COMMENT G25, a group of concerned citizens, has issued several statements on moderation in Islam and the transparency and integrity of the system of governance in Malaysia. We believe both are important issues for upholding the image of Malaysia as a progressive country that respects the constitutional rights of the people and their expectations for justice in the administration of law and order.
G25 has issued statements on the importance of sustaining strong institutions that are allowed to undertake their functions independent of political interference. In this context, the appointment of the next chief commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), in our view, is a matter of significant national interest.
Whoever is appointed must meet public expectations that the nominee can do his or her job as a professional. Meeting this expectation is even more critical, given the recent developments affecting MACC.
It is in the public domain, domestically and internationally, that Malaysia is losing ground on sustaining its strong institutions, a position Malaysia was seen as a leader.
We can redress this perception in the appointment of the chief commissioner of MACC to be a person,not only highly qualified, but also able to exercise integrity and manage the operations of MACC with a high degree of independence and accountability in administering all the powers accorded to MACC by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009.
In the immediate term, G25 would like to support the proposal by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) that the government appoints an internal candidate who can provide the continuity to complete the changes being implemented in the MACC to make it a more effective agency and fulfil its mandate of an independent and accountable anti-corruption agency.
Relative to the region, Malaysia is lagging behind, having deteriorated significantly on the measures of corruption indices. In the current environment of uncertainty, an internal appointment can help restore some level of confidence.
Expectations of members of the public and investors from the chief commissioner of MACC are no different from what they expect of the governor of Bank Negara Malaysia.
Adopt open, transparent selection process
In the medium term, G25 proposes that the government put in place a more open and transparent selection process for leadership in key agencies, including the MACC.
This process should be based on best practices in the developed world that are now adopted by emerging economies, whereby key appointments are made in a public manner, through convening a Parliamentary Select Committee with terms of reference to scrutinise the suitability of the candidates nominated for the job.
During the select committee hearings, the Members of Parliament, as committee members representing the voice of the people, will examine whether the government is justified in choosing the most qualified persons based on criteria that is published.
The candidates shortlisted and given to the parliamentary committee for selection shall include both internal candidates in the MACC as well candidates outside the agency. Members of the public, including professional and civil society organisations that have specific objections, should be allowed to make their presentations to the Parliamentary Select Committee.
It is time for Malaysia to adopt this consultative and open process of making appointments to top positions in the civil administration, in view of the need to get a buy-in from the public. Gaining public confidence that the candidate is a professional who can be depended upon to lead key agencies like the MACC without fear and favour in enforcing the law, is most important for providing legitimacy to the appointment.
Adopting this open process will put Malaysia on par with regional countries like Indonesia, where corruption had been a major factor in slowing down economic development. The changes in the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK or Corruption Eradication Commission) and appointment of its chief commissioner by a parliamentary committee and approved by the president have helped improve Indonesia’s ranking in the global measurement of corruption indices.
It has also contributed to enhancing investor confidence in the long-term economic potential of Indonesia. Indonesia now receives the largest share of the Asean inward investments in IH 2015, at 31 percent of the total foreign direct investments (FDIs) into Asean.
It is necessary for G25 to state that there has been an erosion of confidence in recent years on the calibre of top officials and their professionalism in handling crisis situations, involving race and religion, in managing scandalous cases involving public finance and corporate frauds and in responding to the allegations of cronyism, favouritism and official cover-ups in our country.
Together with all the secrecy rules to deny public access to information, there is a strong impression, locally and internationally, that there is discrimination and selectivity in the administration of law and order in Malaysia.
This is not conducive to the investment climate because investors today are showing more concern for transparency in government than they used to. Similarly, our own citizens expect their government to take into consideration their concern when making pivotal decisions on crucial appointments, for they are now more worried than before about the quality of government officials.
We believe that it is crucial for the government to take concrete steps to restore the good name of Malaysia as a well administered country. One immediate step that can redeem our credibility is to empower Parliament with a greater oversight function, such as the establishment of a select committee to deliberate on the quality of candidates proposed for key positions.
JASMINE ZULKIFLI, for and on behalf of independent, non-governmental movement G25.