DAP calls for legislation to enable the ACA to arrest and prosecute public servants for corruption for having amassed property or pecuniary resources disproportionate to the known sources of income

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on the Anti-Corruption Agency Bill on Friday, 19th March 1982

DAP calls for legislation to enable the ACA to arrest and prosecute public servants for corruption for having amassed property or pecuniary resources disproportionate to the known sources of income

The House is today asked to re-name the National Bureau of Investigations and revert to the old name of Anti-Corruption Agency.

A change of name by itself does not contribute in any way to the battle against corruption in the country, except to identify the agency as charged specifically to combat corruption.

What is even more important than a change of name in any meaningful war against corruption is to arm the agency with adequate powers and independence to carry out its corruption investigations and prosecutions without fear of favour.

For the last 15 years since the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Agency in 1967, and its replacement by the National Bureau of Investigations in 1973, corruption in Malaysia had become more rampant and blatant.

This is not because of the lack of dedicated and earnest ACA or NBI officers, but because of the limitations placed on their powers and independence of action.

The history of the ACA and NBI in the last 15 years is a history or the prosecution of the ikan bilis and the immunity of the ikan yu, except for a handful because of political motivations to rid challengers to the top UMNO leadership. It is open knowledge that there would have been no prosecution of a Mentir Besar if the Mentri Besar had agreed to go into the political wilderness and accept a posting to the United Nations.

All in all, the history and record of the ACA and the NBI for the last 15 years is a history and record of failure to make serious dent on the problem of corruption. It is also a record and history of the anti-corruption agency being subservient to the political interests of the government of the day.

The question is whether with the restoration of the name of Anti-Corruption Agency, we will begin a new chapter where there will be real seriousness to stamp out graft and corruption in the public service, regardless of rank, status or influence, and completely regardless of the political consequences of such actions either to the ruling politicians or parties of the day.

The people have a right to ask whether the presently re-named ACA will end up like the former ACA and NBI, which started with such fanfare and promise, not only with their formation but also with each change of Prime Minister, at first under the late Tun Razak and then under Tun Hussein Onn, but always ending with a whimper.

The 2M leadership of Dr. Mahathir and Datuk Musa, like the previous administrations, started with the promise that there would be firm action against the corrupt. Public servants were required to declare their assets, the Prime Minister said that he would ‘put the fear of God in those people who are corrupt’, and the press have played up many reports and stories of NBI activities.

But the country has still to see the NBI cracking down on the corrupt, especially those holding high political places whether in Federal or State government positions, which demonstrate that the present 2M leadership is subject to the same political constraints and considerations as previous administrations.

The uproar over the cancellation of the Seremban PWD Sports Club 50th anniversary dinner – although PWD workers have said they knew nothing about such anniversary dinner – and the high-level attacks on the NBI, involving a Federal Minister and the State Mentri Besar, is merely one public example of such ‘political constraints’.

If the ACA is to fully discharge its role as an effective anti-corruption agency, whose sole responsibility is to fight corruption regardless of the political interests of any party, including the ruling party, then we must create three pre-conditions without which no serious or sustained anti-corruption efforts could succeed.

The first pre-condition is that the government, through its leaders at national and state levels, must set the tone of a clean, incorrupt leadership, who are respected by the people as men and women who are not corruptible, and who are fully committed to the battle to wipe out corruption, and not using it as a political gimmickry.

In the past, we have been state government leaders talking loudest about the war against the corrupt when everybody knows that they are themselves most corrupt. We still have such leaders in the country, which cannot but create cynicism as to the seriousness as to the present anti-corruption drive.

Political leaders who try to differentiate between different types of corruption, for instance, would not be able to create that climate where corruption, although it could not be completely wiped out, could not become almost a way of life in the country accepted as a indispensable feature of national life.

Political corruption, for instance, is nothing but another form of corruption. The electorate are told that if they elect Barisn MPs or State Assemblymen, they would get minor development projects which would otherwise be denied them if an Opposition candidate is elected.

This is nothing less than using public funds, contributed by the voters themselves, to bribe the voters to vote for Barisan candidates. This is not only a gross misuse of public funds, but a most deplorable form of political corruption. What is shocking is that there are political leaders who cannot recognise corruption when they see it.

Dr. Mahathir, in his book, ‘Menghadapi Cabaran’, had written:

“Bagi calun dari parti Kerajaan tanak merah dan lain-lain diberi apabila dekat denga pilehanray. Ini sudah tentu menjadi satu jenis korapsi. Kalau pada mulanya undi diberi kerana janji layanan, sekarang layanan diberi kerana undi.” (p.183)

Again, at p.184, Dr. Mahathir wrote:

‘Jika masyarakt ingin menyingkirkan rasuah, masyarakay tidak boleh mengamalkan rasuah secara langsung atau tidak langsung, diwaktu pilihanraya, jika rasuah undi dibuat maka besar kemungkinan pemimpin yang akan dipilih akan terdiri dari meraka yang mudah menggunakan rasuah untuk menjadi calun dan memenangi pilihanraya. Dan pemimpin yang mudah menggunakan rasuah akan mudah terpengaruh dengan rasuah.”

Political leaders who accept political corruption as a way of life will not find corruption in public service as reprehensible for there is considerable kinship between both form of corruption.

If the ACA is to succeed in its duties to stamp out corruption, then it must be able to operate in a national atmosphere where corruption in all its forms is condemned by all sectors of society, and not as of today, where those charged and convicted are able to attract considerable sympathy and support as unfortunate to be caught, as many others who are having their hands in the public till continue to amass their ill-gotten gains with impunity.

As the general elections is around the corner, and will be the first one to be called by the 2M leadership, I will like to ask the Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir, whether he is prepared to conduct the general elections in the cleanest possible manner, without the political corruptions that had marred previous general elections, and in particular in Sabah and Sarawak, laying the basis for the corruption of the political leaders themselves after election.

The second precondition before the ACA can operate successfully is to give the ACA complete independence of operation, where it is not subject to the political authority of any Minister or the Prime Minister even, as to decisions whether to prosecute high-level political leader.

Although the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Musa Hitam, must be commended when he said he would not interfere with the NBI following the Seremban PWD Sport Clubs dinner cancellation uproar, the fact that the NBI or now the ACA is under the Prime Minister’s charge must mean that it is subject to the directions of the Prime Minister, although such directions would not be done publicly.

The ACA will never be truly independent unless it is removed from under the charge of any Minister, and this is why I would urge the Prime Minister to give serious consideration to making the ACA an autonomous body which is answerable only to Parliament, to enhance its freedom of action. Only political leaders who have cause to fear a fully independent and autonomous ACA, not subject to the direction of any Minister of the Executive, need fear such vast powers vested in the ACA.

The third precondition necessary to ensure the success of the ACA is to confer on it sufficient powers to fight corruption. For the past few years, government Ministers had spoken of proposals to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act to strengthen the NBI’s power to fight corruption.

I am surprised therefore that although there is this Bill to change the name of NBI to ACA, there is no accompanying legislation to enhance the powers of the ACA to carry out an effective battle against corruption.

On Oct.27, 1975, I proposed in this House that the Prevention of Corruption Act 1961 should be amended to make it an offence for any public officer including Minister, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Chief Ministers, Exco Members, MPs and State Assemblymen, to have property or pecuniary resources disproportionate to their known sources of income.

I would again commend this proposal to the Prime Minister so that all public officers and political leaders would be charged in court of an offence of corruption for having property or pecuniary resources disproportionate to their known sources of income, and unless he could gie a satisfactory explanation to the Court as to how he could legitimately amass such property or pecuniary resources without involvement in corruption, he would be found guilty and be fined or jailed.

The enactment of such legislation, and its strict enforcement, will not only give the ACA the necessary powers to wage an effective war against corruption, but would lay the basis for the establishment of a really clean, honest and incorrupt government.

Of course, if there is such a legislation and it is strictly adhered, the courts of the country are likely to be tied up with a long list of corruption cases of those who have disproportionate property or pecuniary resources headed by Federal Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, MPs, State Assemblymen, State Chief Ministers and Mentri Besar, State Exco Members.

Is the Prime Minister prepared to pay such a political price to establish a clean, honest and incorrupt government? If he is not, then the question arises as to how effective the anti-corruption campaign would be under the 2M leadership, as compared to previous administrations, given the same type of political constraint and political considerations.

Unless and until the above three preconditions are present the fight against corruption by the ACA is unlikely to be an effective one.