Corruption with impunity is undermining democracy, socio-economic advancement and the independence of Parliament, state and legislature in Malaysia.
Corruption with impunity is a major challenge stifling efforts to reform institutions such as the Elections Commission, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), the police and political parties. Election fraud is another indicator that impunity has been institutionalised.
Reforms proposed by civil society groups such as Transparency International Malaysia to restructure the Elections Commission (EC), for a more independent MACC and for removal of laws that curtail the independence of the media have been ignored by the government.
Recent surveys such as the Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) 2013 results have shown that approximately 70 percent of the Malaysian public does not have faith in the government.
Results from the GCB 2013 reveal that the public perceive the police to be the most corrupt, followed closely by political parties, civil servants and the Parliament/Legislature.
Bad behaviour in Parliament is yet another strong indicator that impunity is the driver of such behaviour. Often the prosecution of political and public officials is hindered by collusion, interference of government bureaus, personal influence and institutional pressures.
There has been little progress made into the investigations of allegations of corruption against political leaders such as the Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud. In Sarawak actions have not been taken against civil servants failing to appear as witnesses in native customary rights (NCR) land cases. This is yet another example of impunity.
(A recent case in point is the Long Terawan lawsuit in Miri, Sarawak involving an NCR case filed by members of the Berawan Community of Long Terawan Mulu. The Sarawak government had taken the land to build an airstrip and a road for a hotel affiliated with the Mulu National Park.)
Freedom from punishment for the powerful is a sign of a bad government. Everyone should be equal before the law.
Reforms can be affected through the passing of appropriate laws to deal with the issue of corruption with impunity. In the United Kingdom, public officials can be subjected to a judicial review at the discretion of individuals who feel the official acted outside of his authority or engaged in an illegal or unjust action.
To restore public confidence that the government is committed to the fight against corruption, it must end impunity for the powerful.
JOSIE FERNANDEZ is secretary general of Transparency International-Malaysia.