Institutional reforms will change perceptions

I SYMPATHISE with the feeling of disappointment expressed by the director-general of MACC at the report showing Malaysia's position in the Corruption Perception Index has deteriorated, putting us among less admired countries.

He rightly said that despite all the arrests and prosecutions, the world still doubted the country's seriousness in fighting corruption.

We can learn from the experience of Hong Kong and Indonesia how world perception can change almost overnight for the better by making the right institutional reforms.

In Hong Kong during the colonial period, the public expressed outrage at the corruption scandals in the British colony. The colonial administration reacted to the public disgust by introducing a strong law to give its anti-corruption agency the power to operate independently of the governor.

Then they saw a few senior British officers in the police force charged and convicted for being involved in protecting the smuggling and other criminal syndicates. Since then, the island has become respected for its clean image.

Hong Kong has shot up as a trustworthy global financial centre after it cleaned up its image on integrity and accountability.

In Indonesia, which had a reputation for corruption, the government adopted a similar anti-corruption law as Hong Kong, making the enforcement agency an independent institution outside the power of the president and responsible only to parliament. World perception improved rapidly when a few top officials were charged and removed from office.

Investor confidence in Indonesia has improved greatly on the perception that high-level corruption is under control.

I think if Malaysia can introduce legislation to make MACC an independent institution outside of ministerial control and answerable only to an autonomous commission with its own powers of hiring, firing and promoting the top officers; and further, if government shows the political will to empower Parliament, institutions of law and order and regulatory authorities to independently exercise their oversight functions to provide check and balance against abuse of power, our Corruption Perception Index ranking will improve overnight by several points to make us among the most admired countries in the world. This will strengthen the investment climate.

I hope these improvements will become the next phase of the country's reform agenda to complement the good reforms which have been put in place after the government reacted to the signals from the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis on the need for a better system of governance in the public and private sectors.

Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim
Kuala Lumpur