I hate to pour cold water on the euphoria over the announcement of an independent ACA. But what else can you think when you read between the lines of the following NST/Bernama report?
Notice that what will be independent is the Advisory Board to the ACA. So the board can only advise the ACA, but presumably the ACA is free to reject the “advice”. It would only be in terms of recruitment etc.
But who is ultimately responsible for the ACA then? The Parliamentary Committee? No way, Jose!
So how is that different from before, when the ACA was answerable to the PM? Is he just playing with words again – similar to his apology to the 1988 judicial crisis judges that wasn’t an apology but just an ex gratia payment in recognition of what they had to endure?
Why can’t he just say the ACA will be fully independent, answerable and responsible to Parliament and no one else – full-stop? What’s so difficult about that? Why does the PM need to be “responsible” for the ACA, like some kind of chaperone?
Will we see some ACA action in the 18 high-profile corruption cases? (As they say, the proof of the durian cake is in the eating…) Don’t count on it.
ACA to be made full-fledged commission by year-end
The Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) will be made a full-fledged commission to include a system of effective checks and balances and will be more independent in terms of its operations, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said today. The prime minister said this was one of the four key reform initiatives that would be carried out by the government by year-end in the move to address the public concerns on corruption in the country.
Abdullah said the key element of the commission would be the establishment of an independent corruption prevention advisory board whose members would be appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the advice of the prime minister.
“Board members will advise the commission on administrative and operational matters. The board will also be briefed on cases that involve public interest and consequently can enquire or recommend that certain measures be undertaken.
“Most importantly, the board will act to assure the public that these public interest cases are being dealt with appropriately and adequately,” he said in a keynote address at the Asean Integrity Dialogue 2008, here.
Abdullah said a parliamentary committee on the prevention of corruption would also be established, to which the commission would table its annual report. Members of the committee could seek further clarification and explanation on the report.
He said the three other reforms were adding 5,000 more officers at all levels from various fields of expertise in the next five years to enhance the anti-corruption force as well as offering attractive new terms of service; introducing a legislation to provide comprehensive protection for whistle blowers and witnesses; and improving the public procurement process through measures that target and address specific problem areas in the system.
“I have directed the chief secretary to the government to work together with the Pemudah team to formulate a framework to improve the public procurement process, making it more transparent and accountable,” he said.
(Pemudah is a public-private sector initiative which aims to simplify business operations in Malaysia by improving government services.) Elaborating on the commission to reporters later, Abdullah said that though the commission would be required to table its annual report to the parliamentary committee, he would be responsible for the commission.
“There’s always a minister, anywhere in the world, responsible for any institution set up. And I will be responsible for the institution. In all the cases that we have studied it is the same because the government is responsible to parliament. They are representatives of the people, so they have to explain everything (to the people),” he said.
Touching on the independence of the commission, the prime minister said it would be independent in terms of recruitment as well as having its own policies, among others.
“It will have the power to hire and fire (personnel). It will have its own policies in terms of what it has to do. So that’s how they are going to operate.
“The Securities Commission also operates in the same way but it still has the minister responsible – the Minister of Finance,” he said, adding that it also meant more power for the commission to make decisions on many matters on its own.
Abdullah said the commission would be established based on the models of various countries known to be among the best in the world, such as Hong Kong’s.
On the parliamentary committee members, he said he would discuss with members of parliament on whom they wanted to sit on the committee.
To a question whether today’s announcement and the other reforms announced by him over the last several days were in response to the people’s message through the ballot box in last month’s general election, Abdullah said it was part of his efforts to fulfill the promises made during the 2004 general election.
“My critics will say anything. If I had done it before they would say I want votes. If I don’t do it, they would say I have forgotten my promises. All of these were in my manifesto for the 2004 elections.
“The manifesto of the 2004 elections is not just for a four or five-year term. It is intended for the longer term. Vision 2020 is what we want to achieve. It is a matter for whoever the prime minister is at that time but we must take the motion to make the reform.
“Reforms cannot be made quickly without really thinking about what needs to be done. You just can’t reform for the sake of reform. If the reforms are not effective, then they don’t mean anything,” he said.
Abdullah said he could not deliver on his promises much earlier as there were other matters that demanded priority. “But I don’t forget my promises. I will do it (fulfill them) when the time comes,” he said.
On a question about the legal protection of whistle blowers and witnesses, Abdullah said the attorney-general had already begun to work on it.
“But I would like to remind that while it is necessary to have this protection, it doesn’t mean there is unfettered freedom to just write about anything and everybody. I want them to be responsible for their report. They must know exactly what they say and the basis of their report,” he said.
Earlier, in his speech, Abdullah said he and the government were still very much committed to their pledge to fight corruption in the country.
He said vigorous efforts taken by the government over the past four years had yielded some positive results but the public expected more due to the fact that today’s citizens were better educated and more sophisticated in their thinking.
Abdullah said that following initial feedback from the public, the government found that the public’s frustration with today’s situation stemmed from three main sources.
“Firstly, people feel that the institutional and legal framework for anti-corruption remains structurally weak and therefore prone to abuses. They point to the need for a clear separation of powers between the institution of government as well as a higher degree of transparency and public accountability from enforcement agencies,” he said.
Secondly, said Abdullah, people perceived that anti-corruption enforcement was slow and inconsistent as some had said that the so-called “big fish” were protected while the “small fry” faced the full brunt of the law.
“Thirdly, many people feel that the existing public procurement system and procedures for awarding government contracts are rife with opportunities for corruption,” he said….