IF the Prime Minister's unilateral decision to appoint Latheefa Beebi Koya as the new Chief Commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) goes unchallenged, Malaysia will see the first woman leading the nation's war against corruption. This will add to the list of women appointed to key leadership positions in the government's bid to reform key institutions.
If the groups and individuals who see the Prime Minister's appointment of Latheefa as an unconstitutional flouting of his prime ministerial prerogative fail to take the matter to court, the chief commissioner's position is secured for at least the two year period of the contract.
To a lay commentator of anti-corruption and integrity matters like me, Latheefa's situation seems both tenable and untenable. Tenable, because under the new leadership more impactful strategies can be put in place and executed; untenable, because numerous corruption issues will remain clandestine and unresolved.
It is not as if the new chief commissioner has a miracle whip that can turn Malaysia's corrupted society and rakyat around with one fall swoop. Assuming that Latheefa will be well accepted by the MACC staff and other supporting agencies, her task will still be hauntingly daunting as she digs deep into the labyrinth of bribery and corruption, including the bottomless pit of the underworld and a thriving black economy.
Having been appointed to the MACC Advisory Board for two terms, I must confess to having a little insider knowledge about how the anti-corruption bureaucracy works. During my first term, the Advisory Board was made up of some of the most able and upright appointees, chaired by a woman with the highest credentials and professional integrity.
As ex officio, the Chief Commissioner, Deputy Chief Commissioners and their teams reported developments in the Commission's work at the monthly board meetings and were on standby to answer probing questions from members of the Board, to explain or clarify unresolved issues of the day especially those involving the law. Occasionally there was a need to see the higher ups including the Attorney General and the Prime Minister.
In my experience, the MACC personnel reporting to the five oversight panels seemed forthright and earnest enough. They were regular civil servants carrying out their duties and responsibilities like their colleagues in other government departments. Whether all of them were incorruptible, honest and truthful we could not tell. We could only take their reporting at face value.
Meetings with the then AG and PM were understandably polite and decorous but big question marks still hung over our heads when we left their rooms. What really went on in their minds we could only conjecture as their overriding response was, "We are doing it in the interest and security of the nation." Demi bangsa, agama dan negara.
Perhaps the real challenge for the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government in fighting corruption lies not just in institutional reform; in tightening of laws and regulations; in appointing a committed, incorruptible leadership; in ensuring strict enforcement; and in rounding up the receivers of monetary inducements.
I believe it lies in a concerted witch hunting of bribe givers that corrupt our enforcement agencies and their personnel. Expose them as examples of the most rotten apples in Malaysia’s tree of hope, side by side with the takers. Only then is there effective balance, fairness and justice in the anti-corruption system.
Perhaps what the new Chief Commissioner should focus on is getting to the bottom of the pit and unearthing the syndicates that block enforcement efforts in a huge way. Perhaps Latheefa needs to study in detail the relative success of Hong Kong's anti-corruption efforts in cleaning up the island state's triads and secret societies that preyed on the monetary trails in business and the government.
The Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was established in 1974 at the time when corruption was rife in one of the most corrupted cities in the world. Here there was close business association between law enforcement agencies and organised crime syndicates. Corruption was a way of life across all levels of society. Within three years, the ICAC smashed all corruption syndicates in the Government and prosecuted 247 government officials, including 143 police officers.
The MACC already boasts of a comprehensive strategy much like the ICAC's three pronged approach – deterrence, prevention and education. With the strong political shown by the PH leadership, a dedicated anti-corruption agency and the correct zero corruption strategy, endemic corruption amongst Malaysians can be drastically reduced and Malaysia will be transformed into a clean society.
God willing, it will take an iron-fisted woman chief commissioner with the highest integrity and a no-nonsense approach to do this. And I believe Latheefa Koya can. She must arm herself with the all-encompassing management skills and lateral thinking that women effectively use in managing the diverse facets of their life, and instilling the most upright values in the home and workplace.
She can mobilise the country's women to join her in the fight against corruption.
* Datuk Halimah Mohd Said is the President of Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason (PCORE).
** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.