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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Get Real in the Fight Against Corruption

Get Real In the Fight Against Corruption

M. Bakri Musa

Reprinted from the Sun Weekend July 8, 2005

There are two crucial components to eradicating corruption: combating and preventing.

The suspension of Isa Samad was certainly a dramatic demonstration of UMNO’s commitment to combating “money politics,” the politicians’ euphemism for corruption. Abdullah Badawi now needs to demonstrate that he is equally resolute in preventing it. He could do this by radically reforming the current political system that permits money politics to thrive. One way to pull off the equivalent of an “Isa Samad” in prevention would be for Abdullah to declare boldly that henceforth he would decouple government – especially cabinet – appointments from party positions. That is, a party leader could not hold a government post, except for the President and Deputy President.

Dramatic actions in fighting corruption, unaccompanied by equally aggressive preventive measures, would be futile.

If Isa proved to be the only “big fish” snared, then the seriousness of the “fight” against corruption would remain illusory. Already there are charges of selective prosecution.

For UMNO’s Disciplinary Board to declare that its job is done with Isa’s suspension goes beyond naivety. It smacks of a hatchet job. It would be a toss up then as to who is more corrupt: Isa Samad or the panelists.

If Isa were spared criminal prosecution by the Anti Corruption Agency (ACA), it would effectively reduce the Disciplinary Board to a kangaroo court. The Board must have had compelling evidence that rises to criminality for it to mete out such a harsh sentence. If the Board does not refer the case to the ACA, then those distinguished lawyers on the panel are derelict in their professional duties as officers of the court. In America, that would be grounds for disbarment.

Thus, the dramatic impact of Isa’s suspension may yet prove illusory. Abdullah could however, institute measures that could capitalize on the current momentum and impress the nation that he is dead serious about corruption.

He should immediately terminate Isa’s cabinet appointment. “Innocent till proven guilty” is fine in a criminal court, but not in a position that demands high public trust. Besides, Isa cannot be an effective minister while consumed fighting this charge. By merely asking Isa to resign his party position, Abdullah appears to be waffling. Worse, he does not demand high standards of his ministers. By leaving it to UMNO Supreme Council to suspend Isa, Abdullah missed a splendid opportunity to demonstrate his personal resolve and commitment in combating corruption.

After firing Isa, the Prime Minister should then give his other ministers and political appointees one month to decide between their government job and party position. They should not have both.

The immediate impact would be to dampen the usual mad rush to run for party posts, thus reducing money politics. The party too would benefit, as those who seek those positions would have the party’s interest at heart.

The intense campaigning for even lowly divisional posts is because of the associated monetary rewards in the form of lucrative government jobs and contracts. These party positions are a license to print money, thus contributing to the fetid climate for corruption to thrive.

Decoupling would also diffuse power and provide an effective checks and balances system, both effective antidotes against corruption. Party leaders would check on ministers and other appointees, keeping them honest and effective.

Today the typical cabinet minister is head of an UMNO wing as well as being a Supreme Council member, on the board of Government-linked companies, and a Member of Parliament. Any of those jobs would tax the competence of any individual. These ministers think they can do it all. The reality is of course far different, and obvious to all.

By decoupling, ministers could concentrate solely on their cabinet duties and be freed from the political chores that presently distract them. Besides, the skills and talent that would make one a successful party leader are not necessarily the qualities needed to be an effective executive. Indeed the needed qualities for the two are quite the opposite.

Prime Minister would have a much wider choice of talent instead of being restricted only to party leaders.

The Prime Minister has demonstrated only half of his resolve in eradicating corruption. He needs to demonstrate that he is resolute in preventing it.

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