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Impunity to commit grand corruption is not an option — William Leong Jee Keen

Publish date: Sun, 26 Mar 2023, 11:53 AM

MARCH 25 — I wish to make three comments to Datuk A. Kadir Jasin’s Facebook post as reported in the media on 19 March 2023. The veteran newsman in his posting advised Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to “move on” from the past and dedicate himself to resolve the economic problems faced by the people.

First: Corruption and impunity

Kadir Jasin wrote: “We have to bury our hatchets, heal the wounds and move on... It’s alright to seek justice. But in politics, especially one that’s vile as in Malaysia today, the line separating justice and revenge is blurry. So, let us leave the search for justice and truth to the law-enforcement agencies and the courts of law.”

Politics of revenge and selective accountability

Politics of revenge, selective accountability, witch-hunts, political prosecution, trumped-up charges and show trials as a strategy to take-down political foes are as equally damaging to society and abominable as interference with the agencies, prosecutors and judiciary to stop investigations, prosecutions or to release crony wrong-doers.

However, criminal charges or allegations of corruption in show trials are typically weak and the evidence produced unconvincing. Whether by bringing in and out a mattress into court or a chart of illicit fund flow, the court of public opinion will pass judgment whether putting the former leaders on trial is for accountability or a political ploy.

Political will and leadership

Abhorrent fraudulent prosecutions of political rivals must, however, be distinguished from a prime minister providing the leadership and political will necessary to carry out reforms to address corruption.

Political will and leadership is needed for political governance, policies to prevent political interference in the appointment, promotion, transfer and removal of the enforcement agencies’ personnel, policies on public procurement, enhancing the independence of the judiciary and enforcement agencies; separating the Attorney General’s functions as legal advisor to the executive and prosecution, the placement of MACC under the parliament, establishing parliament select committees for oversight and monitoring of the MACC and many other reforms.

Ending impunity

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has put into the forefront of his mission, the need to show the political will and leadership that Malaysia requires to rid the scourge of corruption — to end impunity.

Impunity is the failure to prosecute those who have committed corruption, to allow the perpetrators to avoid accountability for their actions and victims to obtain justice for the wrongs they suffered.

“Impunity” is defined by the United Nations Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Through Action to Combat Impunity as follows: “The impossibility, de jure or de facto, of bringing the perpetrators of violations to account — whether in criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary proceedings — since they are not subject to any inquiry that might lead to their being accused, arrested, tried and, if found guilty, sentenced to appropriate penalties, and to making reparations to their victims.”

There are currently joint international efforts to address impunity in corruption cases under the auspices of the United Nations Anti-Corruption Convention which Malaysia has ratified. One proposal is to establish an International Court on Corruption to prosecute corruption cases where the relevant nation states are unwilling or unable to prosecute grand corruption of their nationals. If, we are to forgo holding perpetrators of grand corruption accountable, it will indeed be a national embarrassment, for Malaysians to depend on other countries to secure justice for their own people.

Burying the hatchet

Is this the time to bury the hatchet? Life for ordinary Malaysians in the past 60 years was not a stroll in the park. Malaysians are not digging up old wounds for revenge. Each day for the past six decades, ordinary Malaysians have been savaged by corruption. Like Prometheus who was bound to a rock and punished by an eagle eating his liver alive each day, to have his liver grow back during the night and the ordeal repeated the next day, Malaysians suffered daily from the evils of corruption. The wounds are fresh. The cries for justice and reparations warranted.

Malaysia has enough laws, agencies and plans to deal with corruption but all failed. This is because grand corruption is committed by those holding high-level political power and their business associates. They stole from the people. They stymied investigations, interfered with prosecutions and the judiciary. They entrenched their political power to maintain an environment where corruption flourished with impunity.

Finally, we have a regime change. At last, we can now bring the perpetrators to book. Justice can be served. Therefore, before we can bury the hatchet; truth, justice, retribution and compensation have to be given their hard-won place. The Prime Minister must not waver in his conviction to get rid of Impunity.

Second: Political divisiveness

Kadir Jasin told Anwar “not to get caught in a time warp, fighting against your own shadows”. The demons of grand corruption in Malaysia are not imagined. They are real and they are pushing back to regain their political power. These demons must first be exorcised before victory over corruption can be attained.

Kadir Jasin’s suggestion not to focus on prosecuting former political leaders is not without grounds. However, it is not in the best long-term interest of the nation. Prosecuting current or past political leaders tend to be divisive and destabilising because they are chosen by the nation’s citizens or their parties to lead. They are obviously popular and sometimes revered. So criminal proceedings against them are inevitably perceived as political and become divisive. By adhering to the due process of the law, claims of political prosecution cannot be substantiated or extinguished until the evidence unfolds at the trial.

Thus, notwithstanding its destabilizing nature, if corruption is to be wiped out, there must be the courage of conviction to choose prosecution over political expediency. History has shown this hard choice is preferred to allowing perpetrators breaking the law with impunity.

In 1974, US President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, his predecessor, despite clear evidence of wrongdoing in the Watergate scandal. Ford believed healing the nation from divisiveness was preferred to the destabilising effects of punishing an ex-president. Others have viewed this as a historic mistake. It has emboldened future impunity of the kind Donal Trump is currently accused of.

Sarkozy is France’s second modern president to be found guilty of corruption, after Jacques Chirac in 2011 for kickbacks and an attempt to bribe a magistrate. The country did not fall apart after either conviction.

South Korea investigated and convicted five former presidents and in 2018 impeached President Park Geun-hye. South Korea also convicted and imprisoned her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak. Although large chaebols pose significant difficulties as illicit business behaviour is still common among them, public outrage against corrupt practices and demands for accountability have ensured grand corruption in South Korea is no longer tolerated.

On the other side of the spectrum, Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolution Party or PRI established a system of patronage and corruption. Impunity kept Mexico stable during its transition to democracy in the 1990s by placating PRI members’ fear of prosecution after they leave office. But government corruption flourished and so did organized crime.

On December 24, 2017, the President of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, pardoned jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori. Protestors accused Kuczynski of corruption, claiming that the pardon was payback for the support of Fujimori’s son, Kenji Fujimori in helping Kuczynski survive an impeachment vote, days earlier. On October 3, 2018, Fujimori’s pardon was reversed by Peru’s Supreme Court and he was ordered to return to prison.

In several Latin American countries, tacit agreement by the successor government to maintain impunity by not prosecuting its predecessors established a system that permitted parties to “handover” illicit networks when one party replaces the other. Once elites come to an understanding that sanctions and prosecutions are de-coupled from regime change, then it is easy to imagine that political friends and foes will be perversely incentivised to engage in corruption. The changes of regime did not end corruption. It is only when this impunity circle is broken that one corrupt president after another, like dominos, begin to fall will corruption be arrested.

Therefore, if one is sincere in ending corruption there is no option other than to end impunity.

Third: Corruption and economic growth

Kadir Jasin advised Anwar not to continue speaking of his struggles and “help the people today to put food on their table”. However, there can be no food if corruption continues to thrive. Corruption reduces economic growth: diminishes innovative strategies, discourage foreign and local investment, increase the price of goods and services, increase state expenditures and reduce state revenues.

The National Anti-Corruption Plan 2019-2023 formulated in line with Article 5 of the United Nation Convention Against Corruption states that rampant corruption in politics and government have aggravated inequality in terms of income, wealth and opportunity. The real impacts of corruption include rising costs of living, declining purchasing power, dampened effects on wages and productivity. The situation is made worse by the increase in public debt to RM1 trillion which includes substantial debts arising from corruption and in leakages due to mis-governance of public funds. The Government has paid 1MDB’s debts of RM43.8 billion with a balance of RM9.7 billion unpaid. More than RM1.8 trillion has been lost through illicit financial flow from 2005 until 2014 of which a portion is corruption related. There was the BMF scandal, PKFZ, Scorpion submarines scandal, now Jana Wibawa.


In order for the Prime Minister to address the economic needs of Malaysians, focus and priority must be given to end corruption. Putting an end to impunity is not revenge but for the social economic well-being of Malaysians.

* William Leong Jee Keen is the Member of Parliament for Selayang.

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