Call for clever policies to deter corruption

Datuk Seri Akhbar Satar

KUCHING: Innovative public policies aimed at disincentivising perpetrators of corrupt practices are needed to end corruption in Malaysia.

Founder and president of the Malaysian Chapter of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), Datuk Seri Akhbar Satar, said the drop in Malaysia’s global ranking in the recent 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) clearly reflected the lack of political will and the inadequacy of anti-corruption measures to address the problem.

He said unresolved high-profile corruption cases and economic crimes that included out-of-control smuggling have also fuelled the perception of high levels of corruption in the public sector in the country.

Akhbar, who holds the professorial chair at the Institute of Crime & Criminology, HELP University made these comments following the CPI report indicating that Malaysia had fallen six spots, from 51st to 57th, in the global rankings.

The CPI is an index published annually by Berlin-based Transparency International since 1995 that ranks countries based on perceived levels of public sector corruption.

According to Akhbar, who is also the immediate past president of Transparency International Malaysia, policy reforms and better laws needed to be put in place to make sure those who engage in corrupt practices are discouraged to do so.

“Rampant smuggling activities such as the illegal cigarettes black market have become a severe problem in Malaysia because of corruption. Those who have been given the responsibility to enforce and prevent smuggling activities have failed and are said to have turned a blind eye to facilitate the criminals,” he said in a media statement issued today.

He said more worrying was that cigarettes smuggling syndicates and terrorism were linked, adding this underground economy was a threat to the country’s economy and sovereignty, further escalates corruption and erodes the integrity of enforcement officers.

He said huge sums of money generated from the illegal cigarettes trade were then used to pay even more unethical people to help perpetrate the crime and preventing honest and dedicated enforcement officers from effectively stopping the cigarettes smuggling problem.

“It is a never-ending vicious cycle that has led to Malaysia becoming the No.1 in the world for illegal cigarettes.” 

Akhbar acknowledged the Royal Malaysian Customs Department’s recent announcement of record levels of seizures in 2020.

“However, in spite of the hard work and diligence of our customs officers, we hear little about perpetrators or cigarettes smunggling syndicates being arrested, charged or convicted. Also, despite the rise in seizures, levels of illegal cigarettes remain high, if not higher, in 2020,” he stated.

Recently, it was reported that the Royal Malaysian Customs Department recorded 2,104 cases related to contraband cigarettes worth RM74.97 million, involving RM661.90 million in taxes or duties.

This marked an increase of 84.41 percent in terms of the number of cigarettes seized, 83.41 percent rise in the value of cigarettes confiscated and an increase of 84.41 percent in duties and taxes.

In order to really stop this illegal cigarettes problem, Akhbar said the government might consider policies that addressed the very root of the problem.

Some policymakers and economic experts have suggested a special policy to introduce lower priced cigarette to counter the demand for illegal cigarettes.

“This makes sense as people, especially the poor, will generally buy products that are significantly much cheaper but still meet the same needs, which is exactly what criminals are exploiting,” he continued.

Akhbar also recommended organisations like the Royal Malaysian Customs Department to create a more sustainable culture of integrity.

“Empowering its officers can help foster a culture of responsibility, thus enabling best practices to be implemented, prevent corruption, minimise risks and drive compliance,” he explained.

“Improved and innovative policies that remove the motive of individuals or organisations to engage in corrupt practices can play a critical role in improving Malaysia’s General Corruption Barometer (GCB) as well as CPI rankings in the future,” he concluded.

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