In both manifestos, graft issues take a back seat

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It’s all about unfinished business.

When Malaysian stock market investors want a clue on what the 13th general election (GE) factor may do to their investments, they need look no further back than the last GE.

The market caved in when news broke that opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat had made unexpected headway by denying Barisan Nasional a two-thirds majority in Parliament and taking five states, the biggest election setback for the ruling party ever.

Why do investors fear a change of government if Malaysia’s economy is such a dynamic, private-sector driven runaway success as Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak often boasts?

If Transparency International’s survey released last year on corruption is accurate, one in two businessman already know the answer.

If you don’t pay a bribe in Malaysia, you lose business, they say. Its all about corruption – which some people say helps oil the wheels of business, even if it is at considerable cost.

"An overall anti-corruption strategy is urgently needed but it is missing in both manifestos," Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M)’s secretary general Josie Fernandez said.

"Corruption is endemic and its consequences to society and the country are immense and devastating."

In fact, Fernandez said that whatever laundry list economics the manifestos promise would have limited impact if the next Malaysian government does not first seriously tackle corruption.

Pakatan’s manifesto promises to free the anti-corruption institutions. "Freeing up important institutions such as the judiciary, Attorney General's (AG) Chambers, Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) and police from political control... within the first six months," its manifesto said.

BN’s manifesto promises only upgrades. BN promises to empower the MACC through the establishment of a Service Commission to recruit its own personnel. Additional courts will be set up and access to AG reports sped up.

"Any government which is serious about corruption must do it all together as a comprehensive attack and not a piecemeal approach. Most importantly, they must show genuine powerful political will," Ramon Navaratnam, a veteran civil servant and prominent economist said.

"I don’t think either have come out strongly enough on the mother of corruption – money politics," he said.

Who is paying for the election show that Pakatan and BN are putting up? Flags everywhere, advertisements on TV every hour and free food, popstar entertainment: Are you ready for (Korea’s) Psy... anyone? Businessmen on the left and businessmen on the right. And logically, it’s a two-way process.

"If you just become a warlord, and you don’t give money, they are not interested in you. You want to amass funds illegally... to feed your followers," Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Umno’s treasurer from 1971-1984 was quoted telling TI-M in the book 'Reforming Political Financing in Malaysia.'

TI-M's Fernandez said that the manifestos show a marked absence of commitment from both Pakatan and BN leaders to submit themselves to scrutiny and to step down if any serious allegation and investigation of corruption emerges.

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