The Malaysian Insider 3 September 2015

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak will survive Transparency International’s (TI) scathing call for answers on the RM2.6 billion in his personal bank accounts, although damage will be done to his image and the nation’s as well, analysts said.

Putrajaya and its institutions still suffered from a trust deficit and this in the long run, will affect Malaysia’s economic prowess and governance, they added.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan said if the Barisan Nasional (BN) federal government does not address the problems the country is facing today, they would have an adverse impact on the nation.

“The main problem is that people do not trust the government and government institutions. This will have an impact on many things, including economic development,” he said.
The Institute of Democracy and Economics Affairs (IDEAS) CEO said this would affect Najib’s image at both domestic and international levels.

“Realistically, it won’t have an impact on his position but on the level of trust, respect and image,” he said in reaction to TI’s statement yesterday urging Putrajaya to carry out a fully independent investigation free from political interference into all allegations of corruption in the country.

TI president Jose Ugaz had also said Malaysia’s commitment towards fighting corruption cannot be taken seriously as long as there were unanswered questions about the RM2.6 billion in Najib’s accounts.

Malaysia is currently hosting the International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC), and Ugaz, who made his remarks at the event, also mentioned Putrajaya’s moves to change the attorney-general, disband the task force probing 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), arrest and question anti-graft investigators, and suspend newspapers which had reported on the debt-ridden state investment firm.

“These are not the actions of a government that is fighting corruption. We may well hear promises of reform. That is not what is needed at this time. And promises alone will not restore confidence and trust,” Ugaz had said.

In a resolution made at the conference by delegates from 100 member countries, TI had also demanded that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) be allowed to operate without political interference.

“Malaysia is facing a major corruption crisis,” it said in its press statement.

Wan Saiful welcomed TI’s statement, and said it “indicated the need to move ahead faster with reforms”.

This was because despite Putrajaya taking some positive initiatives such as the new consultative committee on political financing, the government still faced a crisis of confidence, Wan Saiful said, since allegations involved people at its highest level and had to be properly addressed.

University of Tasmania Asia Institute director Dr James Chin (pic, right) warned that Malaysia’s position in global rankings like the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) will plunge.

This, he said, is worsened by the scandal surrounding 1MDB, which is Najib’s brainchild that has debts of RM42 billion incurred in six years of operations. Najib also faces allegations of another scandal involving the RM2.6 billion “donation” to his personal accounts.

Malaysia registered a three spot leap in TI’s 2014 CPI to 50th spot last year among 175 countries.

In 2013, it ranked 53 out of the same number of countries in the index.

Score-wise, Malaysia moved up two points to 52 last year from 50 in 2013. On the CPI, a score of 0 is “highly corrupt” and 100 is considered “very clean”.

Chin, however, is skeptical that the government would take heed of TI’s latest urgings, citing the lack of political will.

“If the government is serious about tackling corruption, they need to go after ‘big fishes’ rather than ‘ikan bilis’,” he said in using the Malay term for anchovies, a type of small fish.

“The problem is, there is no political will and most Malaysians do not trust the MACC anyway.

“Most Malaysians think MACC and Paul Low are just apologists for the system and just there to do a public relations job for the government,” he said in referring to minister in charge of governance and integrity Datuk Paul Low.

However, analyst Dr Oh Ei Sun does not believe Malaysia and Najib will suffer too much from repercussions at the international stage if the prime minister ignored TI’s latest call.

“What really matters overseas is the superpowers’ attitude toward him, and all of them, despite their erstwhile differences, appear not to be too perturbed by recent developments locally here,” said the senior fellow with Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

He said Malaysia needed to strengthen its anti-corruption law and make the MACC an independent body. Currently, its service scheme is tied to the civil service and it does not answer to Parliament.

Oh said this could only be done effectively if such moves were accompanied by amnesty and reconciliation laws which have been recommended by TI.

Najib has been under pressure over 1MDB over the past year, but the RM2.6 billion scandal which was exposed this July by The Wall Street Journal, has heightened calls for his resignation.

Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail was abruptly replaced as Attorney-General on July 28, in the midst of a probe by a special task force into the transfer of funds to Najib’s accounts.

The task force has since been disbanded, with each of its member agencies along with other government agencies now regrouped under a “rebranded” task force for national revenue recovery that focuses on financial crimes such as tax evasion and illegal money outflows.

Najib has been accused of a cover up and criticised for explanations given by himself and other Umno leaders, who have said that there was nothing wrong with him as party president holding the RM2.6 billion in trust on behalf of the party.

Last weekend, thousands of Malaysians rallied in the Bersih 4 street demonstration in Kuala Lumpur, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu to call for Najib’s resignation and for answers over the money.

But Najib remains president of leading Malay party Umno, whose leader by convention is the country’s prime minister. – September 3, 2015.

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