Down2Earth - A blank cheque for abuse of power

THE Immigration Department ranks highest among government bodies found to be corrupt by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

I am inclined to believe this following the case of David Velez, a Colombian national who was unlawfully arrested and detained for eight days at the Putrajaya depot. I had highlighted his story on Dec 15.

The focus was on the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) which I had accused of sitting on its hands for 20 months following Velez’s report on his treatment at the detention centre which included lack of access to drinking water, cramped conditions and elements of corruption.

The EAIC had responded in a letter published on Jan 13, “EAIC explains time taken to investigate complaints”.

It concluded that while some form of abuse had taken place, the best way to deal with it was through correspondence to the Immigration Department and the Home Ministry to improve detention conditions.

What is even more shocking is that the EAIC had given a carte blanche to the Immigration Department to continue to conduct itself inappropriately, ruling that the officer’s threats to revoke Velez’s work visa although a breach of the standard operating procedure was not wrong in the true sense of the word as it is common practice.

“The commission further decided that no action to be taken against ... (the officer) as such practice is widely carried out amongst immigration officers …”

So thanks to the EAIC, enforcement authorities now have a get-out-of-jail free card: you can legitimise an illegitimate act by making sure you do it regularly.

Is it any wonder then, with a watchdog body like the EAIC, why enforcement agencies continue to be a law unto themselves?

As far as Velez is concerned, this case is not over and he is weighing his legal options.

How can an expatriate or foreign worker feel safe when they are vulnerable to wanton persecution and abuse?

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SPEAKING of corruption, the new year is getting off to a less than stellar start for the country as issues of the past year make their way into the present. And it does not help that all these issues could impact the nation economically.

The latest Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) which will be released in a few weeks is expected to see Malaysia deteriorate by a few notches – a far cry from 2014 when we improved by three spots.

While some may fight tooth and nail to argue that it cannot be due to a certain investment arm, what cannot be defended is the assault on institutions including graft busters.

The last instalment of the CPI revealed that 46% of respondents comprising Malaysians and foreigners felt that public institutions were corrupt; while 35% felt the judiciary was also compromised.

Hence through no fault of theirs, the people who are keeping the country in business now have the added responsibility of defending the nation, its government and its leaders and assuring investors that their money is safe here.

The trust deficit is a major problem that needs to be addressed – not by words but action.

It does not help that the alternative is also in disarray and its leaders increasingly showing themselves to be your average politician, not the saviours they portrayed themselves to be.

This perception is further compounded by the administration of states they had won in 2008 – including environmental policies that do not put the people first.

The ease of doing business cannot be confused with having a low perception on corruption. This is because business-friendly initiatives which do not respect the needs of the community and the environment will also contribute to the perception that the administrators are compromised.

So as we wait with bated breath for the latest index, the excuses and counter-criticisms are already in place by the highly paid PR outfits. These include questionable methodologies and biasness against the present administration. The arguments are a dime a dozen. But what cannot be defended are blatant actions that have caused the perception of corruption to increase, including a fondness of going after whistleblowers.

As long as the political will is absent no amount of rhetoric and cosmetic measures can mask the fact that the battle against graft is not a priority of an administration that itself is perceived to be condoning and fuelling it.

Former investigative journalist Terence is a perception management consultant. Feedback: letters@thesundaily.com