Why NBI must be an independent agency

I rise to seek leave of the House to introduce a private member’s bill to amend the National Bureau of Investigation Act 1973 to establish the NBO as a fully independent agency answerable only to Parliament to free it from political or Ministerial  influence and interference so that it could effectively combat corruption, especially corruption in high political places.

When the NBI was first established it was put directly under the Prime Minister’s Office, presumably to convey t the people the impression that the NBI’s work will have the support of the Prime Minister himself. But from the Prime Minister’s Office the NBI was transferred t the Attorney-General’s Department, which marked a downgrading in importance of the NBI in government circles.

The weakness of the NBI is that although it is free to handle “ikan bilis” corruption, its hands are tied as far as “ikan yu” corruption is concerned. In fact, even in cases involving senior government officers, the NBI’s hands are tied, let alone high political leaders in government.

The Northrop F-5 jetfighter million-dollar pay-off is an excellent case in point. Although United States Congressional hearings disclosed that million-dollar payoffs had been made in Malaysia, neither its initial disclosure in the press nor a subsequent lengthy report in the Far Eastern Economic Review elicited any response from the authorities or the NBO. It was only after the DAP Members of Parliament pressed this matter in Parliament that Parliament was informed that the NBI has been asked to investigate.

Why didn’t’ the NBI, on its own initiative, initiate investigations when the disclosures were first reported in the international and local press several months earlier?

Earlier this month, it was reported that an NBI spokesman announced that it had completed investigation into the Northrop F-5 jetfighter commission case, and that the NBI was waiting for “green light” from above before further action is taken.

Although subsequently, a former wing captain was charged in court in connection with the Northrop F-5 jetfighter commission, the question that must be asked is why is it necessary for the NBI, having completed investigation and satisfied that there is a case for prosecution, to have to await “green light” from above?

The Northrop F-5 jetfighter case is clear proof that the NBI is not fully independent to initiate investigations, or fully independent to arrest and prosecute without “green light” from above, even if it is satisfied that there is a prima facie case.

The NBI’s position is even more precarious when top government political leaders are involved in corruption.

Malaysians want an anti-corruption agency which is totally committed to the elimination of corruption, regardless of status or political rank, and possess full powers to institute investigations and prosecutions without having to seek political “green light” from any Minister so that its task of fighting corruption is not influenced or deflected by political considerations of any Minister or the Executive.

There can only be such an agency if it is not under any Ministry, be it the Attorney-General’s Department or the Prime Minister’s Office.

The history of the NBI in the last few years is history of political influence and interference with the NBI mission to root out corruption, especially corruption in high political places.

It is public knowledge that Dato Harun Idris, former Selangor Menteri Besar, would not have been charged and produced in court on corruption charges if Dato Harun Idris had accepted Tun Razak’s offer to go into exile and be the Malaysian Ambassador to United Nations. I might remark in passing that the Barisan Nasional Government appears to heave very peculiar notions about the qualifications of Malaysia’s Permanent Representative to the UN.

It is also relevant question whether Dato Harun Idris would have been investigated by the NBI in the first place and prosecuted, if he was not perceived as a political challenge to the ruling group in UMNO and Government. Has the NBI investigated or prosecuted the other State Menteri-menteri Besar or Chief Ministers against some of whom all sorts of allegations of corrupt practices have been levied?

The NBI was clearly used as an instrument of intra-party power feud in the ruling party. This is wrong and an abuse of power and misuse of the NBI.

If the NBI’s investigation show that there is a prima facie case to charge Dato Harun with corruption, then Dato Harun should be so charged, on the merits of the case, and not because he was a political threat to the powerful in the government, or because he refused to play ball by exiling himself to United Nations.

For if the NBI can be misused to eliminate political enemies inside the Party and Government, it can also be used to protect political supporters and friends, to obstruct the campaign to root out corruption in high public places.

In late 1975, when there were several open letters in circulation accusing the then Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister, Dato Abdullah Ahmad of being a millionaire and demanding NBI investigation, was there an NBI investigation, which would be the most effective way to clear Dato Abdullah Ahmad f these charges of corruption?

No. Not only was there no NBI investigation, but the Minister of Home Affairs on Dec 4, banned seven open letters under the Internal Security Act with the stipulation that anyone printing, publishing, selling, distributing or circulating the seven letters as liable to a maximum fine of $2,000 or three years’ jail, or both.

What are these “subversive” open letters?

According to the Gazette, there letters were:

  1. “Badan Pengamal Rasuah” printed in Bahasa Malaysia;
  2. “Badan Pengawal Rasuah Siri Kedua” also printed in Bahasa Malaysia;
  3. “Anak Tani Machang Sudah Jadi Jutawan” dated Sept 2 and also printed in Bahasa Malaysia, purporting to have been written by Kumpulan Anti Rasuah Negara;
  4. “Badan Pengamal Akhir” dated Nov 7, and also in Bahasa Malaysia’
  5. “Harta Timbalan Menteri” also in Bahasa Malaysia, purporting to have been written by Kumpulan Anti Rasuah (Karan)
  6. A document commencing with the words “Kami Sekumpulan Rakyat Malaysia” dated Sept 2, also in Bahasa Malaysia, with certified copies of five extracts of Titles from land Registry, purporting to have been written by Kumpulan Anti Rasuah Negara; and
  7. A letter addressed to “Para Pemimpin” Nasionalis Melayu di Malaysia, also in Bahasa Malaysia, purporting to have been written by Angkatan Barisan Bertindak Melayu, Markas Satu, No.10 South Boulevard, Paris and dated Oct 1.

These seven documents are still banned, and I think Malaysian security authorities must have been one of the few in the world to have banned as subversive documents the certified copies of extracts of titles from the Land Registry. I do not know whether the Kota Bahru Land Registry, in keeping those title deeds, is committing an ISA offence?

I am not concerned with the truth or untruth of the allegations of corruption in these seven documents, but the manner in which the Government and the NBI handled these allegations, which reinforce and substantiate my argument that the NBI as presently established is a political creature of the Minister f the Executive, used to thwart corruption investigations of top government political leaders or used to strike down political opponents.

An NBI which is under the political control of the Executive, be he the Prime Minister or the Attorney-General, cannot have full powers and independence to investigate, ferret and stamp out corruption, especially corruption in high places. Human beings being human beings, the scenario of the Prime Minister or the Attorney-General who is politically “besieged” or “weak”, using the NBI as a political instrument to block investigations into political supporters and act against political enemies is not too far-fetched at all. It had happened before, and can happen again.

I am not making any personal imputation against the Prime Minister, but arguing for institutional changes in the NBI to prevent any such political or Ministerial influence or interference recurring.

It was not very long ago that very detailed and serious allegations about massive corruption in the State of Sabah were made by former State Ministers of Tun Mustapha’s Government, and the Berjaya even called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the corruption and malpractices in the Tun Mustapha era. Subsequently, allegations of corruption have been made at the Berjaya Government by USNO. Did the NBI, as the guardian of public honesty and integrity, move into Sabah to conduct an in-depth and wide-ranging inquiry to get to the roots of the detailed allegations about corruption which would put corruption in West Malaysia into shame? No, again because of political influence and interference.

In Malacca and Negri Sembilan, widespread allegations of corruption have also been made, and my Malacca State Assembly colleague, Sdr Chan Teck Chan, had on several matters written to the NBI and the Minister of Law, Tan Sri Kadir (and I had occasion write to the NBI Director who has now retired, Tan Sri Ibrahim Salleh, about the Syarikat Sri Lingga Affair involving some 4,000 acres of land) – but nothing has happened. If the NBI had started investigations, they have proved to be inconclusive and futile – and corruption grows rampant and blatant throughout the country.

Furthermore, how can be NBI be expected to investigate, let alone, prosecute, the Attorney-General, its political master, should, hypothetically, there is ground for such NBI investigation and prosecution?

I am not suggesting that the present Attorney-General should be investigated – but merely pointing out the indefensibility of an anti-corruption agency placed under a Minister or the Executive.

In actual fact, I have asked in this session of Parliament a question to the Prime Minister whether Ministers are allowed to have land alienated to them during their tenure of office, and to explain the alienation of a piece of land in Mersing to the Minister of Law by the Johor State Government. I am not suggesting anything improper in this alienation pending an answer, but it would clearly be impossible for the NBI to investigate its own Minister.

Again, it would be asking for the moon to expect an NBI under the Executive through a Minister to initiate on its own investigations into how Ministers or Deputy Ministers could amass wealth and become millionaires although their entire adult life have almost been spent as Member of Parliament, then Parliamentary Secretary, then Deputy Minister, and finally Minister.

There is widespread public disenchantment with the NBI in its failure to tackle the basic causes of corruption – high-level political corruption. In fact, the standing of the NBI have fallen so low in public estimation, that many people are saying that there is now a need for an NBI to check on the NBI – for not only sharks are being let out of nets, even small fishes seem to be able to get out too!

The work of the NBI must not be subject to the political ups and downs of the political rulers. Regardless of the personal political fortunes of the Prime Minister of the Executive, the NBI must be independent and powerful enough to act against corrupt politicians, regardless of their status or political loyalties.

This can only be achieved by making the NBI answerable only to Parliament through a Select Committee on the NBI which will annually review the work of the NBI and act as a supervisory body of the NBI, and the supreme watchdog on corruption – though without investigative powers.

The endorsement by the Prime Minister and the Government of a private members’ bill to establish the NBI as a fully independent agency completely free of political or Ministerial influence or interference will be a test of the Government’s commitment to combat corruption – whether dragon or mousedeer – for I do not see how anyone dedicated to the elimination of corruption can oppose the present proposal and motion.

(Speech by DAP Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, in Dewan Rakyat when moving a motion to introduce a private member’s bill to make the NBI an independent agency answerable only to Parliament on 25 October 1977)