling in the various stakeholders.
It does not matter if there are disagreements. In fact, I am sure there will be differences between the stakeholders and the MACC.
The important thing is to build a platform for such discussions to take place. We can still agree to disagree after that.
In any case, I hope everyone will allow Dzulkifli some time to stamp his mark on the MACC. We should not pre-judge the man based on sentiments that may be completely unfounded.
He does have a tall mountain to climb and we should try our best to push him to the top rather than bring him down. At the end of the day, we all want the MACC to succeed.
Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my). The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.