This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on August 14, 2018.
Audit Department, MACC off limits to prime minister
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KUALA LUMPUR: The government has announced steps to empower Parliament and limit the power of the prime minister (PM) over two key agencies crucial in fighting corruption, namely the National Audit Department (NAD) and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the plan is to set up bipartisan parliamentary select committees to ensure the autonomy of the agencies.

He said the most important action for the government to take in combating corruption is to remove from the PM’s position what he described as “overall authority” over the two key agencies.

“This means that the prime minister and the government will not have the power to [appoint,] dismiss or demote the positions [in these bodies],” he said. “Furthermore, even the budget allocation for these bodies will be determined not by the government but by the select committee.”

Speaking to the press after the third meeting of the Cabinet Select Committee on Anti-Corruption (JKKMAR) yesterday, Dr Mahathir did not specify any timeline for the plan, saying only that it will be done as soon as possible.

Currently, the NAD and MACC are parked under the Prime Minister’s Department, which means the PM has the prerogative to appoint the agencies’ chiefs.

The changes are part of a greater reform under the purview of JKKMAR, which is tasked to streamline anti-corruption measures involving the government and related entities.

“We need time to see the outcome from [taking] these actions. We hope these steps will help reduce corruption,” said Dr Mahathir.

For the MACC, a press statement by JKKMAR underlined that the competency of its chief commissioner will also be assessed by “external stakeholders”. The statement, however, did not provide details.

In the statement, JKKMAR also proposed that the NAD, which will be given full autonomy through the audit select committee under Parliament, be named as the Office of the Auditor-General of Malaysia.

However, Dr Mahathir pointed to potential hiccups if the government plans to implement changes promised by the Pakatan Harapan goverment in its electoral manifesto that would require the Federal Constitution to be amended.

“This will require some time to study the wordings of the law … not all these reforms will be done immediately.

“One that is impossible for us to do is things that would require amendments of the constitution because we do not have two-thirds (majority in) Parliament,” he said

“If we have the declaration from the opposition parties that they will support [our proposals], only then will we introduce the amendments that [require] Parliament’s approval,” he added.

This includes the promise to set up a two-term limit for a prime minister.

As such, Dr Mahathir said he will seek the support of opposition MPs in these matters. “Immediately after this, I will talk to the opposition,” he said.

New body to manage seized assets

Meanwhile, a plan to set up a central body to manage assets confiscated at the national level, dubbed “Central Asset Management Corp” is also in the works.

JKKMAR, in its statement, said it will establish laws which will underline the authority of the unit which will have authority over seized assets at the national level.

The announcement comes as Malaysia seeks to retrieve assets allegedly acquired through government-linked 1Malaysia Development Bhd (IMDB), the latest including a private jet belonging to 1MDB mastermind Low Taek Jho or better known as Jho Low.

Dr Mahathir confirmed at the press conference that the jet will be “brought in as soon as we can [bring it to] flight” from Singapore, whose government has confiscated the jet — a Bombardier Global 5000 — since January last year.

“It’s been lying on the ground for a long time, and planes which do not fly often need to be serviced and checked. So we will have the checks done, when it can fly we will bring it here,” he said.

Low used funds traceable to the US$700 million (RM2.86 billion) that was transferred from 1MDB to Good Star Ltd’s account to acquire the jet for US$35.37 million, according to court documents filed with the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Aug 6 sighted by The Edge Financial Daily.

Wynton Aviation (Global 5000) Ltd, a company that was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands on Dec 30, 2009 on Dec 2009, bought the private jet from JT Aviation Corp. The purchase was done one day after Wynton was incorporated, if not the same day. Low was the owner and controlling party of Wynton, according to the court document.

The jet purchase happened less than three months after the US$700 million wire transfer was executed from 1MDB to Good Star in October 2009.

When the US$700 million was transferred into Good Star’s bank account from 1MDB, Deutshce Bank’s officer in Malaysia was told that Good Star was a wholly-owned subsidiary of PetroSaudi International — a joint-venture partner of 1MDB to exploit energy concession in Turkmenistan and Argentina.

However, the court document cited the banking records show that Good Star was a company controlled by Low and he was the beneficial owner of Good Star’s account and the sole signatory. It was not a unit of PetroSaudi International.

The transfer of the jet would mark the second big-ticket item, allegedly owned by Low, to be seized by the Malaysian authorities in recent months through the assistance of neighbouring nations.

Last week, the US$250 million superyacht Equanimity — also said to belong to Low — docked at Malaysian shores after it was passed by authorities in Indonesia.

Low, as well as the direct owner of the yacht, Equanimity (Cayman) Ltd have both questioned the legality of the seizure by Malaysian authorities, while troubled state fund 1MDB has also claimed ownership of the yacht. - Edge Markets, 14/8/2018

Place MACC under Parliament for better accountability, says Aliran

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Aliran president Anil Netto said that the proposed move was necessary for MACC to operate independently.

PETALING JAYA: A reform movement and an academic have called for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to be parked under Parliament for better accountability.

This comes in the wake of the controversy over alleged share ownership by MACC chief commissioner Azam Baki and the resignation of an academic from an MACC oversight panel.

In a petition launched yesterday, Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran) called for the anti-graft agency to be moved from the Prime Minister’s Department to Parliament, where it could be supervised by a bipartisan parliamentary select committee (PSC).

The petition was initiated following the resignation of economist Edmund Terence Gomez from the agency’s Consultation and Corruption Prevention Panel (CCPP) on Dec 27 over the panel’s alleged refusal to entertain his request to have a meeting to discuss news reports that implicated Azam in alleged stock ownership.

Anil Netto.

Speaking to FMT, Aliran president Anil Netto said that the proposed move is necessary for the agency to operate independently.

“It is important that MACC is seen as an independent agency. Parking it under a bipartisan select committee would make it answerable to the parliamentarians who are part of it.

“Plus, the agency’s leadership can be asked to appear before the PSC and explain its actions and inactions in battling corruption as well as any controversies facing the agency.”

He also added that such a move will allow MPs to voice their unhappiness on selective investigations carried out by the agency.

Responding to the petition’s call for the agency’s leadership to be investigated, Anil said this was necessary to protect the good name of the agency.

The petition also called for an immediate response from the agency’s leadership on the allegations facing them; and for an open and independent investigation, led by a bipartisan parliamentary committee, to commence immediately.

Meanwhile, political analyst Azmi Hassan told FMT that Aliran’s proposal was not new since it had been made by several parties before.

“The allegations facing Azam on alleged shares ownership, as well as politically motivated prosecutions and non-prosecutions by the agency, can be used as the impetus for Aliran’s call to be pushed forward.”

Speaking further on Aliran’s proposal, he said this would allow Parliament to be in charge of matters related to the promotions and changes in the positions of the agency’s personnel since they are not under the Public Service Department (JPA).

“Putting MACC under the PSC will also help the agency to conduct its investigations into any public officials without fear or favour,” said Azmi.

DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang said Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s action on this crucial issue will decide if 2022 will be known as a year that rejected corruption.

“Will the prime minister continue to avoid this issue by his silence? Or will he get the Parliamentary special select committee on agencies under his jurisdiction to summon Azam Baki to explain the serious allegations made against him two months ago?” he asked in a statement today.

The Iskandar Puteri MP said if he continues to ignore this key issue, Malaysia is headed towards the lowest ranking in the Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2021 expected to be announced at the end of this month - FMT, 1/1/2022