PRIME Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that the chief executive officers of government-link companies and government-linked investment companies, as well as members of the judiciary must declare their assets to the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), as decided during a special cabinet committee on anti-corruption meeting.
This bold move is the key to transparency, accountability, and integrity in fighting corruption. As of 2022, Malaysia ranked 62 out of 180 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The drop in rank does reflect the level of corruption in our country.
Malaysia does not have a legal framework that caters specifically for this. However, the framework can be found in the following:
- Public Officers (Conduct & Discipline) Regulations 1993 & Service Circular No.3/2002
- Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009
- The Judges Code of Ethics 2009
- Code of Ethics for Members of Administration 2009
- Code of Ethics for Government Backbenchers 2004.
Despite this, the system is not comprehensive enough. As of now, civil servants are required to declare their assets every five years.
Meanwhile, cabinet members, are required to disclose their assets to the prime minister without any public disclosure (optional).
It is still not mandatory for MPs to declare their assets. Similarly, judges are required to submit their assets declarations to the chief justice, as recognised under their Judges Code of Ethics 2009.
These are merely window-dressing regulations, in which failure to comply will result in administrative action.
Even though public officials can be convicted under section 36(3) of the MACC Act 2009, the burden lies on the prosecution to establish the offence.
There have been recommendations made by various organisations inside and outside government to provide an effective assets declaration system.
As such, declarations must be available publicly. The previous government made this accessible to the public in 2018, but not anymore.
However, the information provided is limited to the assets that are being declared without any further breakdown provided by the public official.
This has been a debatable issue, where it intertwines data privacy and public disclosure. Nevertheless, when it comes to accountability and transparency, public interest overrides personal interest.
Moving on, it is time to make declaration mandatory for MPs, administrators and senators upon taking their oath of office. This includes GLCs and GLICs.
It is a two-fold approach that brings confidence and transparency to the public. Assets declaration is made under the Statutory Declarations Act 1960.
In addition to which, give the mandate to MACC to verify the declared assets and monitor them. As of now, the MACC has no capacity to do so.
This brings dysfunction to the system, where the MACC is powerless unless unexplained wealth reported.
With that said, the MACC must play its role as an independent agency. Since the MACC only acts as a custodian of the information given, with respect to the act.
Thus, this position will help the MACC to act directly by verifying the declaration made by ministers.
This allows the MACC to probe public officials, civil servants, even GLCs and GLICS on the offence committed since it has the power to verify the assets that have been declared directly and to prosecute the offender.
Hence, this is a long-standing recommendation that alludes to Parliament to act the soonest.
Ismail has, in fact, stated that there will be a new implementation under the House of Parliament (Privileged and Powers) Act 1952, as to maintain the principle of separation of powers.
This is surely a step forward to help in preventing another famous Pandora Papers revelation taking place. – September 22, 2022.
* Matilda George reads The Malaysian Insight.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.